Hope or wishes? Joy or happiness?
Anyone who has watched the movie A Christmas Story understands the tenuous and fragile nature of wishes. From the beginning, young Ralphie is obsessed with getting his hands on a Red Rider bee bee gun, complete with a compass in the stock, for Christmas. Adults repeatedly warn him of the dangers of shooting his eye out, and scheme after scheme is foiled. Finally the blessed day arrives, and beneath the tree, he finds the object of his desire.
He dashes outside to give it a try and, with his first shot, shatters his glasses and narrowly misses shooting his eye out.
Pueblo falls victim to some of the same fantasies. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t open the paper to read about this rumor or that about a new business that promises to lift us from our economic sluggishness. Some of them work out, but often times, these stories dissolve into the ether, never to mature.
I too follow such starry-eyed longings. My friends know I’m a fan of Chipotle, the Mexican food restaurant, to the point of obsession. I got in the habit of eating there at least five times a week when I lived in Denver and Fort Worth. Now, at least once a week, I drive an hour each way just to chow down on a monster burrito at the nearest Chipotle in Colorado Springs.
For two years, I have heard rumors about a store opening in Pueblo. I was so convinced by the most recent anecdote that I drove by the prospective site to see how far along the construction was. Once again, my hopes were dashed as the signage for yet another payday loan store was being secured to the front.
The word “hope” as used above actually is misused. Ralphie, Pueblo and I all get focused sometimes on outcomes, over which we have less control than we would like. These outcome-based longings actually are wishes. Hope is something greater, and thank God, it transcends physical results as we assess them.
Hope is universal across the religious spectrum, but we generally confuse this with wish-fulfillment. Examples of this can be found in the “Prosperity Gospel” messages of religious hucksters, promising wealth if you get right with God, and also send them a monetary token of your commitment.
Whenever we pin our faith on outcomes, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, and we’re setting God up for what we perceive as failure. It presumes we know what we really need, and it also assumes God is more concerned with what’s going on around us than what we’re experiencing within.
Fulfillment of wishes does bring happiness, in some cases. However, this feeling generally is fleeting, as we realize we replace one want with another, or that the thing we expected to fill the void we carry around didn’t do the trick.
Beware of any religious leader who tells you God wants you to be happy. True, we’re called to joyfulness, but like the difference between wishes and hope, joy transcends the bumps, bruises and abuses of daily life.
Things around us don’t have to change for us to have hope. Our ever-growing wish list doesn’t have to be satisfied for us to understand joy. In fact, the more we focus on wishes and happiness, the less hope and joy we’ll have. Real hope doesn’t ebb and flow with circumstances, and joy isn’t a mood: it’s a state of being, transcendent of any suffering, disappointment or unfulfilled expectations.
Now, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.