It is instructive to look at the lives of people who have received everything to see if ‘having it all’ makes one happy. The Bible itself tells the story of one such man. Solomon was the son of King David and heir to the throne. Shortly after becoming king (See I Kings 3), God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked for wisdom in order to rule wisely. God said that since Solomon asked for wisdom and not wealth, power, and honor, God would give him all that, too; and God did. Solomon became the wealthiest king Israel ever had, the most powerful, and the most honored. For 40 years he had it all. Did that make him happy? It does not appear to have even kept him from despair. As is often the case, God’s blessings can become a curse in our lives. In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes you can read about how Solomon had it all, did it all, and experienced it all in life; but it left him bored, frustrated, and disgusted with himself and life. So after all of that, he came to this simple conclusion in the last words of Ecclesiastes: “Fear God and keep his commandments.” It is as simple as that. That’s the key to life. Discovered, finally, by a man who had and tried everything else, and it all brought him nothing but despair and trouble.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a man in our time who lived such a life. His father was a successful artist, and the family had plenty of money. His father painted landscapes, and they traveled to all the most beautiful places in the world, and would live there for several months while the father worked. They would then go to London or Paris or New York, where his father knew all sorts of important people who would buy his art, and in those places they lived with those of the very highest class. When Thomas wanted to go to school for a while, he could have his pick of any of the best boarding schools in Europe. Thomas’s parents both died when he was still a boy, but his grandfather, who was also very wealthy, saw to it that Thomas was taken care of financially. In 1929 Thomas was 14 years old and the economy of the whole world was entering a depression. But Thomas had all the money he needed, and his grandfather left him pretty much free to do as he pleased. Imagine that!; fourteen years old, free to do as you pleased, and with all the money you needed. He had the kind of freedom and financial independence that most people never get; and he had it at in his early teens.
Thomas was a fairly responsible kid (though not always), and was wise enough to accept the occasional guidance of his godfather. And, Thomas liked to read and learn, so he stayed in school. This all prevented him from going completely crazy, as would many kids that age with that kind of money and freedom. But he did do whatever he wanted to do and buy whatever he wanted to buy. If he wanted to go to school at Oxford in England, he did. When he got sick of that and wanted to go to school at Columbia in New York, he did that. If he wanted to quit school and live in the Bahamas for a while, he would do that. If he wanted to live in the mountains of Switzerland, he went there. If he ever worked, it was only because he wanted to work, and then only doing what he wanted to do, which was write; and sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t. If he wanted to drink and carouse and stay out all night every night and wander the streets with his friends, he would do that, and, he later admitted that he did way too much of it. He had done it all– and, by the time he was 21 years old, he was sick of it all. All of his freedom, and everything that his grandfather’s money could buy him, began to bring him less and less satisfaction. Thomas eventually found himself in the midst of a depression that was so severe it making him seriously ill physically.
It was at this time that Thomas started to go to church to see if there was anything there that might calm his restless spirit and speak to his despairing soul. There had not been much religion in his home, and the few Protestant churches he had attended seemed to him like nothing more than social clubs– and lack of an active social life was not his problem. Years before, when he was 17, Thomas had made a trip to Rome. He remembered being inspired by the many grand Catholic churches and cathedrals there. So one day he went into a Catholic church for worship, and he again found himself moved by the reverence of the service. To make a long story short, he kept going to church, asked for instruction, and eventually became a Catholic. Then, in the biggest surprise of all to his friends, he decided to become a monk. His spiritual autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, was written after 10 years in the monastery. It is a spiritual classic and is filled with expressions of gratitude to God.
Without God in his life, the young Thomas Merton found no contentment, no peace, and no satisfaction, even though he had all the freedom and all the money anyone could want. But with his new found faith in God his life overflowed with gratitude and peace. He had no reason to resent anyone who had more. He once had it all. And he had learned from experience what most people never have the opportunity to learn– that having it all is not the answer. Many people spend their lives in hopes of getting a little bit more, believing that will make life happen for them. Merton had everything as a teenager, and it left him in despair. And since he already had it all, there was nothing more to hope for. Something else was needed. He needed to know the God, and learned that only in God can the soul be at peace.
Now Merton was free to receive everything with gratitude, and he did. When he was 20, he had everything, and took pleasure in nothing. When he was 30, he owned absolutely nothing, but his writings are filled with gratitude for all the simple things that surrounded him– the warmth of the sun, the beauty of a flower, the laughter of friends, the enjoyment of a meal (meager as they were in the monastery), and the inner peace and strength that came from reading God’s word and spending time in quiet prayer. Thomas Merton’s life is instructive, but one does not have to become a monk to find one’s peace and contentment in God.
Jim Carrey did not become a monk, but life has taught him the same lesson about the futility of ‘having it all:’
Jeremiah 6:16 — This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
Psalm 62:5 — Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.
John 14:27 — (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Matthew 11:28-29 — (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”