Hugh Hewitt is a friend. I met him when we were both lawyers in the Reagan administration; since then he has continued to practice and teach law, but is better known as a political columnist and as a television and radio show host. He’s also written over a dozen books. And he’s a Christian.
This book is divided into two parts, the seven gifts and the seven givers. The seven gifts (each gets one chapter) are encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, empathy, good humor, graciousness, and gratitude; it’s interesting that “energy” is considered a chosen attribute rather than one that we just have or don’t have. The seven givers (again, with each getting one chapter) are the spouse, the parent, family members, friends, the coworker, teachers, and the church. The book is heavily and frankly autobiographical, which is fine, since Hugh has had an interesting life and, more to the point, has dozens of interesting friends and has interviewed literally thousands of people.
It’s a good book and, as you probably figured out, its point is that the happiest life is a giving and generous life. In the balance of this post, I’ll try to give some flavor of it.
Naturally, I will start by flagging the author’s references to C.S. Lewis.
He read “the whole of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity over the air on successive Sunday nights” (137), and his listeners loved it.
Two of his six most-used quotes are from C.S. Lewis (115-16). (Three others are from his radio work: “Morning glory and evening grace,” “If only I had a producer,” and “Not going to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.” And there is a political one from Benjamin Disraeli: “A majority is better than the best repartee.”) From Lewis’s essay “The Weight of Glory”:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
And from Lewis’s essay, “Christianity and Culture”: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”
By the way, here’s his “favorite all-time quote” (151):
Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body.
I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.
That quote is given in the book’s final chapter before the conclusion, on “The Greatest Giver.” That chapter begins (149): “Everything in this book is just window-dressing if Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and if He did what Scripture says He did. All books except the Bible are. As are all things — most certainly politics and talk radio, but everything that is not the simple declaration of the gospel.”
There were plenty of other passages I liked. From 142-43:
Everyone–every single person reading this and every person in the world–needs to belong to a church no matter whether they believe or not. They need to do so because the questions asked and debated in churches are the most important questions; they have been asked since the beginning of time for the simple reason that we are made to wonder about this world and our places in it. Those questions and that wondering are not served–reliably and seriously–anywhere except in a church. And thus that deep, deep hunger is fed only through life within a body devoted to answering these enormous questions of why the world is the way it is and how we ought to live in it.
Listen to me. This is the key to renewing your life if you are unhappy. Pick a church. Practically any church. Go and go and go again and again and again. Even if you are shy, force yourself to say hello to the greeter and find a second gathering there–a Bible study, a class, a lecture–and go again. After a month you will have seamlessly evolved into a churchgoer and your life will be almost inestimably better.
Everything I have learned in all these years of broadcasting is that kindness is just, cruelty is unjust, and fairness is quite easily recognized, understood, and acted upon. I have that understanding due to my attending church for more than fifty years and listening to constant repetitions of the same readings and the same messages. That is what is wonderful about faithful church attendance. Something gets through. Something sticks.
If I had any theological chops at all, I could now tell you how grace is God’s gift, variously delivered through the agencies of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments, and the gifts we give each other are simply the poor human imitations of the various graces we receive.
But I don’t. So I commend you to the works of the people cited above and many, many others. If you are persuaded by anything I have suggested in any of these chapters, please understand that it is because I heard the one big truth long ago and have been listening for it ever since in almost every interview with almost every guest. At least that is the case when I am doing my best work.
And here are the concluding two paragraphs of the book (164-65), where he discusses the responses he received after asking classmates at his 35-year reunion what made them happy:
No one, not even the people with whom I have been the very closest of friends for nearly forty years, who would be completely honest with me, referred even once to anything having to do with money or assets. AS I run through the list of my friends from before, during, and after college who were not there at the reunion, I can say with complete confidence — 100 percent confidence — that none of them would count material accomplishment as that which brought them happiness. This is a pretty large cross-section of people from a very diverse set of backgrounds who have pursued a great variety of careers in places all over the country and indeed the world. None of them, not one, would say that their greatest happiness came from the things they had gotten. All of them would point to the people and institutions to whom they had given.
It is all about the giving: that which you have received from God and that which you give in His name. And you have forgotten that, recall it. If you have failed, start again. If you are happy, be thankful. And if you aren’t, you can be.