Have you ever wanted something–really wanted something–so bad that it hurt? And then when you try to chase after it, and you fail, it hurts worse…doesn’t it?
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been this way my entire life; always wanting, never getting. Let me give you a super-personal example:
Ever since I could comprehend what adult life was like, all I’ve ever wanted was to find a wife whom I could love deeper and deeper every day. And with that, I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I was born to be a dad, I know it. In fact, simply to imagine my future wife telling me that she is pregnant always makes me weep tears of joy. It’s such a strong desire; I can’t control it. The fact that I don’t have kids, and want them so badly, hurts.
And yet, I’m single. I have been for longer than I care to admit. Maybe that’s because I have high standards–I don’t go for just anyone. My standards aren’t superficial, but are more centered on morals and character, with the root of it all being “Am I really attracted to her?” And I don’t think that’s bad at all. It’s good to know who you are compatible with. Sure, possibilities pop up occasionally, but I usually get turned down when I pursue a relationship. I can’t figure out what it is.
Meanwhile, one-by-one, I see my friends find their spouses (or future spouses); some have even had kids. My single friends are becoming far outnumbered by my married friends, and I can no longer relate to them. Those that aren’t married are deeply devoted to the people they are dating. When I end up hanging out with a friend who is in a relationship I don’t just third-wheel. Sometimes I end up fifth- or seventh-wheeling it.
It’s draining…and it hurts so badly. Most of the time, I’m okay. But sometimes I just get incredibly discouraged. Sometimes I have to avoid certain events or people because it hurts too much to be around couples. Wanting it so badly makes it hurt even more. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you can’t.
Keep in mind, this is just an example. I’m not looking for someone to read this and try to “fix” me. I’m going somewhere with this.
My point is that we are always pursuing something, aren’t we? When we are kids, we want to have lots of friends or have a car. When everyone else has and we haven’t, we feel alone. Soon friends get married and start families; we haven’t yet, and so we feel alone. Soon friends have a great job and a house; we don’t and we feel alone. At the end of our short life, friends start dying off; we don’t, and we feel alone again, dissatisfied and unhappy. And we are always taught to pursue happiness right? Isn’t that part of the “American dream”?
Maybe the reason we always fail at pursuing happiness is that we aren’t actually pursuing happiness.
Another thing I’ve always wanted was to be better than I am in the moment. I hate the way I look, so I want to look better. I hate my grades, so I want better ones. I hate the way I talk or walk, paint or sing; I never seem to be good enough. This comes from a mindset deep within me that says, “You’re supposed to be happy. If you reach these goals, you will be happy.” When I reach the goal, I’m still not happy; “Therefore, something must be wrong with me,” I say to myself. But that is all a distortion of truth. With that being said, let’s go to Scripture.
“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in the future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, NLT)
These words are very old, but they seem, in fact, applicable to modern times. They are quite true as well. War is not new; peace is not new. Love, hate, fun, boredom, sex, power, work, wealth, etc… None of these things are new. People have spent their lives pursuing something that others will pursue just as much. And we like to think that we are unique or “different.” What’s more, we often never catch the things we pursue. In these verses, the teacher (who is King Solomon) looks back on his life and shares what he has found. His findings seem to be a bit depressing as he constantly says that “everything is meaningless!” He talks about how he spent his entire life looking for new things to make him happy. He built beautiful gardens, and conquered nations, and searched for wisdom, and married many women. He got drunk, he got sober, he made money and gave it away. But he says pursuing these things turns out to be as “meaningless” as “chasing the wind.” He had EVERYTHING, and it wasn’t ever enough. He needed something more, something new. But nothing is new, and happiness always seems to slip through his fingers.
I spent this past summer teaching English in Southeast Asia. Before I did anything, I had to learn a bit about the culture I was jumping into. I was told that the concept of happiness was different from what I was used to. You see, the path to happiness is different in Southeast Asia than it is in America. Over there, good grades in school equals a good job. A good job equals lots of money. Money equals power if you get enough of it, and power equals happiness.
The problem with this is that not everyone gets to be powerful. This leads to depression and self-hatred. If, by some miracle, you happen to gain power, someone will always have more power. Even the one who has the most power isn’t happy, because there has to be something new, something more. But nothing is new. History repeats itself again. And then where is the happiness we were promised?
The Asian mentality isn’t as incredibly different as we might think. In America, power may not always equal happiness, but freedom does. We love our freedom. We want freedom to mean “I get to do whatever I want,” so anything becomes okay as long as it makes you happy. Want to get high? Want to party every night? Want to play video games all day? Want to marry your pet cat? Go for it! We wont judge! As long as you are happy. We think that having the latest iPhone, or a six-figure income, or an attractive spouse is going to lead to happiness. Unfortunately, phones break, recessions happen, and people die or leave. Any good thing that happens and any problem or doubt you have, someone will have always had first. It’s not new, it wont last, and it’s not enough.
So what do we do with that? Well, at the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon finally says, “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore.'” (12:1, emphasis added)
Jesus–another teacher–said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT, emphasis added)
I have come to realize that true happiness is given by God. The happiness I give to myself will only last for that moment. And that’s not happiness. I should be pursuing God; when I pursue God, and delight in God, he freely gives himself to me (Psalm 37:4).
The desires I have are good, but when I desire them instead of the One who gave them to me, life loses its meaning. Focus first on God, and then God will give you what you need at the perfect time. That’s happiness that I want to pursue–being fully sustained and satisfied by God. And that’s also what God wants for you and me.