in search of gladness

Tony Woodlief in Image:

It’s a galling irony that I am frequently asked to speak to young people, to tell them something about life, and what I have learned in mine, and what they should therefore go and do with theirs.

It is an irony because my life feels like a slow-moving disaster, and most nights all I can hope is that if the second half doesn’t bring redemption, perhaps it will bring something different than what I have lived thus far.

I don’t tell them this, because young people don’t want to hear about your mistakes, other than the salacious details. Our mistakes are usually more interesting to us, and they don’t help anyone anyway; mostly we each commit our sins thinking we are doing right, or that we can’t bear for another second whatever it is that’s crushing us. What good is someone’s else’s cautionary tale in the face of false virtue or aching hunger?

via Andrew Sullivan.

So I warn them that while I have hopes for them, my greatest hope is that they can live better lives than I.

Then I direct them to the words of Frederick Buechner.

I love Fred. More than once, when I’d thought too long about where I could go to put my 9 mm in my mouth, how I might arrange it so my children wouldn’t be the ones to find the corpse, it was Buechner’s words that assuaged my impulse to self-destruction.

Buechner, who found the body of his own father, a suicide. Sweet, tortured Buechner, the minister who does not preach in a church, but in pages.

The particular words of Buechner’s to which I direct them concern vocation. What he says is that our vocation is that place where our deep gladness meets the world’s great hunger. “In a world where there is so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain, our gladness in our work is as much needed as we ourselves need to be glad.”

These are scandalous notions, that we need to be glad, that the world needs our gladness. Our Puritan forbears were certainly suspicious of gladness, and their modern, secular inheritors of grimness—professors and politicians and preachers—demand not gladness, but utility.


Do you know what brings you gladness?

It would be a pity to reach the end of this life not having known, not having stretched out our hands toward the gladness for which we were surely crafted. But it’s a frightening thing, to look fully at our work and relationships and amusements, to gauge whether they bring us true gladness, or just momentary respite from fear, from hurt, from regret.

So here’s my offer to you, dear stranger: I’ll look if you look.

And may we each have the courage to embrace what is good for us, what draws us nearer to ourselves and to God, no matter from what it draws us away. Because if we don’t find our gladness, and pursue it to the deep-running needs of this world, how will our children ever know to do the same?

I just returned from a bike ride with Micah.  That makes me glad, every time.