Last week I was talking with an acquaintance. We are both mothers of Seniors and she commented that she just wanted her son to have a happy life. I disagreed. I let her know that I had much higher aspirations than happiness for my son (I'm nothing if not masochistically pious). I went on to describe that I wanted him to thrive in both difficulty and success and to follow God wholeheartedly and to have the highest character and integrity.
Dang, I'm spiritual!
Words from Ecclesiastes (a decidedly depressing book)
I've long feared that experiencing happiness made me selfish. But I read this today:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
Ecc. 9:7-9 (MSG)
Is it possible I've missed something? Does God really enjoy it when I'm happy? Trust me, I've analyzed this one quite thoroughly. I am convinced that God's end goal for me is not happiness. But does that make the converse true. Is his end goal for me to be unhappy? I think not.
Is it spiritual to be happy?
It's okay if you're way ahead of me on this one. But bear with me as I process on paper.
From the early days of my faith I've been hearing about the difference between happiness and joy. Joy being the superior experience. Frankly, I'm still a bit confused by the distinction at an emotional level, but I'm happy to spiritualize my happiness by calling it joy.
In my twisted mind, I formed a connection between joy and suffering (see James 1). The spiritual virtue of joy became the kind of happiness you had when life was falling apart. So...obviously I would be more spiritual when my life was falling apart. Do see how twisted I am?
Enjoying the pleasure of God
But what if God finds pleasure in my happiness? Even the fleeting happiness of temporal realities. If that's true, I gave God a lot of pleasure this week.
On Sunday I found myself nearly bursting with happiness. I was biking home from the ocean with Caleb and we were discussing the amazing day we'd had. I started it with a walk to the beach with Richard, then to church, lunch with friends, standup paddle boarding on the ocean, biking from our house to the lighthouse where about 7500 people were watching the best surfers in the world. The weather was perfect, my family was happy, and my heart was full. Later that night we headed to UC Berkeley with 40 college students to hear a brilliant follower of Jesus talk about how to live out our faith more responsibly.
I felt guilty for so much happiness even as I thanked God over and over. So undeserved. So abundant. So uniquely kind. And something I don't take for granted. As a woman who struggles with depression, I know that on any given day I could be experiencing these same circumstances and yet be unable to enjoy them.
So what does this mean? Here are a couple of thoughts:
1. Yes, it's good to be able to give thanks in difficulty. To experience joy in the midst of suffering. But it is holy and right to fully enter into moments of happiness when they occur--because they are fleeting and precious and gifts from God.
2. And, since happiness is not the central value of the Christian life, we have to avoid making it such.
3. Lastly, we must recognize that fully entering into happiness means that future pain at its loss may be great.
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” C.S. Lewis
Which of these three things is most difficult for you? Simply enjoying happiness? Making happiness an idol? Or, muting happiness in an attempt to stave off pain?
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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