My wife and I took a couple of days off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We did our first “staycation.” We stayed in town, saw four movies and went out to eat for lunch and dinner. We got to sleep in a bit. And, one afternoon, I even went out by the hotel pool to read a book!
I’ve had a book of short stories on my shelf for years; written by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy (1828-1910) is an interesting character himself. He was a Russian born into the wealthy class, became an orphan at nine, was socially awkward but became a world-famous writer (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, etc.). It was in the second half of his life that he found faith by reading the New Testament and decided to follow Jesus. I like Tolstoy because I share his dislike for religion and his passion to simply follow the teachings of Jesus.
There was one conversation in the short story Where Love Is, There God Is Also that grabbed me. The story is about a shoemaker who meets a little old man. The shoemaker tells the old man of his despair in losing his wife and their three children. He was alone and says to his guest; “I have no desire to live any longer.” The old man replies; “You are in despair because you wish to live for your own happiness.” The shoemaker replies; “But what shall one live for?” The little old man said; “We must live for God. He gives you life, and for his sake, you must live. When you begin to live for him, you will not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy for you.” I had to stop reading. So much was said in that dialog. There is so much wisdom and hope there. Please re-read the conversation in this paragraph again.
What do we live for? For our happiness? Few of us will admit to that. But really, what do we live for day in and day out? Sometimes we fool ourselves and say that we are not living for our own happiness, but the happiness of our family and friends. But in the end, if our family and friends are happy, then that brings us happiness. When we lose the things that are important to us and make us happy, like the shoemaker’s family, where then is our happiness?
We all need to reflect on the shoemaker’s question – “But what shall one live for?” What do I really live for? Am I living for my happiness? I will admit that far too often, I am living for my own happiness. It shows when I internally complain about my long days. It shows when I have a sort of envy for others whose lives seem easy and free of conflict. It shows when I want to complain about not being able to do more of the fun stuff. And, it mostly shows when things, big or little, interfere with my happiness agenda. I hate to confess this, but far too much of my life is still focused on my own happiness. I want to learn to live for God, more and more. Yes, I am living for God…some of the time, maybe even most of the time. But when I fully live for him, as the little old man said, then I will “not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy…” That’s the blessing that Jesus wants to give us: Full surrender to him is the only path to full freedom. May we remember this as we enter a Christmas season that tends to draw us to focus on our own happiness. May we choose to live fully for God.