I have this painting that a friend made me. It is a colorful painting with a big yellow sun in it and the phrase “FIND YOUR HAPPY” in big bold letters.
FIND YOUR HAPPY.
Many a theologian has warned us that if we go in search of happiness we will surely be disappointed. They often quote from the Scriptures: “Seek you first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The Message version of this verse sums it up this way: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”
Joan Didion might refer to that last bit as “magical thinking.”
Most of us are old enough and have lived long enough to know that all too often a person’s everyday human concerns aren’t met. Many of my friends work with the homeless and disenfranchised. Things rarely work out for the poor and the marginalized. Things work out best in our country if you are rich and white and male, not if you are poor and Hispanic and female.
But you don’t have to be poor in finances to experience poverty. Mother Teresa noted that “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”
And I dare say all of us know people suffering from such poverty, the poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. I’d wager my bets that all of us have felt this way at some point.
The kind of loneliness that accompanies that feeling of being unwanted is the worst poverty of all, Mother Teresa added.
You would think something as simple as being valued, being desired, being cared about would be a common experience we all shared. Yet, it is more common that we meet people daily who don’t feel valued, don’t feel desired, don’t feel cared for or listened to or loved deeply.
My friend Sarah Thebarge gives a talk about Hagar, an abused handmaiden from Old Testament days. Sarah Thebarge wrote a book about what it means to be unseen in the world. The Invisible Girls chronicles a tale of Somali refugees and Sarah’s own story of having breast cancer in her 20s.
You want to feel unseen in this country, try being an abused black woman refugee who doesn’t speak English. Or a young white woman who has nearly died from breast cancer. Or a barren woman of any age. (Heck these days, if you want to know what it feels like to be unseen in this world, try being a man or woman who survives sex abuse to only have a president who mocks such abuse and touts its benefits.)
FIND YOUR HAPPY is a great slogan. These are especially important words for people who seemingly have everything, yet, happiness continually eludes them.
We start every New Year reminding people of all walks of life that this is the opportunity to once again commit to pursue happiness. So strong is our republic’s belief that we the people ought to be happy that we put it in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Of course, the founding fathers who penned these lofty words didn’t actually practice them. They didn’t believe all men were created equal. They believed men of color to be inferior in intellect and spiritual capacity. They believed women to be equally as incapable as men of color, which is why finding one’s happiness has been such a struggle for men and women of color and women in general in this country. Add to the mix the disabled, the mentally ill … well, you can see where all this leads.
The pursuit of happiness is often unattainable, especially when one goes it alone.
We need one another.
We need to see each other.
We need to listen to each other.
We need to be heard.
We need to be needed.
We need to be desired and loved and cared for deeply, all of us, each one of us.
Finding our happy is simply impossible when we are mired in the poverty of being uncared for, unloved, unseen.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “For I believe—whatever one school of moralists may say—that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic.”
Given all that, my wish for us this year isn’t happiness. What I wish is that you and I will both put aside our pursuit of happiness.
My prayer isn’t that you or I find our happy. My prayer for each of us is that we, like the handmaiden Hagar, will encounter the God who sees us, hears our cries, both spoken and unspoken, and promises to not abandon us to our deepest fears, but, instead seeks to honor our greatest hopes.
I pray that we then, in return, will be prompted daily to minister such grace to every person we encounter, especially to all those who are living in the poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for.
I pray we become relentless in our pursuit of making sure each and every person along our path knows that we see them, that we hear them, that we will not abandon them to be overtaken by the impending darkness of the ages.
I pray 2017 will be the year when we encounter God the Creator in unforgettable ways.
I pray 2017 will be the year that we see each other through the eyes of our Creator and not our own limited & too often biased perspectives.
I pray 2017 will be the year we commit our efforts to ensuring no one walk through this life invisible and alone.
God hear our prayers.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press) and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (MUP, Fall 2017).