There exists something within every human heart that cries out for fulfillment - and we find that only in the Gospel.
The two top stories of the past couple weeks — that of Rachel Dolezal and of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner — have stirred up a lot of media attention and brought up some interesting questions. But even more, these two unfortunate and controversial stories bring up a more timeless and more fundamental issue — the struggle to find happiness amidst real human suffering.
We’ve heard in both cases that both Dolezal and Jenner were more or less pursuing their “true self,” so we ask, why does the “true self” matter? The reality is that there exists something within every human heart that cries out for fulfillment, and a large part of that fulfillment involves being an authentic human being — in essence, to live as we were made to live.
In a culture that affirms the “right” of every human to uniquely define how they were made to live, it’s no wonder not only that situations like Dolezal and Jenner’s can happen, but also that there can be such widespread vitriol in one case and such widespread acceptance — and demand for acceptance — on the other.
In any case, I honestly think Dolezal and Jenner were pursuing the same goal — happiness.
The problem is, in the spirit of a Johnny Lee song, they’re looking for it in all the wrong places.
Dolezal and Jenner, along with every other human being on the planet, have felt within themselves that somehow they aren’t fulfilled as they are. And every person is correct in feeling that — the intuition that things aren’t right within our being is spot on, and something must be done about it.
The answer, however, isn’t a physical alteration or psychological change that originates with us. Instead, the answer comes in the person of Jesus Christ.
Now, work with me here. I know many readers gave a BIG *eyeroll* at that last line, because it’s become a bit cliche for people to say, “y’all need Jesus!” as a blanket resolution for everything. But this isn’t that.
Saying Jesus is the answer to our human imperfection really means that we don’t need to bother creating our own happiness, because it’s already been laid out for us. It’s the “Way” and the “Life” part of “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” from the Gospel of John.
The “Truth” part comes in breaking down what humanity constantly suffers from: bondage to sin and death. Mama was just a little off; Instead of death and taxes, it should have been sin, death, and taxes — we all sin, and we’re all gonna die (…and I guess we all pay taxes, but I digress).
Of course, Jesus didn’t just come to tell us that, but instead (and in fact) came to save us from the effects of both of them. Jesus came to save us from the very sin and death to which we, as humans in a fallen state, are otherwise destined to be enslaved. In baptism, what is visibly an immersion in water is invisibly a grafting onto the Body of Christ, an adoption of the person as son or daughter by God the Father, an indelible and permanent mark on the soul that opens the person up to salvation and eternal life with God. Baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in short, is what saves us from that feeling of emptiness and inadequacy we so desperately wish to fulfill — a reality only enhanced by the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation.
The persona and name of Jesus has become so radically colloquialized and used as a tool of popular culture that we rarely (if ever) consider who Jesus really was, and what His existence really means for the world and our lives.
The reality is, if Jesus’ Resurrection is real, then the path to happiness and fulfillment has indeed already been laid out for us. If Jesus is real, and what He did is true, then we have no need to create a happiness for ourselves.
And yet, I think this is just the case with Dolezal and Jenner. They experienced a profound brokenness, a gaping hole in their life, that they decided to fill with the actions that have us all talking about them. Both persons were convinced at one point that a greater path to happiness and fulfillment didn’t exist, but lacked the true understanding that their inclination was false.
While their feelings are and were definitely real, their perception that they needed to create their own happiness was, instead, a deception.
We are indeed imperfect people, and we all experience an emptiness and a brokenness that needs fixing. But instead of an artificial alteration of our own doing, the transformation we ought to pursue is the one St. Paul speaks of in Romans 6. The real fix is to be transformed in Christ by following Him into death — death to our own sin — in order to be reborn anew.
Because we have the ability to run to Jesus at every moment — to “altar” ourselves, if you will — we should always remind ourselves that altering our body, our soul, our person with our own ideas can never be enough.
A line from C.S. Lewis rings especially true here as well:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses)
When we surrender to Jesus, we are promised nothing short of infinite joy. And so, wherever you’re at in life, know this: You were made with a purpose, you are deeply loved by the God who created you, and you don’t need to alter yourself with your own ideas to be happy.
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