Pursuit of Happyness is one of my favorite movies. This true story is about the struggles of a single dad to make it in life. Chris Gardner is a smart guy with plenty going for him. It’s the early 80’s and times are tough. He’s a salesman who gambled on a medical device that wasn’t selling as well as he had planned. His family is broke and his wife will soon leave for a better life in another city. This leaves Chris alone to take care of his small son Christopher. They can’t afford rent and will soon be homeless.
What caught my attention first was the amount of running that Chris did throughout the movie. He was always engaged in a full sprint to make it to the next thing. He was always out of breath. Whether trying to make it on time to a brokerage firm or fighting to make it on time to the local homeless shelter, Chris ran. Whether trying to make it to the next sales call or trying to chase down stolen belongings, Chris ran. Whether trying to be there for his son or trying to flee from the authorities, Chris ran. He ran. He was out of breath. Sometimes he made it. Sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he could rest. Sometimes he couldn’t.
He studied to pass the board exams, he slept at night in public restrooms, he worked in the dark to repair medical machinery, he loaned money he didn’t have, he sacrificed his food, and he walked for miles to make a single business contact.
It makes me wonder about this notion of “balance” that we like to imagine these days. I’m just as guilty as the next counselor. I encourage people to seek balance in their lives. But is there balance? Can we achieve balance? Does God want us to have balance? Does Jesus or Paul or any of the other disciples have balance?
Unfortunately, the Bible is filled with imbalanced heroes. These guys and gals did not have routine 9-5 jobs, a vacation package, health insurance, trash removal, and all the suburban perks that we’re so used to. These guys sweat blood and tears. These guys lived in constant fear. These guys were driven out of city after city, with no place to rest. They did not know where their next meal would come from. They did not know if they would see the next sunrise. They labored harder than anyone else. They were men and women of great character and incredible perseverance.
So where did we come up with this notion of “balance?” After all, Genesis 3 pretty much guarantees imbalance until Heaven comes to Earth. Here men are cursed to hard work for the rest of their lives. Women are cursed to hard labor, as well—though much more literal! Even more, the greatest commandment is infested with imbalance. Both Moses and Jesus call us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. In the Hebrew language, there’s no clear pronunciation for the word “strength” or “might” in Deuteronomy 6:5. It’s more like a bowel-grunt or a heave, like the final explosive lift in a “World’s Strongest Man” contest. “Love God with all your…AHHHHHH!”
To be biblical, therefore, you must give all you’ve got to loving God. You must run, run, run, until you’ve got nothing left. This is particularly noticeable when you place the greatest commandment next to the second greatest commandment. Here, Jesus says, “love your neighbor as yourself.” He does not say, “love your neighbor with all you’ve got, just like you love God.” Rather, God gets “all you’ve got,” while your neighbor gets far less. Your neighbor gets the same amount of love that you reserve for yourself, after all the bills are paid, the kids are fed, and God is sought.
Put it this way, a person can love himself too much and a person can love another person too much. But a person can never love God too much. To love yourself too much is called narcissism. To love another person too much is called obsession. To love God “too much” is called worship—which is what humans were designed for.
About half way through the movie, Chris Gardner says, “It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking, ‘How did he know to put the pursuit part in there?’ That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that?”
Blaise Pascal wrote, “All men seek happiness, this is without exception…this is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Happiness is our unending pursuit. But does anyone ever arrive? Is there ever an oasis within the pursuit? Sure, we have moments of happiness. The thing is that we ought not let the exceptions become the norm. It’s a matter of expectations. Getting this right can help with a lot of grief in life, as you chase down your dream.
Do you expect to have a problem-free marriage? Do you expect your kids always to take your advice? Do you expect death and disease to pass over you? Do you expect your education to earn enough money for you? Do you expect to have enough to pay the bills? Looking at the Bible, our expectations receive a wake-up call.
So what are your expectations? What is the “normal” life? I’m not going to ask if you’re happy, but if you’re pursuing.
© 2010 by Samuel Kee