Father Thomas Keating wrote about strategies for living. He called his a plan for happiness - which, to be clear, he knew was no real plan at all. His point was this is how we think, not how life works. He believed that most of us look for happiness in the following ways:
* We believe we need power and control to find happiness.
* We believe we need affection and esteem to find happiness.
* We believe we need security to survive and without it there is no hope for happiness.
Keating would NOT have taken his theory too far. I think he would have agreed that we all need to take responsibility for our life choices, that we are created for loving relationships, and that we need a certain level of security in life to thrive. It is hard to be homeless. It is brutal to be poor and without access to basic life necessities.
But Father Keating challenges us to think about our compulsions, our drives. Taken too far they feed our vulnerabilities to particular falsehoods that hinder our growth. If we cannot find a reasonable way to manage life, we are all vulnerable to developing compulsive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that can lead to a dependency of some kind. Many times we become obsessed with chasing happiness.
Scripture gives us a different frame of reference. It offers the promise of a God who is crazy about us and offers dire warnings of how our forgetfulness or misunderstandings about the nature of God, ourselves and others can get us in trouble. Here is a scriptural warning that aligns with the false identity notion of Henri Nouwen and the misguided plan for happiness as described by Father Keating.
Understand that the last days will be dangerous times. People will be selfish and love money. They will be the kind of people who brag and who are proud. They will slander others, and they will be disobedient to their parents. They will be ungrateful, unholy, unloving, contrary, and critical. They will be without self-control and brutal, and they won’t love what is good. They will be people who are disloyal, reckless, and conceited. They will love pleasure instead of loving God. They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power. Avoid people like this. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 CEB