The human capacity for trust in a power greater than ourselves may be overlooked in our search for happiness.
Bob Marley tells us “Don't worry about a thing 'cause every little thing gonna be alright.” Jesus said do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. These statements suggest the courageous act of giving up a measure of control over the unfolding of our lives and trust in a power greater than we.
But we choose instead to trust worry as the vehicle to happiness. We know that worry is an emotional cancer that impacts our physical and emotional well being. Worry fixes nothing and does not deliver happiness. Nevertheless, we rely on worry as the magic potion to make things better. What are we to do?
Sometimes profound observations come from unexpected sources. Our beloved Charlie Russell is an example. Charlie Russell was no churchgoer and had no use for what he called “latter day moralists.” Nevertheless, he may have captured the essence of to the path to human happiness through faith, even as he confesses his inability to follow that path.
In March 2018, eight years before his death, Charlie Russell wrote to his friend Brother Van – founder of Methodism in Montana. In advance of his 70th birthday, Brother Van had invited, Charlie, his friend of 37 years, to the birthday celebration. But Charlie had jury duty. Instead, he penned a magnificent tribute to Brother Van in an illustrated letter.
In the letter he compares his life to that of Brother Van. He describes his own difficulty in pursuing his passions in a life that he describes as a rough trail, over dangerous passes, with wind, falls and swift deep rivers to cross. We can only imagine the challenges that Charlie experienced in following his passion. Charlie reflects the lives of us all in acknowledging the difficulty of finding happiness among the twists and turns of human life. But in the letter, he acknowledges that Brother Van traverses the same landscape, day after day, following his passions. But somehow Brother Van finds peace and happiness that escaped Charlie. He says, about Brother Van, “With a hoss called faith under you, life is a smooth flower grown trail with easy ford, where birds sing and cold clear streams dance in the sun light all the way to the pass that crosses the big divide, Brother Van you have ridden that trail a long time and I hope you still ride to many birthdays on this side of the big range.”
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Charlie recognizes that faith and happiness are closely related. He suggests that Brother Van’s trust in a power beyond himself makes the difference in navigating the obstacle-strewn path of life. Faith, like a strong horse, delivers Brother Van to a life of happiness.
This theme permeates the Biblical tradition. For example, we recall the story of the Jewish King David who was anointed by God to inaugurate a period of peace and who initiated the lineage of leaders resulting in the birth of Jesus. David’s life was occasioned by what CM Russell calls a rough trail over dangerous passes, with wind, falls and swift deep rivers to cross. David’s handsome son, Absalom, was tragically killed, as he led troops to challenge his father for kingship. Though opposed by his, David did not feel anger. He was overcome with grief as would any parent on the death of a child. As he wept he uttered those famous words “O my son Absalom, my dear, dear son Absalom! Why not me rather than you, my death and not yours?”
Yet we know that David rose above his grief. Late in his life, he penned a magnificent statement of faith in God known to future generations as the 23rd Psalm. He observes how his faith enabled him to travel the rough road of life. His life was shadowed in the tragic death of Absalom, yet he attributes his faith to his ability to survive this tragedy. He has survived the life-threatening events in his life without fear. His faith in God’s goodness and mercy has followed him all the days of his life. When he thought there was no way forward, he sees the hand of the divine, shepherding him to a life of peace. While his faith was shaken, it was never lost. And now at life’s end, he is back in the house of God for the rest of his life. David’s faith is stronger than ever. In Charlie’s words, “a hoss called faith” delivered him.
Like David, each of us knows that we have survived many experiences when the foundations of our lives have literally shaken and even shattered our hopes for happiness. Maybe we attribute our survival to good luck or personal toughness or clean living. But David attributed his surviving the bumps in his life to a force beyond himself. That force is the pure goodness in creation, the goodness in life and goodness in death. For David, that force was his shepherd, whom he called Lord.
In today’s secular world, many cannot or will not acknowledge a creative force beyond them that ensures human happiness. For Christians, that force is greater than the mightiest armies. It leads us to happiness and fulfillment in this life and to the mysterious eternal life. That force is revealed in the life and faith of Jesus. Charlie Russell might have learned from his friend Brother Van that it is time to saddle up! It is time to navigate this life to happiness with a “hoss called faith.”