a voice crying out in the postmodern wilderness

Happiness Only Real When Shared

Happiness Only Real When Shared

In the spring of 1992, a young college graduate named Christopher McCandless walked into the Alaskan wilderness. It was not merely a backpacking trip, it was a journey of enlightenment. He was ill-prepared for the Alaskan wilderness, which can be unkind to strangers - but he could not be deterred. He was dead-set on living a life in the wild, away from society and away from the pain of people.

Ostensibly, he found what he was looking for: solitude, beauty, and freedom from the trappings of modern civilization. But what he so earnestly desired - that freedom and isolation - ended up driving him mad with hunger and loneliness. 

And it killed him.

His cause of death is argued, but it seems clear he either starved to death or he ate some bad berries. It is also clear that as his belly ached for food, his heart ached for the company of others. After his death, it was discovered that McCandless wrote "happiness only real when shared" inside one of his books. It was clear that this journey off-the-grid was an escape mission. Escape from the materialism. Escape from the pain of his broken family. Escape from backbiting and infighting and all the evils we commit against one another. 

But there is no escaping our life with other people. Even if we're not with people, we're itching to get back amongst them. If you're an introvert like me (and perhaps McCandless), you may be able to be alone for longer than others, but eventually you will become hungry for human contact. It's how God made us. It's unavoidable.

Humans are capable of committing heinous acts against each other. Unlike animals who kill and fight for food or societal domination or breeding (all of which humans might also kill for), people will kill each other for sport. With our God-given intelligence and moral minds comes a capacity to do horrible things. I think this is why McCandless walked into the woods. 

The deal with people is that we can't live with them and we can't live without them. We must live in the tension. But we must do more than endure other people. If we want to find deep happiness, we must share our lives with others.

This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote:

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”

When we find beauty in this world - in the laughs of a baby or a painted sunset or an answered prayer - we must share it with others for it to become fully realized. This is why great meals are so wonderful. It's not just the food that delights the senses, it's the company that delights the soul. The food enjoyed alone would be only half the joy at best. 

It seems our technology has isolated us. While I might be able to tweet back and forth with famous people or share my drawings with the whole world now, I find that my digital interactions are thin. It is only when I use technology to reinforce my actual relationships that I find joy.

There is alchemy in relationships with other people. One plus one equals ten. It is not that I bring my stuff and you bring yours and the net result is just our stuff. No, in a friendship or a marriage there is a dancing of souls, and that's beyond mere math. It's spiritual poetry. This is why broken relationships bring big hurt, because with the dancing of souls comes the possibility of heartache.

Jesus had constant drama in his relationships. He was betrayed and questioned. He was judged when he healed and judged when he didn't. We treated the Son of Man awfully when he came to visit this broken world, and what did he do? 

He died for us.

Not only does Jesus' death offer us the living water of eternal life, it offers us the living water of life right now. In Jesus' perfect sacrifice we are given the ability for our hearts to change into sources of light and love for other people. With our future secured in Christ, we can live our right now in light of his light. We can find the joy of living for others and sharing the journey of life with those around us. We can sweeten their journeys because ours have already been sweetened to the max by God's love.

I love the heart of Christopher McCandless. The heart to buck the system and to ignore the status quo. But it breaks my heart that he followed an erroneous assumption into the wilderness with him. Along with a meager assortment of wilderness survival equipment, he brought with him the idea that we must escape people to become happy. And the truth of the matter is - and I know McCandless would agree - nothing is farther from the truth. We need each other. 

Jesus knows we need to keep it simple. He understands the painful experience of life on earth. So he gives us a summarization of how we should live: love God and love other people. Get the order right, too. Love God first and your heart will change such that you can love other people. Jesus' words are a joy sandwich, by the way. Loving God is what we're made for, to worship and delight in God. And loving other people is the natural outcome of loving God. And get this - loving God alongside other people is the path to spiritual fulfillment. Joy plus joy equals unspeakable joy.

So it'll hurt. People will lie to you and reject you. They'll talk about you behind your back. But they'll also bring you flowers in the hospital and pray for you when you're sad. Embrace the dichotomy of human relationships and invest yourself into sharing love with others by spending your time on earth in the quest to love God and love others.

Because happiness only real when shared.

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