Good books can be read on many levels. Such is very true for a book due to ship New Year’s Eve – The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success by Hugh Hewitt. I recommend this book in the strongest possible terms – hit the link and order it now.
But let’s talk about the levels. On the one level this is an eminently readable and delightful collection of stories from the life of a very interesting man in politics, government service, the legal profession and media. It is a light little airy read that will leave a smile on your face – an enjoyable two or three hours. This is the perfect airplane book. If it stopped there it would be a success, but it does not.
On the second level it is memoir. Wikipedia says this about a memoir:
Memoir is more about what can be gleaned from a few years or a moment in the life of the author, than from the author’s life as a whole.
In this case, what can be gleaned is revealed in the title. Beginning with the virtue of courage and proceeding to a call to generosity born of that courage, one learns to see life as a series of gifts both given and received. In doing so one’s perception is altered. Rather than seeing life as a series of duties and burdens, we come to appreciate the blessings that are in our lives on a daily basis. Hewitt finds gifts in the large and the small – the mundane and the glorious. In the discovery of those blessings we find ourselves happy.
On this level this book is memoir at its finest. It is not an exercise in the ego of the author, picking and choosing vignettes designed to paint the author in a good light, and stroke his insatiable need for praise. Rather, the author uses stories of his experience to draw us to a lesson we need to learn, with all appropriate humility.
Which brings me to the third level. Sometimes good books transcend the authors intent and I think that is true in the case of this book. This book reveals two deep mysteries of the Christian faith. Hewitt is not shy in the book about discussing his deeply held faith, but he also admits extensively to not being able to explain nor even understand much of it. He seems to simply know that it works.
The first mystery revealed in this book is that in giving, regardless of the situation, we receive. This I do think the author intended us to see. This is a lesson of scripture and one plainly illustrated throughout the book. This is a mystery that we see revealed in literature throughout the ages. The great story of this season, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” is one such example. “The Gifts of the Christ Child” by George MacDonald is another example of a story in which gifts are given in the most tragic of circumstances. This is a mystery because of the deep contradiction within, the giving discussed is not transactional. There is no quid pro quo. There is simply giving. And blessing simply flows.
But it is in Hewitt’s disclaimer of theological understanding of this first mystery that the second deeper mystery is revealed. That is the mystery of the Christmas season – the mystery of incarnation. Some matters are not subject to our understanding – we can see them, we can know their truth, but we cannot understand them. Thus it was necessary for God to incarnate to show us these mysteries. Not teach them to us, but show them to us. By showing us the first mystery, Hewitt reveals to us the second.
Hewitt has said repeatedly on his radio program that he wanted this book released on December 31 so that people could use it in the formation of the New Year’s resolutions. This is admirable and all of us will be greatly benefited by resolving to be more giving of the seven gifts in 2014. But this is also a Christmas book.
It is a one part of the Christian life – one that cannot be taught – well illustrated.