The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

September 14, 2008

Happiness Is An Inside Job

"In a weird way it seemed like there was something very American about what was going on, that things were getting better and better for me in terms of all the sutff I thought I wanted, and I was getting unhappier and unhappier."

In 1987 at the age of twenty-four his first novel was published to wide acclaim. In 1996 his novel Infinite Jest was listed by Time Magazine as one of the "100 Best English-language Novels from 1923-2005." His short fiction was published in Esquire, GQ, Harper's, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review. He was a fabulously popular teacher holding a tenured English Department position at Pomona College. On Friday September 12 his wife came home to find that he had hanged himself. David Foster Wallace was forty-six years old when he died.

Circumstances do not create happiness. It does not matter how successful, accomplished or talented we may be. It does not matter how popular we are, how wealthy we might become, what power we can wield; we all have to deal with our own internal life. We all have demons with which we must wrestle. If we cannot find a way to come to terms with our own inner struggles, we will never come to that place of contentment and peace for which our hearts long.

The way to happiness lies along the path of surrender. There is so much about who we are and the people we have become that is beyond our control. We must come to the place where we are able to accept that we are as we are. This is not resignation. Giving up is not the way to contentment. To surrender is to accept the circumstances of our lives as they are with gentleness and without judgement.

What makes surrender possible is that we trust we are surrendering to a power at the centre of the universe that desires our ultimate well-being. Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) He did not say, I will make everything all better. Jesus did not promise that there would never be struggles, difficulties, challenges, even despair. But he did promise that, in the midst of hard circumstances, we would find within ourselves a place of "rest." Jesus held out the possibility that, despite the storms, we could know within ourselves a place of calm and strength.

In my office I have a picture of a towering lighthouse, surrounded by a monstrous ocean wave. If you look closely at the front of the lighthouse, you will notice a man standing sheltered in the doorway. The storms may rage around him, the waves may beat against the lighthouse but as long as he stays in the doorway, the man is safe.

Happiness is an inside job. Circumstances always change; they are unpredictable and unreliable. There are no external circumstances that can ever provide a permanent sense of well-being. We must find that strong centered place within ourselves where we can rest and trust in the goodness of life and the orientation of life towards the well-being of all.

Despite his success and popularity, David Foster Wallace apparently never found this place. May he rest in peace and let light perpetual shine upon him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was talking to somoneone today and in the course of the conversation we acknowledged that we all have times of feeling alone. Even though we are surrounded in love by family or friends.
Perhaps it is more to do with expectations we set upon ourselves not realizing they are false.
It is in those moments that we need to break loose and ask Christ to be presnt within us, to comfort us and give us strength to overcome the doubts.

One step at a time