A friend/colleague and I recently had a discussion about motivational speakers and televangelists who try to convince us that we deserve to be happy and are entitled to serenity. While this is an attractive concept, it can actually rob us from living a full and whole life. This sounds paradoxical, but really the more we focus on ourselves and our own happiness the more elusive it becomes. Maybe people don’t know what they are looking for, in fact I’m sure this is often the case. Henry David Thorough is quoted as follows about happiness:
“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
The “other things” that we have to turn our attention to are outside of our Self. Self-gratification leads to emptiness and ultimately a purposeless and pointless existence. The Self of yourself is important, no doubt. But the importance of yourself is created to be of benefit to the Other. Therefore we attain fulfillment within Self only when we are giving our Self to benefit the Other. Keep in mind, though, that the Self does not have an infinite supply of resources from which to give and serve. The Self must receive love, security, rest, and reward in order to survive.
To get outside of your Self you have to admit, to the point of believing it, that you are not the end-all and be-all of your own life. You have to accept that life comes from the Life-Giver and in many ways your life is a gift meant for God and others to enjoy and benefit from, just as you are meant to enjoy a relationship with God and others and benefit from those relationships. You can learn 7 habits and 12 steps this or that, and even develop a road-map to success in leading a life that is “purpose driven.” However, there are times when you just have to have to trust in God more than you do yourself. In fact, this is really where we need to start our journey out of Self-indulgence.
My friend shared this prayer with me, and I want to share it with you.
“MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani