Thoughts behind the song ‘That Ain’t Livin’’, from the album ‘Fears, Secrets and Lies’.
Yesterday, stopping for an urgently needed call of nature at a motorway service station on the M4, I was assailed by a large poster of a cheerful young woman, confidently encouraging me to ‘follow the road to happiness’.
Her ‘road to happiness’ was promised through the purchase and, presumably, consumption of an enormous box of garishly coloured, iced doughnuts. I wasn’t convinced about her sincerity.
Years ago, when we first moved into the rambling pile of Cotswold stone where we now live, I looked at the collection of enormous windows around the place, and realised that there was no way we would ever be able to afford to buy curtains for the number and size of them. So, on the recommendation of a neighbour, I bought a book, and set about learning to make them for myself. Her words: ‘Once you accept that the whole job has to be done by hand-sewing, then it becomes pretty straightforward.’
Over the ensuing few years, as I curtained, pelmitted and swagged my way around the house with increasing confidence, I got to know the gentleman that ran our local supplier of furnishing fabrics quite well. He had a mixed clientele, from professional curtain makers for fine country houses, down to ‘have-a-go’ amateurs like me, both rich and poor alike. I have always been struck by a reference he once made to a customer who had been into his shop earlier that morning, he said that she was ‘rolling in money’ but had been telling him that she was miserably unhappy. We exchanged sage remarks about money not being able to buy happiness and carried on with our days.
I have often wondered about this unfortunate lady, but can’t help feeling that if she has had to pour out her heart to the person selling her curtain fabric, then she must be lonely indeed. I don’t know her, have never knowingly met her, and have no idea as to the story she bears. I suspect that her predicament is all too common.
The media tells us that our goal of happiness will be achieved by more money, better and more sex, more expensive holidays, a faster car, a bigger and more beautiful home. We plan it all out via a more successful career with a bigger salary, the right partner, and we try to be seen with the right set of friends and circumstances.
Good parents just want their children to ‘be happy’; but, nonetheless, we take our cues from our peers and the media, and we grow up in relentless pursuit of an unforgiving set of modern day ‘gods’. We read self help books, attend courses, work too many hours in high stress jobs, and look under every rock and around every corner in the pursuit of our illusive dreams.
Or some of us just buy lottery tickets.
Somewhere down the line, we either come to the conclusion that our dreams are unachievable, or – worse – we achieve them, and discover that none of them actually holds the key to happiness. At that point, the road downhill can be a slippery one. Some move onto addictions to things that temporarily mask the pain, such as sex, shopping, sugar, drugs, gambling, alcohol or self harm. Some of us just sink into a mundane depression; waking at two a.m. with cold sweats of anxiety. We long for anything to give our lives some semblance of hope – or at the very least – meaning.
When at home, Kevin, James and I are often joined by unfamiliar faces around the dinner table, as new friends join us unexpectedly for meals. There are great conversations to be had, and we get the opportunity to learn about interesting new people from all sorts of different walks of life. On one such occasion a few months ago, we were joined by a young man from Zambia, who had moved to the UK about seven years ago, and was now about to marry an English girl he had met at his local church in London.
Faced with the possibility of a family that he loves and feels responsible for, and the difference in the cost of running a home in the UK, as opposed to running a home in Zambia, he was expressing appalled astonishment at the prospect of how he was going to make his finances work. His words: “with a mortgage, bills and everything else, we are not going to be able to live at all until we are at least fifty or sixty years old”.
Looking back over my life I can see times when I didn’t know how I was going to pay for food for the week and times when I had ‘everything’; I’ve known times of abject grief and heartache and times of ecstatic delight; I’ve known a time when poor health looked as though it was going to be a major long-term issue. I’ve also known times of extreme loneliness, whilst, more recently, I’ve known times when I feel loved by my husband and accepted among a wider circle.
But there has been an undeniable thread of truth throughout it all. Just as the wedding vows foretell: richer, poorer, better, worse, sickness, health – our outward pressures and circumstances can be unpredictable in the extreme.
But for me there is one constant – regardless of how swimmingly, or otherwise, the rest of my life is going – if I don’t have a daily walk with Jesus Christ, then I don’t experience the real deep joy that my soul craves.
With Him, there is comfort in every pain, peace in every heartache, life in every death.
Without Him, everything turns to noisy emptiness.
I can honestly say that if you’ve not met Jesus yet, then you ain’t living.