The BBC recently did a feature on “Chris Gardner, the homeless man who became a multimillionaire investor,” which was brought to light in the film, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). The recollection of the life of Chris Gardner offers a compelling retrospective for the season of Christmastide.
The article quotes Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith in the movie, as saying, “But when I look back on the journey from homelessness to prosperity, I hold one thing dearer than all else, my commitment to my son. This is our story.”
Homelessness vs. Home
If there’s one thing we can learn from the story then, it is this: homelessness is not the same thing as being without a home. Chris Gardner and his son experienced “homelessness” for a season, but “home” was in essence the relationship between father and son. The outward reality of the father’s state of affairs did not change the overall governing reality: the father loves the son who implicitly trusts the father each step of the way. In fact, if I recollect somewhat roughly, the way the movie unfolds, the reality of homelessness while being the context for the telling of the story is merely the setting for the real story of the father’s heart to care for and provide for his son.
And so, in the context of Christmastide we might ask:
If a human father can overcome the so-called insurmountable odds of homelessness to leave a lasting legacy for a son, then what might be said of an eternal Father who prepares an eternal home for all his children? Is it so hard to imagine?
Apart from the somewhat obvious parallel between father Chris and Father God and their respective love for their sons, it is also important to highlight some points of differentiation.
The Endurance for Joy
For God, rather than “the pursuit of happyness,” it’s more about the endurance for joy. The movie paints a picture about a father who does whatever it takes to overcome the systemic issues of homelessness, all for the sake of his son. It’s about pushing beyond your so-called limitations. The Heavenly Father however sends his Son who endures the Cross all for the greater joy before him in obedience to the will of his Father.
Life is more than the pursuit of happiness. It is about doing whatever it takes to bring about the Kingdom of God. Christmastide therefore is about celebrating that sort of synergy between the love of God the Father, the obedience of the Son, and the will to press on to do what needs to be done with eternity in mind; Knowledge of God in action. Christmastide is about the confidence of giving birth to projects and dreams that will accomplish God’s purpose through thick and thin; and especially thin – because the hope is that suffering is indeed opportunity for pure joy in Christ.
The “pursuit of happyness” is the first ending. But there is a second ending. In real life, Chris’ wife dies of cancer some years after the film was made. He recollects his wife asking him, “‘Now that we can see how truly short life can be, what will you do with the rest of your life?’” And so, he eventually gives up his multimillion-dollar job as an investor and becomes a motivational speaker pouring into the lives of others. This illustrates a further dimension – the pursuit of happiness might yield temporary solutions for the homelessness of this world. But lasting solutions for the homeless are found in the human heart that is willing to sacrificially take in the other. It is God giving up his Son for the re-familying of all peoples by faith in Him to become children of God.
Work toward the the second ending
Homelessness is high on the agenda for the government in North America as well as for many churches and not-for-profit organizations. A study by the National Center on Family Homelessness reveals that 1 out of 45 children are homeless. However, while housing addresses an immediate need of homelessness — four walls and a roof over your head — it is the fostering of enduring relationships that addresses the emotional and psychological issues of being homeless.
Many of us serving churches will have opportunity (hopefully) to minister with the homeless this season of Christmastide. So, let’s bear in mind that homelessness and being homeless are two separate things. Address the former by concentrating on the latter – finding home with them. Second, find ways to endure the joy of being homeless this Christmas where you are. Don’t aim for comfort in your earthly home where moth and rust destroy. You have an eternal home waiting for you. Head there. And find creative ways to show others the way.