When we remodelled our kitchen in February of 2011, I cut some wires to the upstairs which effectively took out all electricity on the second floor. Apart from an outlet in two rooms, we didn’t have electricity up there. My plan was to rewire to the attic and connect in (something which we did do for the bath that summer) but the rest of the rewiring never got done. Our upstairs was, by and large, dark– until Monday.
I finally worked on the project for most all the afternoon, with many many trips up to the attic, and down to the breaker box in the basement– over and over. Finally, I got it to work, and we were very happy. Finally, no more dark hallways at night, no more flipping switches to no avail, or tripping over various things in the dark. Finally when we turned on the switch, it would come on. Celeste was so happy that she just kept turning the lights on and off, over and over– in disbelief that we actually had electricity in our upper floor.
That first night, as we were roaming around in the dark, looking for the one lamp in the corner which used to be the only source of light, I pointed out to Celeste that we now could use the lightswitches, and we laughed at ourselves for continuing in our old ways. We weren’t used to having electricity. Our house was now fully ‘modern’.
I mentioned this on facebook, and one very true comment was that my wife must be very patient and understanding. Longsuffering is probably an even better word! Celeste puts up with a lot. But one reason she is happy is exactly because she is patient, and understanding.
The Stoics always said there are two ways to get happy– either to get what you want, or to train yourself to be satisfied and even thankful for what you have. Neither of these options is easy, but the first one– I am convinced– is nearly impossible. Trying to get what we want is a fools errand in most cases– because as soon as we get what we wanted, we usually get dissatisfied– at least when we have a consuming “I get what I want” mindset.
The second path is also difficult, but more attainable. Partly because it depends on you, not on the external circumstances beyond your control. We can’t do much about the weather, or what others do, or many of the things which frustrate us. Of course its easy to tell others to be satisfied, and much more difficult for us to take the same advice. It was easy for me to encourage Celeste to be happy we at least had a lamp working upstairs for nearly 2 years– but its harder for me to be patient and understanding about the things which frustrate me.
We live in a world where we are encouraged to expect and long for instant gratification– and that is exactly what often frustrates us. We have more, and enjoy it less. We are able to do more and more, and yet we often feel satisfied less and less. It is part of the human condition to be without full completion in this world. Many of the great thinkers of the church throughout the ages have pointed out that this ongoing longing is in some way an indication that this is not our home– that we have something more to expect. This world is an appetizer, but one filled with struggle and trials. We are meant to live in this world, and to live well (not merely to endure it)– but there is more to come.
The frustration I experience usually happens when I forget that there is more to come. That hope is what draws me out of frustration and in dark moments despair in the face of difficulty or sadness. Again, we are not to be escapists– we are meant for this life! But there is more to come both in this life, and beyond that as well.
So happiness in this life is not merely about pursuing what we want, but learning to deal with the many times when we do not get just what we want when we want. To remember that ‘this too shall pass’ and to remember the hope that there is more to come. In the meantime– which is where we spend all of our days– we do the best we can, find joy where we can, and hope through the rest.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:22
There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18
“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5
Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Psalm 119:116
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
May God have mercy on us all. -Andy