Until recently, I was living in a fantasy.
A fantasy which allowed me to believe whatever I wanted to believe, whether it was true or not.
I deceived myself into thinking that what was important in life was my own happiness.
Happiness was the goal.
Everything I strived for was with that purpose in mind: To make myself happy.
For years I thought happiness was about feeling special, loved, successful and having a sense of belonging and worthiness.
I wanted to feel safe, validated, respected, protected and supported. I wanted to know that my needs were met, my prayers answered, my wounds healed.
I wanted a harmonious life and harmonious relationships with plenty of time to have fun, explore the world and learn new things.
I wanted all my desires to be fulfilled physically, emotionally and spiritually which meant the enjoyment of good people, good coffee, good food, good wine, good health, good sex, good looks, and a sense of mastery over my life.
I also wanted to think of myself as a good person. I wanted to be authentic, courageous, help people, be kind, raise good children, have a good marriage, do meaningful work, be generous, compassionate, sensitive and patient.
Sounds pretty reasonable. right?
I certainly thought so.
Until about 2 years ago, if you had asked me, anywhere along my journey, how I thought I was doing in these areas, I would have told you I was on the right track. Looking through the lens of my own intentions (to be happy), I would have said that I was doing everything I could in order to be happy.
But was I happy?
The short answer is no, but let me explain.
Certainly, as I look back, my life was pretty amazing. I was married to a man I Ioved and we had 4 healthy children. My kids were my joy and my passion. I had good friends, a good relationship with my in-laws and my kids grew up with family traditions and were surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who loved them. We lived an affluent life and wanted for nothing. I had meaningful work and I was developing personally and spiritually. I felt that I was a good person… at least I was trying to be.
In fact, most of the time, I felt happy…
Except when I didn’t.
And that’s where the deception crept in.
During the times when I felt unhappy, it stemmed from a dissatisfaction which I often couldn’t put my finger on. I didn’t have the maturity to know what to do about it and I bought into a lot of explanations such as
“I’m not enough/I need to try harder”
“Someone else isn’t enough/needs to try harder”
“I’m the problem”
Someone else is the problem”
“I’m not worth it”
“Someone/something else isn’t worth it”
“I deserve better/there’s something better out there”
You get the idea.
Do you see the theme here? It all revolves around making ME feel better. There’s no true accountability or compassion because the minute I “feel” better, I’m happy… for the time being, at least.
That approach doesn’t solve anything.
But the most damaging thing was that I had come to believe what I now understand to be a HUGE cultural lie:
That MY happiness was the most important thing.
I know that may not seem like such a bad thing but here’s the problem…
It’s NOT all about ME.
Go back and look at the list, above. What were the most used words in each of those sentences?
It’s the words “I wanted”.
With ‘my’ happiness as the goal of life, I was doomed to never truly find it for two reasons:
- Happiness is a “state” not a goal. It is temporary, fleeting and inconsistent, therefore we can’t rely on happiness to help us feel satisfied, peaceful or content.
- Happiness (now redefined as peace or contentment) can never be found through focusing on the ‘Self’.
Indeed, I have been blessed to be able to count the majority of the things on that list among those I possess or have achieved. My mistake, however, was in thinking that I was the common denominator in that equation. The truth is that my intentions, actions or even accomplishments were meaningless and unachievable except by the grace of God.
The dissatisfaction I felt was not because I wasn’t getting something ‘I’ needed. The dissatisfaction was because I wasn’t giving God what He needed.
My life had been built on an unstable foundation and, eventually, it crumbled beneath me. As devastating as it was to live through, it was what I thought I wanted and needed at the time and I was more convinced than ever that this was ‘my’ chance to create the life that ‘I’ wanted and even deserved.
And the “dream” continued for another 10 years.
It wasn’t until I stopped thinking about what I want and started thinking about what God wants that I truly felt at peace. All this time, God had been asking something of me that I was too self-focused to realize but when I started making Him the priority, I started noticing some significant changes in my life.
When I realized it wasn’t all about me I suddenly understood something I had been seeking my entire life:
I wasn’t alone.
God was with me.
Almost overnight, things felt very different.
My most heartfelt prayers were answered.
My deepest fears were comforted.
My greatest longings were satisfied.
I learned that my needs were much simpler and I no longer desired frivolous things. I learned that focusing on my ‘self’, even within the context of ‘Self-Love’, is a slippery slope (as a result, I am distancing myself from that term. See my earlier article Self-Love: Jesus’ Radical Assumption). Eventually, I decided to go without or dramatically reduce many of the things which I thought I had every right to enjoy. I no longer drink coffee. I rarely drink alcohol. I abstain from sex. I have no control over my looks (especially over the aging process) and I still enjoy good, healthy food while taking care not to overindulge. Overall, my philosophy is to live a pure, exact life which translates to a pure mind, a pure heart, a pure body, and a pure spirit. I’m not perfect but I am finally maturing. I choose to focus only on the things that really matter and I thank God for the good people in my life.
So why was I inspired to write about this today?
Here’s a hint:
It’s not about me.
It’s about you.
I wanted to share something with you that has helped me a great deal. I didn’t come across this until fairly recently but when I found it, I realized that it contains the simple wisdom I wish I had been able to refer to for the first 57 years of my life. Like so many of us, my parents and caregivers did the best they could, given what they were taught, which is often what our society relies on. Even though the true wisdom of the Bible has been at our fingertips for thousands of years so few of us put it to use.
In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us the importance of the transformation of the inner person. He presents the Beatitudes in a positive sense, a series of virtues in life which will ultimately lead to reward.
Love becomes the motivation.
The Beatitudes are excerpted from His ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in the Gospel of Matthew (5:3-11).
While the Beatitudes of Jesus provide a way of life that promises salvation, they also bring peace in the midst of our trials and tribulations on this earth.
“Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good,
from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.
Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us
if it is compared with its opposite.
Now, the opposite of beatitude is misery.
Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings.”
– St. Gregory of Nyssa
So here they are… One of God’s many gifts to Humanity: The Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Just before I went to post this, I decided to try and find an article which would help those who wanted to have a deeper understanding of the Beatitudes. I came upon this article which kind of blew my mind because it touches on a lot of what my experience has been so far.
I encourage you to read it.
Lastly, I thought it would be cool to share the paintings from my most recent series: ‘Beatitudes’ which is currently on exhibition at Broadview Espresso, 817 Broadview Avenue, north of Danforth until March 31, 2019.
I hope you’ll drop by 🙂
I’d also love to share a link to an amazing album I discovered (also called Beatitudes) by Stu Gerrard. I listened to it while I was painting the series and it was a huge inspiration to me. Here’s a little video about Stu’s Project:
Since the Opening Reception for my ‘Beatitudes’ series last Saturday, there has been a lot of interest from people who want to come and see the paintings in person as well as suggestions for ‘Living the Beatitudes’ talks and even a potential retreat this Spring. If you’d like any more information about the ‘Beatitudes’ paintings or are interested in attending a talk or retreat on the subject please feel free to reach out. You can also watch the video of the Facebook Live broadcast we did below:
Beyond that, I’d be happy to tell you more about my process and how the paintings emerged. Better yet, let’s meet for coffee! Oops! I meant tea 🙂
Until next time,
God Bless You…