The Ever-Elusive “Good Life” and Our Shrunken Souls
~ by Brooke Diener~
Stressed. That word permeates my subconscious and pulses out the beat of our culture. Everyone, at every stage of life, seems stressed, pushed, rushed. My children, my parents . . . why? I allow my mind to drift nostalgic and dream of the days back when life was “simpler.” If only I could just wash my clothes by hand and gather wood before cooking dinner. Oh . . . wait . . .
But it gives me pause. What is the difference? What is going on? Objectively many things about my flush-toilet life are much easier, but what would Nancy Lincoln, Martha Washington, or Laura Ingalls say if they walked into my Google-filled life?
My inclination is that they would be astounded at its pace. Life is, always has been, and always will be hard. It is painful. As they say, “anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something.” But the “improvements” and conveniences have not made our lives easier—they have simply picked up the pace. As we are able to accomplish more, more is expected of us and of others. We go more places, interact with more people. The world has shrunk; we can now carry it about in our pockets.
With our shrunken worlds come, arguably, shrunken souls. Has anyone in our convenience-driven society ever stopped to ask, “Maybe we weren’t supposed to live this thin? This fast? This everywhere-at-once-so-really-never-fully-anywhere kind of life?”
How did they do it all in the past? They didn’t. They did less, and so did everyone around them. They rarely traveled farther than their horses could take them and have them back by sundown, and that was OK. They ate the same thing for dinner, sometimes for weeks on end, and that was OK. They were surviving, and that was good.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy plaguing our current society, in addition to its raw speed, is the lie that it should be easier. Our parents bought microwaves on the promise that life would be easier. It wasn’t. The car, the combine, the washing machine, the smartphone—every advancement promised greater freedom, more leisure, more time. We all forgot to read the fine print. In exchange for this gadget, you will lose a piece of your soul. As you come to rely on this tool, you will lose touch with your humanity. OK, so I may be overstating it a bit, but arguably we did make a silent exchange and have perhaps lost something central. It seems to me that everyone is looking for something. Have we all lost the same thing? Can we get it back?
This lie, this cult of the easy, this ever-elusive “good life” seems to be at the heart of many of our problems today. Let’s compare this with the lie of pornography. The man becomes a sex addict as he orients his appetites toward a non-reality. As a result, rather than gaining more, he instead robs himself of the ability to see rightly, to judge properly the true beauty found in his wife. The lie leaves them both disillusioned, disappointed, robbed. Similarly, as we ingest the lie of comfort and ease that we all “deserve better,” we become angry, disillusioned, and stressed. We miss the raw beauty in the eyes of our children, the sunset, the deep stillness of the woods. We miss the beauty that is there, every moment lingering in the shadows waiting for us as we sprint by. “Isn’t it supposed to be easier?” we think. “Something is wrong!” we pant as we stagger, haggard, through the day. I just can’t take it anymore. My husband, my kid, my boss, my ___________ just has to give. The infidelity, abuse, and suicide in our society is not surprising. We have all believed the lie of ease, comfort, and entitlement. No wonder we all suffer. Life is hard, no doubt. But there is good—you just have to slow down to find it. If you live life searching for the easy, you will end up miserable. But when you sink your teeth into the marrow of the day, begging God to give you His real food and His real drink, the pain swells into joy, and the beauty comes from the ashes.
Yet suffer as we do, we continue to teach our children to bow to this god as well. We parents bend over backward to give them the easy life, the childhood dream, the life we desire. But to what avail? Their entitlement-shrunken hearts fail as they mature and inevitably face the hard. We live in a society today of thirty-year-old adolescents who have yet to assume adulthood. Where are our men? They have been lulled to sleep, coddled and pampered, spoiled and preserved. Would we not serve them better by allowing more pain in childhood and embracing them through it? What if we encouraged their entering into the natural labor of life in appropriate stages, rather than sheltering them in Disneyland for decades. Should we not allow them to enter into the washing of sheets, the folding of clothes, and the pulling of weeds? Their struggle now will be exercise for the soul, allowing them to see rightly and live boldly.
I wonder what would happen if we all embraced the pain together. Could we look at our shrunken souls, grieve the loss, and embrace the pain? Can we slow long enough to feel the gut-wrenching cry of our hearts? Can we quiet the gadgets long enough to hear from our maker?
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”
“But you don’t understand, how will I . . . ”
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, and again I say REJOICE.”
We have fallen hard, golden calves in our pockets and our daydreams. Empty souls, searching, longing for real friendship, real meaning, real LIFE, the palpable taste of knowing existence in an overstimulated world. Have mercy on us, Lord God. Silence our hearts before you. Deliver us from the idols to which we have enslaved ourselves. Reteach us gratefulness and patience. In an era of life deprivation, resuscitate our weakened lungs with the clean, full air of your Spirit. Give us your life, abundantly.