We’ve all seen them–the “Life Is Good” t-shirts, mugs, baseball caps, etc. Some of us even own them, myself, my husband, and my kids included! Simple drawings of simple pleasures, created to promote “the Power of Optimism” (www.lifeisgood.com). And for many years I’ve been a believer! For a long time I subscribed to that way of thinking–“Life is good!” “All you have to do is think positively!” “Make sure you take time to stop and smell the roses.” “Everything is going to be okay.”
In recent months, though, I’ve begun to have some doubts.
Is life good? Really? Or is that just propaganda?
And if life is good, what is it that makes it so? Is it a roof over your head? food on your table? clothes on your back? Is life good when friends are plentiful and laughter abounds? when problems are few and pain is minimal? Is life good when your checks don’t bounce, your family doesn’t argue, and your thighs don’t jiggle? Perhaps life is good when your job is good, or when the weather is good, or when your health is good….???
All of those things do, in fact, seem good, right? And certainly, they can all contribute to life being good. But…they can all go away. Things can change in an instant–think tornado…pink slip…infidelity…unexpected diagnosis–0r over a period of time–think dwindling savings…relationships drifting apart…cholesterol gradually creeping up….skin slowly sagging down! But they can all go away. Then what? Is life by default no longer good?
And what about those who don’t have those things in the first place? who don’t have a roof over their heads or food on their table? What about those who have more problems than friends, and more pain than laughter? For those whose family is in a nearly constant state of conflict, or whose job seems meaningless, or whose health is a constant source of concern and provides an endless supply of suffering–is there no hope for them? can their life simply not be good?
And to go even a step further, I’ve wondered on occasion if life is even meant to be good? We live in an imperfect world, among imperfect people, full of imperfections ourselves. There is pain, there is suffering; injustice and greed abound; life is not fair! And yet…the message persists: “Life is good.” Or at least should be. And can be, if only we can think more positively, if only we can be more optimistic, if only we can look for the good….
It seems to me that life is not always good. Or at least, not “good” in the sense that I, and I think many, have historically understood “good” to mean, which is to say pleasant, comfortable, secure, rewarding, and overflowing with sweetness and light. Life can be uncomfortable, and difficult, and painful, and full of struggle. There is conflict, internal and external, and things often don’t go the way we think they should. We live with bodies that don’t function as we need them to, that don’t look as we want them to, that don’t respond in the ways they’re supposed to. We live with minds that aren’t as sharp as they used to be, that are overloaded with to-do’s, that are constantly inundated with stimuli from all sides. And we live with spirits that are weighed down with insecurities, regrets, guilt, and fear.
And yet…”Life is good!” ??
I’m not so sure.
Unless…what is meant by “good” can be tweaked a little.
What if, when we said, “Life is good!”, we didn’t simply mean, “Life is peachy and meant to be enjoyed.” What if what we meant was “Life is complex and messy and downright hard. There is confusion, frustration, and indignation. There is suffering and there is pain, some of which you can do something about, some of which you are helpless to change. You will get hurt, and you will hurt others. And yet, in the midst of all of that, life is good. In the midst of all of that, there are gifts waiting to be discovered. In the mess, there is the potential for growth; in the struggle, there is the possibility of connection; in the pain, there is the chance for authenticity. Therein lies the good. In acknowledging the complexity of life, there are opportunities for humility; in recognizing the frustration, opportunities for compassion; in owning the hurt, opportunities for giving and receiving forgiveness. Therein lies the good. And most of all, underlying all of that and not dependent in the least on the discovery of any of those gifts, is the reality that in the midst of the mess and the pain and the chaos and the hurt, you–yes, you–are cherished beyond measure, accepted without condition, and loved without end…by God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. And that God is with you always. And therein lies the Goodness of Life.”
If that’s what we mean when we say, “Life is good,” then I’m in. Again. Count me as a believer, once more. I guess I can get my coffee mug out of storage after all. 🙂