An unexamined life is not worth living. On the other hand, an over-examined life is a miserable way to live. Constant introspection and investigation of one’s relative happiness and fulfillment yields a perpetual state of frustration. Success, wealth, security, and good health will not quiet this unease. Why are so many people unhappy, miserable, and lost? What is the source of this desperation? Why can’t we think our way out of it (introspection) or discuss (therapy) our way to the life we deserve? The problem is this life. Nothing in this life can bring forth human happiness because it was never designed to do so.
Human happiness arrives when our hearts are surely fixed where true joys are to be found. Where? God has designed the heart with a restless longing for God. The heart rests in God and yet ever longs for God. This is a wounded happiness, an enriching fulfillment coupled with an endless search. Famously, St. Augustine said, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Conf. I, i). Unfortunately, this sentence has been used to describe a radical moment of conversion from the restless heart to a state of repose. However, Augustine intended to express an endless longing that finds partial fulfillment in this life and complete repose in glory.
The psalmist says, “For God alone my soul in silence waits, truly my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge. Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your heart before him” (Ps. 62:6-9). We have all poured out our hearts to other people, other goals, other projects, only to find that they can never deliver the fulfillment for which we hoped. People? “Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted. On the scales they are lighter than a breath” (Ps. 62: 10-11). Projects, goals, wealth, power? “The present form of this world is passing away,” says St. Paul. (I Cor. 7:31).
God is our ultimate happiness and joy. For this reason, Jesus’s call to discipleship is a “radical call” to leave everything. “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in the boat mending their nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him” (Mark 1:16-20).
The soul belongs to Christ. For this reason, a person leaves everything and cleaves to Christ, and they become one new being. In time, this radical departure is lived out in the world. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Returning, we return to family and friends and neighbors; we return to our community, the nation, and the world. Strangely, we are happier than we have ever been because we are not seeking ultimate fulfillment among people or things. We no longer burden people with unrealistic expectations about meeting our every need and desire. We accept joys, but know they are transient. We mourn and weep but know it will pass. We are in the world, committed to its wellbeing, but we place our hearts in the bosom of the Father.
Look It Up: George Herbert’s “The Pulley”
Think About It: Keep them in repining restlessness.