I sat with a couple during a pre-marriage session and they asked me for advice on planning their future.
“That’s easy”, I said. “You don’t have a future.” They looked at me with shock and dismay.
“What do you mean?”, asked the groom from a posture of stiff defensiveness.
“I mean precisely what I said. Oh, you may have five or six decades together but in the end you have no future here. No one one does. You have one, very brief moment in time to handle the great opportunity of life. I suggest we give that some serious thought.”
They did and we went on to have several good conversations about things that actually matter, including the difference between a happy life and a cohesive, meaningful life. My suggestion to them was that pursuing happiness is not good enough, not a substantial enough goal for life. Happiness comes and goes with our shifting appetites and desires. And, quite frankly, a lot of life does not result in happiness but struggle, loss, even suffering. Many, many people are disappointed by the unhappiness and burdens in their lives and they have nothing meaningful to fall back upon. We see this happening all around us today, especially among young people. When there is no greater value proposition at hand than the fleeting assurance of happiness, people can become bitter, angry and resentful at the difficulties of their lives and the wider sense of injustice that is all around us all the time. A meaningful life, however, is something quite different.
In one of his letters, St. Paul makes this statement; “In Christ all things cohere.” Paul was telling the ancient Church, and he proclaims to us, that a truly cohesive, meaningful life is one that is rooted in the very life of God, revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. The faithful life has cohesion, substance and purpose. This authentic life of faith, rooted in the grace and love of God, is able to bear the unhappiness and suffering in life precisely because we trust that in spite of all its contradictions and uncertainties, life is a good and gracious gift held in the firm, unflinching purposes of God. Such faith replaces anger, bitterness and resentment with a gratitude that sees the gift in all things, and looks forward in hope to God’s future when all life’s hopes and dreams will find their perfect fulfillment in Christ Jesus.