the secret of life
James Taylor wrote a song with the above title, and in it he said, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” There’s some real truth there. But just as when we have our bible studies or hear teaching or preaching about spiritual issues, the inevitable question comes up: “That all sounds really nice, but how do you do it?” I think that’s what we really all want to know. How do we do it? Paul learned to be content in all his circumstances (prison at the time), how did he do it? James tells us to “Consider it all joy” when we’re faced with trouble and suffering–how do we do it?
Well, in James’ book, I think we get a clue. The first thing James tells us in telling us to see trials and hardships as friends that come to mature and perfect us, is that we need to see life differently. The first line of Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled is, “Life is difficult.” I think the first thing we need to do, is see life for what it is. Life is conflict. Every movie, play, novel, or any dramatic/comedic presentation you see is based in conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. In life, if there is no conflict, there is no life. Life is conflict–endless series of conflicts that need to be resolved. And in the resolution of one cycle of conflict comes the growth that takes you more confidently to the next. If we can see this, make friends with life as it really is, and not as we wish it to be, we can take our first step toward enjoying the passage of time.
Most of us think life should basically be easy. That conflict and pain are the aberrations, the exceptions. That peace and joy and contentment are the absence of conflict in our lives. These are all lies we tell ourselves. Conflict and pain is a basic, necessary part of life, and peace and joy can occur in the midst of great conflict. This is important: you can be content and unhappy at the same time. Happiness is the emotional response to our circumstances. Contentment is the decision to be so regardless of the circumstances. Contentment requires a shift in attitude and perspective to be achieved.
Dennis Prager, a syndicated talk radio host has a “happiness hour” every Friday on his show (9 AM to noon, M-F on 870 AM in southern CA). He talks about issues that make or break our sense of happiness. This week he said that until we understand that success in life is the exception and failure is the norm, and not the other way around, we’ll never be able to be happy. More accurately I’d say we’d never be content, but you get the point. He said that “successful” high school students often become the most unhappy adults because they learned to equate happiness with success early in life, and life is not like that. Life is lived in the trenches with brief moments of “success” as punctuation. Learning that, getting your arms around it, will change everything.
This may sound defeatist or maybe even depressing, but think about this. How do you make friends with life on its own terms? Let’s say you commute 50 miles to work each day. 25 miles each way through bumper to bumper, heavy freeway traffic day in and day out. It’s three hours each day of driving, and it’s driving you nuts. You can see it as waste of your life, you can get in the car every trip ready for battle. You can honk the horn and weave from lane to lane trying to get another car length ahead. You can curse the other drivers under your breath or even to their faces, but it still takes 3 hours a day to make the trip. That’s the reality. It will take three hours no matter how you drive unless you get another job closer to home. Knowing that, accepting that reality, that fact, you can then stop at Starbucks for an iced latte, turn up the air conditioning, and put a great book on tape you’ve been meaning to read in the stereo, or your favorite music, or learn a foreign language on tape, or pray, or whatever it takes to make those three hours meaningful and useful to your life, your contentment, and ultimately your happiness.
Life is hard. Life is conflict. That’s the first step: accepting that fact. James gives us the second step as well. When we begin to see life’s cycles as friends, and we begin to learn from those friends, the wisdom of God becomes ours, and then the process really speeds up.