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The Disappointment of Life – Part 2

In last week’s blog, we considered how disappointing life can be for adult Americans, particularly as they hit mid-life. I think most of us have a hard time comprehending how people who achieve all their hopes and dreams could end up finding life to be so disappointing. Like the greyhound in last week’s blog that finally catches the rabbit, how could their achievements not be satisfying?

I am reminded of the words of journalist Cynthia Heimel in an article she wrote in The Village Voice, a very popular publication in New York City. She speaks of people she has known who have sought to make it big on Broadway and become famous. She says they are convinced it will lead to their ultimate happiness.

However, once they make it on stage, they become very difficult people. Ironically, Heimel says, they become much more unhappy and discontented than they used to be. Nothing had really changed, they were still them, and they become quite disillusioned about their success.

Heimel then says that she pitied celebrities and that she really felt quite sorry for them. Then she made a very poignant statement: “I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, He grants you your deepest wishes.” She may well be on to something.

Just recently I was reading about the famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who died in 1910. During his lifetime he achieved incredible fame and great wealth. Nevertheless, he found life to be incredibly depressing. In his own words he said:

My position was terrible. I knew that I could find nothing in the way of rational knowledge except a denial of life; and in faith I could find nothing except a denial of reason, and this was even more impossible than a denial of life. According to rational knowledge, it followed that life is evil, and people know it. They do not have to live, yet they have lived and they do live, just as I myself had lived, even though I had known for a long time that life is meaningless and evil.

He got to a point where he wondered if he wanted to continue living. He pondered this thought:

“… seeing that the blessings of the dead are greater than those of the living and that it is better not to exist, they act and put an end to this stupid joke; and they use any means of doing it: a rope around the neck, water, a knife in the heart, a train.”

However at a certain point, his life took a radical turn. He began to find encouragement and optimism in the community of old uneducated Christian peasants in his town, whom he now realized were wiser and more in touch with the realities of human existence than his educated aristocratic friends.

Tolstoy turned to the New Testament. As he searched for the answer, he read the words of Jesus and each page seemed to speak to him lucidly. Over time, by faith, Tolstoy embraced the love of Christ, and as he did, he tells us that the dark menacing figure of death was transformed into a bright promise of life.

For thirty-five years of my life I was, in the proper acceptation of the word, a nihilist – not a revolutionary socialist, but a man who believed in nothing. Five years ago, my faith came to me. I believed in the doctrine of Jesus, and my whole life underwent a sudden transformation. Life and death ceased to be evil; instead of despair I tasted joy and happiness that death could not take away.

Tolstoy finally found the rabbit that would not break down.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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