I confess that when I was pregnant with baby man I spent a few too many hours watching shows like “A Baby Story” and “The Business of Being Born”. I think it’s inherent to pregnant women to read and watch everything pregnancy related they can get their hands on. This seemed strange to me only because you’d think by pregnancy number four I would be ready to write the material instead of reading it.
Something started to bug me as the months progressed. If you’ve ever watched “A Baby Story” you’ll remember that at the end of each episode, they usually have a clip of the parents saying what they want for their child as he or she grows. I realized that almost all of them said the same seemingly noble thing, “I want for my child to by happy.” Ah, the sentimentality. Isn’t that what every parent wants… a happy, well-adjusted, smiling brood following behind them like a row of ducklings. It seems so normal and selfless a request.
I don’t think I realized why it didn’t sit right with me until this week. Now it seems epidemic. People everywhere I look are touting the need to be happy. It is an inalienable right after all, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. If it’s in the Bill of Rights, it must be a noble aim. Who am I to argue?
Still, I think we’ve gotten it all wrong. Happiness is so circumstantial. It comes and goes like the tide. I’m happy when things go my way and I get what I want. I’m not happy when the hard times come. I’m not happy when I can’t pay the bills or when the kids are sick or when I’m completely soaked with baby spit-up at the office (circa today), or the car or the microwave breaks, or my marriage gets rocky, or my friends prove unfriendly, or…insert whatever else here…
The “pursuit” of happiness is a great way to put it because it’s fleeting. It often seems just beyond our reach and we stretch and fight and push harder and farther hoping to achieve it, the whole time wondering what we are doing wrong. We must be doing something wrong if we can’t grab it! After all, it’s the goal, the dream, what our parents wanted for us, what we were taught to desire and follow above all else. What is life without happiness anyway?
I contend there is a better way. There is such a thing as joy whose purest form can only be found in the Lord. Joy is a gift given freely with salvation. It’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.)
I heard the following quote by Pastor Greg Surratt recently, “Happiness is what happens to you but joy is produced in you.” Joy should well up from inside simply because we are His, because the Spirit of God within us is the source of all joy. Nothing else matters.
Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Somehow, we feel like our lives shouldn’t be messy. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that if we’re serving God, everything will be perfect and we will never suffer. This ideal is totally contrary to scripture. Paul was beaten with rods, shipwrecked, thrown in prison multiple times, yet he was content. The disciples were martyred for the sake of the gospel. They suffered horribly, but I don’t think you can convince me they did so without joy or peace.
Ultimately, true joy comes from trust and obedience. If we trust in the Lord, nothing can steal away the joy set before us. If we truly believe what we say we believe, we won’t be thrown by the circumstances of this life. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Some may think it seems a little easy for me to say such things when I am now incredibly happy, but I assure you, I know what it is for circumstances to steal the wind from your lungs. I know the ache of life not going as planned all too well. I speak of this amazing joy that permeates everything, including the ugly, not from a place of a life well lived, but from the remnants of a life torn apart and rebuilt after “I never expected things to turn out like this”. I’ve melted to a puddle on the floor of my closet crying to the Lord begging Him to change situations in my life. I’ve spent hours or my past telling Him that I didn’t think I could take anymore. I know pain. I also know that in the midst of the worst of it, He was there and so was a deep peace and everlasting joy.
Now on the other side looking back, I can see it so clearly, the brightness of glory as He carried me through. I see how he molded me into something lovely. He didn’t blow away the ashes of a life once lived and start fresh with new material. He used the ashes of every moment seemingly wasted and shaped them into something beautiful.
He didn’t promise us “happy”. He did promise us joy. For my children and for those I love, I don’t wish for happiness though it seems a nice gesture. My prayer is that my children, my loved ones, may know Him and the fullness of His peace, love and joy. I pray they would dive deeply into every precious promise and seek first HIs kingdom. I pray that they would know that no matter what life throws at them, they can be content.
Lord, I thank you for the hard times in my life. Thank you for being there with me even when the darkness seemed to overtake the light. Thank you for allowing me to know that my joy comes from you alone and that nothing can ever steal it from me or snatch me from your hand.