Craig Barnes (Body and Soul) describes the plight of highly successful young people raised in families that gave them every opportunity. They have great jobs, cool cars and their own apartments, yet they go to therapists lamenting that they aren’t happy. “After the therapist pokes around a bit, revealing how wonderful their lives actually are, the young adults say, ‘Well, I guess I am happy. But I could be happier.’ Right. Of course, we could always be happier.”
Barnes goes on to say that the pursuit of happiness is not a good foundation for a worthy life. And he reminds us that seeking after total happiness is not a new phenomenon, relevant only to affluent, pampered Americans. “According to the biblical story of creation, we were placed in a garden in which we did not have everything. In the middle of the Garden of Eden was a tree with forbidden fruit, the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ And every day Adam and Eve had to walk by this tree and remember that they were never created to have it all. That is God’s idea of paradise.
“Each of us is also created to live a life in which something will always be missing. This is simply the nature of being a creature rather than the Creator, who alone is whole and complete and lacking in nothing. But the holes in our little piece of paradise can drive us wild with anxiety. So rather than enjoy the blessings of the many fruits we are given, we become obsessed about what we don’t have.” So, as the Genesis story goes, while living in paradise we manage to create Paradise Lost.
I found this a striking thought: Paradise is described as a place where we do not have everything.
Barnes is not suggesting that we settle for mediocrity. Rather, he is speaking of a life lived fully within limits. “Living fully” does not mean having everything, it means fully applying yourself to loving God and neighbor. As another catechism puts it, “The chief end of humanity is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” That turns out to be anything but mediocrity: it demands my soul, my life, my all.