When 2014 started, everybody setting resolutions and goals, everybody staking claims to the potential of the moment, some with certitude that this year could be theirs, I couldn’t let go of the thought that we don’t always make our own luck. There’s something ingrained in the American spirit, this old Protestant work ethic of sorts that you can have the whole world if you work hard enough to gain it. Mix in a little faith, and you have a recipe for success.
It’s not always that simple. The whole notion, in fact, that by our own hand (or with a wing and a prayer), we can change our circumstances is at least somewhat selfish. When things work out, too many are too quick to say a prayer has been answered. What of those for whom no answer ever came? And where’s the empathy in assuming God is on our side when far too many others are apparently lacking his concern?
On the other hand, I suppose if your only goal this year was to lose thirty pounds, that’s well within reach (and not to be scoffed at by any means). Hopefully, you won’t even need God’s help for that one. But I suspect that when people make goals to lose physical weight, there’s something deeper they’re striving for, a real goal hidden underneath those pounds to find human happiness and a sense of self-worth. And it’s precisely that search that doesn’t end, even once we’ve shed the extra fat.
Whether the new year, then, or perhaps mid-July, we’re all too often bumbling around wanting and needing more than what and who we are. For me, many of my friends know, so much of that has been tied to my desire to just be hired, as if a job would suddenly provide me with a greater sense of purpose, and once it comes (and it will), it may give me a sense of purpose for a while, but I’m not naïve enough to think I, too, won’t look for more in time. Anything less wouldn’t be very human, would it?
I’m not one to believe that a job or a person we’re in love with or a car or house or even the company of friends can guarantee lasting happiness. On some level, to search for lasting happiness is itself a vain and pointless search. Maybe it’s better to strive for balance so that in our worst moments we’ll know and believe that something better is ahead – not because we can make it happen ourselves but because life just is that pendulum guaranteed to swing its back-and-forth as the forces of gravity bring us both joy and tragedy.
And as for answered prayers? While I have my opinions, I’m not a smart enough man to contest God’s role (or lack thereof) in our lives. But I’ll say this: the longer we live with a kind of smug certainty that God will act on our own behalf, the less likely we are to act as we should, as we all too easily forget we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers. So, resolutions, goals, and prayers are all well and good, but they’ve got nothing on striving to live every single day a little bit beyond our hopes and dreams for just ourselves and maybe with a little more of the world in mind.