The secret to life is this: Life is found when you let go of the pursuit of the life that you think will make you happy.
If we’re honest, we all spend our lives pursuing the things that we think will make us happy, satisfy us, and complete us. We spend our lives trying to gratify our desires, chase our dreams, and meet our perceived needs. Yet it seems the more we chase these things, the further away happiness becomes. In Greek philosophy, this was known as the hedonistic paradox. The philosophers realized that the more one pursued happiness, the more elusive it became. Why is this?
The world tells us to follow our hearts, to do what feels good, and to chase after what we think will make us happy. But the truth is… we don’t know what is best for ourselves. There is a huge gap between our perceived needs and our actual needs. Often times our perceived needs are simply our “wants.” They are what the devil is currently using to tell us the lie that “if we just had this job, or this relationship, or this amount of money, or this family, or this fame, or these social media followers then we’d be happy.” But the moment you attain one of those things, the lie changes. We never quite arrive at happiness or contentment—at least not for more than a week or two. We’re always one big life change away from it.
But what if it is this very pursuit that is killing us? Depression, anxiety, despair, and restlessness are at an all-time high (I’ve battled them myself). What if being the “master of our fate and the captain of our soul” is why we’re so miserable? What if we were never intended to have this role? What if the effects of sin are so damaging that it makes it impossible to accurately discern what is best for us?
One pastor put it well: “No one is worse to you than you are.” If you think about it, while many people have been the victim of undeniable atrocities, for most people, it is the decisions we have made while chasing a desire, “following our heart”, or trying to meet a perceived need that have caused us the most heartache. It is these decisions that have left us empty, broken, anxious, and depressed.
Perhaps the most memorable book I read during my childhood was Where the Red Fern Grows. The book tells the story of a young boy and his raccoon hunting dogs. While over time I have forgotten much of the book, there is one part that has stayed with me.
As the young boy is learning the ways of raccoon hunting, his grandfather reveals a “trick” that guarantees success in catching a raccoon. What you do is simply take a hollowed out log, and drill a small hole in it just large enough for a raccoon to barely fit his hand into it. Next, place a small, metallic, shiny object in the hole. Something as simple as a small piece of aluminum foil will work perfectly. The shiny object will draw the raccoon’s attention. Fixating on the object, he will immediately try to retrieve it. As the raccoon reaches into the hole and closes his hand around the object, his closed fist will now be too large to come back out through the hole. If the raccoon would just drop the shiny object, he would get away, but he won’t do it. He will remain there –trapped—until he starves to death, is killed by the hunter, or is killed by another animal.
It seems silly to us, doesn’t it? And for a worthless piece of aluminum foil? DUDE! Just let go of the shiny object! Don’t you know it’s killing you! Let go! Live!
But we do the same thing. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me, for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will save it (Matthew 16:25) .” But we fail to grasp the gravity of this passage—to realize what this verse is saying—what it is asking of us. Life is found in Jesus alone, and he says if you’re going to come with me you have to let go of the aluminum foil—the life that you think is going to bring you joy, fulfillment, and contentment. Yes, it’s shiny and promises to satisfy. But it never will.
The Lord is beckoning you to follow him, and in doing so to find the life you so badly desire. But you can’t follow him if your hand is stuck in the tree stump with your fist tightly grasping onto the vision you have for your life. Being a Christian is about more than mere belief. It’s faith put into action. It’s trusting in the goodness and love of God with your life. It’s becoming a follower of Jesus, not just someone that believes in his name.
What would it look like for you to trust God with your whole life—for you to surrender control to him? What would it look like to die to your own desires and become a follower of Jesus? What would it look like to live your life for Jesus instead of for self? What is your “aluminum foil?”
I leave you with the testimony of a young woman who wrestled with these very questions when confronted with Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:25:
“My heart cried out, “Oh, no, not that! I do not want to lose my life. I want to live! I want happiness and beautiful things and friends. I want (joy) and popularity and a good time. I want life!” A sadness which seemed about to crush the breath out of my body engulfed me. How unfair, how cruel, how crazy—to ask me to give up life when it was the one thing I longed for—life with its music, its color, its fun!
I listened to the sermon. Step by step the way was explained; the logic irrefutable; the paradox seemed unanswerable, so maddeningly convincing, and yet I was unwilling to accept it. It was impossible for me to give up my life whatever the promises. Then the last hymn was announced: “When I survey the wondrous cross.” My eyes skimmed down over the verses. Then something like panic seized me. There was a line coming which I could not sing. Nothing could make me sing that—I would die if I had to. The second stanza of the hymn began; the first line, then the second line—it was coming nearer; what should I do? How could I give up everything? It was asking too much. “O God,” I cried in my heart, “what shall I do?”
Then moved by some power, not of myself, I managed to sing, inaudibly, “All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.” It was done! Everything was gone. At that moment life seemed drained of everything. It was complete and utter emptiness. There was nothing left. But at that very moment, almost simultaneously, came an overflowing of breathless joy. It seemed that I would be swept off my feet so great was the infilling, the glory. Christ Himself flooded my heart, overwhelmed me with love. In a flash it was plain—this was life, this abundance, this joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Life is found when we let go of the pursuit of the life that we think will make us happy—when we make Jesus the master of our fate and the captain of our soul. For this job was never meant for us—but for Him alone.
 E. Stanley Jones, Conversion (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1959), 56.