The Hurt Locker tells the story of various soldiers serving overseas, but it particularly focuses on those who disarm explosive devices. As you can imagine, trying to disarm bombs either before they explode or so that they don’t explode is one of the most nerve-racking jobs in the military. The movie shows how such stress affects soldiers in various ways.
For example, after being in combat and disarming bombs for so long, the lead character Staff Sergeant William James (played by Jeremy Renner) eventually becomes unable to enjoy civilian life. The movie ends with James standing in a grocery store aisle looking at all the choices of cereal. You can almost feel the existential despair in his soul as he gazes at the different varieties of Captian Crunch. Instead of remaining home and being with his family, James reenlists to be a bomb technician again.
I’m not intending to cast judgment upon a soldier’s decision for one, he’s a fictional character! But I think that it is a good illustration of a problem with modern life. Living life skillfully is learning how to actually enjoy life. So much of life is learning how to be present and delight in the mundane, for most of life actually is mundane: washing dishes, doing laundry, spending time with kids, etc. The amount of “earth-shattering” and “significant” things we do is quite small. So what do we do in the meantime?
Unfortunately, rather than enjoying their lives, many people prefer to make themselves miserable. Being miserable becomes an art-form that is tested and perfected over long periods of time. What does it take to perfect this art of form of misery? People can do many different things which can bring misery into their lives.
1. Fabricating Crises
A to-go for many people is to make up a crisis, or impending crisis. They look at their life and tell themselves that everything is terrible and everything is going to fall apart in two seconds. That is rarely the case. In fact, for most people, the worst case scenario rarely happens. And even if it does, you get through it. I guess it has been helpful that my wife and I have been through the difficulty of miscarriage. The worst scenario happened: our child in the womb died. There actually was a crisis. But instead of totally folding, the Lord was there with us and we grew stronger from it.
Pastors are notorious for fabricating crises.
“If I make this decision, everyone is going to leave!!”
“We need to be on guard for liberalism! It’s sneaking in everywhere! Be on the alert of social justice and other words I don’t really know about or can’t define. But watch out! AHHHHHHHH.”
At it’s best, fabricating a crisis in your head will stress you out. At it’s worst, it’s blatant sin and doubt against the Lord. How? First of all, it’s “bearing false witness” to reality. When you make up stories in your head that don’t correspond to reality, how is that not lying? Making up a crisis is also a refusal to trust the Lord. It’s akin to a tarot card or going to a psychic: you’re trying to peer into the future rather than trust that God is there and already working.
There’s nothing fear. As Jamie Foxx says, “What’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.”
Most of the time, there’s nothing there.
So make the decision you know you’ve been needing to make but have been too scared to make.
2. Not being present
People make themselves miserable by not being present in the moment. They try to infuse meaning into their everyday moments by escaping them for an online psuedo-reality which, in turn, only makes them miserable. Furtermore, most people are not thoughtful enough to use online platforms such as social media in a helpful way. As Cal Newport points out, whether social media is helpful or harmful to you depends almost entirely on how you use it. The problem is that most people just passively consume hours and hours of content, rather than setting up actually rules for how to use these tools well.
Not being present by going online for mindless scrolling attempts alleviate the difficulty of the mundane but actually exacerbates it. On the one hand, when you go online for mindless scrolling, you can become dissatisfied with your own life because you see the sanitized, carefully curated “awesome” life of everyone else. On the other hand, you can wade into the morass of troll-culture and actively invite things which are bad for you into your mind.
Do you think that one Tweet sarcastically tearing down another pastor is benign for your soul? Think again.
Do you think that smug satisfaction you feel when you read something on your side of an issue that “pwns” someone on the other side to be a good thing? Think again.
People make themselves miserable by trying to escape the difficulty of the mundane rather than see the Lord’s hand within it.
3. Feeling Guilty
Finally, some people make their lives miserable by feeling guilty all the time. I think the overuse of “I’m sorry” or “Sorry” illustrates our feeling of ambiguous guilty. We say “sorry” now for things which are not wrong, like accidentally getting in the way of someone at the supermarket! Stop apologizing. Of course, such a call is not license to be a jerk. Far from it. In fact, when we stop apologizing for accidents or things which are not wrong, we can become more attune to the things we do which are actually wrong!
People can allow themselves to feel guilty because they don’t deeply drink of the well of the gospel. The plain fact is that, for those in Christ, we don’t need to be feel guilty before the Lord.
If we become aware of all these ways we stay miserable, we can begin fighting against them and truly enjoy our lives. I am happier and more at peace since identifying these things and actively fighting against them. I love my life! I love my work. I love my family life. I love my marriage. And you can too if you’re willing to put in the work.