This blog post is written by my brother Kenton Shantz. He is an absolutely wonderful brother to have. His intellect, mechanical skills, kind heart, and sense of humor are what come to mind when I think of him. I appreciate his offer to write something for my blog and found his essay to be thought-provoking. Enjoy!
I’m not exactly sure when the idea for me to write a blog post for Jasmine’s blog originated. I can slightly remember Jasmine tossing the idea at me a long time ago and me wildly refuting the idea. But I guess things change. Somehow the idea lurked in my subconscious only to emerge on Christmas break 2016. Before beginning my topic, a little information on what I’m currently up to will maybe result in some perception into my topic choice. I’m currently looking forward to my second semester of college. Conestoga College has provided me with my first academic experience outside of an overtly Christian environment. I have had experience with non-Christians before, mainly in the workplace, but not many that were my age. Also, when you are moving from job to job you don’t really tend to make really deep relationships. However, in college I find myself surrounded by people who don’t have the common ground that is shared by Anabaptists or other Christians. Sexuality, your role as a Christian, and issues of morality are just a few of the question marks you have in your mind when trying to relate to people. These are big issues but I’m not going to try to address them directly here. Instead, I’m going to talk about happiness and the pursuit of it. I think the desire for this is what drives a lot of the conduct I see at college. When I look at myself, I see much of this as well. You are going to find that sometimes I will write questions without answers. These are things I have been thinking about but don’t feel confident enough on to assume I know the answer. Feel free to answer/discuss them in the comments! I could have used the words fulfillment, wellbeing, peace of mind, etc. (thanks thesaurus.com) instead of happiness because they all carry the same message. Everyone wants to be happy. How we differ is in how we define happiness and how we pursue it. What is a worldly view of happiness? What is a Biblical view of happiness? How have I tried to be happy?
Materialism is something that I think is extremely relevant to any discussion on the pursuit of happiness. As people, we like having nice things. I think God created us with a desire to have things that we find attractive. I don’t think this is wrong. As some of the wealthiest people in the world, I think that materialism is something that is easy to slide into. When I think of my own spending habits it is very convicting to see that the book I profess to value before all others says, “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18. All the Bible verses in this essay have been taken from the ESV Bible.) When we have an eternal perspective, what possessions do we need? Is there room in a biblical view of possessions to buy things that aren’t absolutely necessary? Also, what do we do with the excess money from living a simple life? I found this quote from John Rockefeller that I think can apply. “If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it.” Ironically, Rockefeller was worth $336 billion USD. I guess he must have really not wanted wealth… However, I think his wealthy position helps lend credibility to his statement. He was one of the wealthiest men alive and here he is saying that if your only goal is to gain material wealth, you might gain it but you will never have enough. The Biblical view of wealth in fact, is one of giving! This couldn’t be any more different.
Going to a post-secondary institution, results in talking a lot about your future. It’s one of those big life moves that is obvious enough that everyone is entitled to ask, “So what are you taking again, how are you doing, and what is your plan for the next ten years?” I write this in jest. I appreciate people taking an interest in my life. College courses tend to attract people that look at their education as just a means to an end. The “end” in this case is a job that fills some specific criteria. It needs to provide financial security, a good working environment, and also continue to interest them. When all of these boxes are checked, happiness is just around the corner! What we tend to forget when we are looking for the ideal job is that they tend to involve work. Work isn’t always easy. You can have a job one day that fulfills these criteria and next day the same job can seem positively horrible. What I’m trying to say is that expecting to get lasting happiness from something like a job is a pointless pursuit. You can definitely experience good things because of working, but setting it up on a pedestal and expecting for it to be a constant source of happiness is making it something it is not. As Anabaptists, a big part of our culture is cultivating a good work ethic. This is an admirable desire and one that has resulted in a community that has a lot of successful people in it. How can we take the amount of discipline/energy we put into our jobs and financial matters and channel it into to making change in the world around us? Does some of our culture hinder our ability to do this?
An obvious one that I see at school all the time is relationships. People aren’t all necessarily looking for a romantic relationship, but everyone wants to have friends. Most people, if confronted, would quite easily say that the other three things that I have listed here are rather frivolous pursuits. However, relationships seem to be considered as being one thing that transcends all else, familial ones in particular. Relationships are very important and most definitely cause happiness. In fact, I think that the relationships have some of the greatest potential to form us as we develop. When I look at the Bible to try to see what it says about relationships the passage that come to my mind is Luke 14:26 ESV, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Does the Bible condemn all Christians to a life of loneliness? The purposely cutting off of all ties with humanity being a major component of Christianity? This seems to directly contradict with a passage like 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The answer to this apparent contradiction is this: Jesus was putting perspective on what relationship should be the most important in your life. The relationship between Christ and the church is compared numerous times to that of groom and his bride. For a man and woman, this is a relationship that is above all others. Our relationship to Christ needs to supersede this. This is what the use of this relationship to describe our relationship with Christ means to me: you must spend time with each other, you want to make the other happy, you choose the other, and you are committed to each other. Jesus fills all of these criteria. It’s me that seems to constantly need to be reminded of my part of the bargain.
My final pursuit of happiness that I’m going to talk about is entertainment. I think that we are currently part of the most “entertained” society ever. If we are bored for a second, it is relatively easy to find something to do that involves relatively little effort on our part. Literature requires some investment on our part but just clicking on Netflix or turning on the Xbox seems to require little investment. The advent of technology has made it extremely easy to avoid our responsibilities by escaping through our screens into a different world. Interestingly enough, it also has given us the ability to create an ideal version of our world on social media, where only we share only our best selfies and good times. Where do I stand when it comes to media? I don’t really know at this point. However, I’m becoming increasingly aware of how much time I’ve spent being “entertained”. Also, I question how much of the media that I consume actually benefits me. I’ll end this paragraph with a convicting verse I think is very applicable to how a Christian views media. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
I see a common thread present throughout these four ways of pursuing happiness. They are all good things. Things that when viewed correctly, are definite gifts from God. However, humanity tends to mess things up. We see a good thing, and tend to take it too far in forms it was never meant to be. I become distracted by lesser important things and end up places I don’t want to be. In each instance I mentioned above, we are promised more from God than we could ever gain here. All the material wealth can in no way compare to what we are promised in heaven. Looking for a purpose in life through your job or any other earthly pursuit will result in inevitable failure. Relationships consisting on just an interpersonal level are in no way permanent. Most of entertainment available today appears to focus on either humoring or shocking the recipient as opposed to teaching and challenging. So, this little article becomes one about perspective. Augustine of Hippo in Confessions, Book 1 gives a reason for the pursuit of happiness. “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” When we place value in the correct place our lives begin to have meaning. Life moves from being endless spiral to eventual nothingness to being a journey with our best friend. Not an easy one, but one full of meaning, reward, and happiness.
God bless you in your journey.