There are days when it feels like I don’t know anyone who is really happy.
Life is tough … for everybody.
Which is odd because so many people look so happy. I walk into a coffee shop, I see women hugging and greeting each other like prodigal friends, “Oh my goodness Darlene – you look fabulous!!” I’m at bar with friends and sometimes it feels like I just walked into a Bud Light commercial with all these dudes high-fiving, singing, retelling old stories and intoxicated with life – “Yeah, I’ll have what they’re having.” Then the next day, I will look in the rearview mirror in our van and marvel at the sight of these beautiful children and say something sarcastic to my wife about how I’m really sensing that we should really keep all these kids.
But inevitably I will wonder why these moments feel so fleeting for us. The ladies in the coffee shop will start complaining, the bros in the bar will have a few too many and the sweet kids in the rearview will turn into Gremlins.
The more people you talk to, the more pain you see. The longer you talk to someone, the more hurt they reveal. And the longer you live, the more awful things you see and hear. It’s the theme of the book Ecclesiastes and it’s all throughout anytime anyone says, ““I’m just not happy anymore” and share their feelings of hopelessness.
Then there’s you. You and your happiness or lack of it. We say things like, “If only this were different, if only this could be changed, if only this had or had not happened, if only …”
At this point, we’re wondering a few things. Just how depressed is everyone, should I be more depressed, is happiness simply feeling a little better than the collective misery around me and how depressed is this blogger? And is he really a pastor?
Well, most days I think so and today happens to be one of them and while I’m unconvinced that happiness can be found at the end of a blog post, don’t click away yet because these words feel very true to me.
Predictably I’m going to talk about Christianity and the promise of happiness. In fact, I’d suggest that if our faith is not pointing us to a deeper, truer life, and happier life then we should either get rid of it or figure out if we really understand it.
Frankly, if Jesus does not understand happiness, can I really trust him and further, what good would Jesus/Christianity be if happiness was not part of it? What’s not as predictable is perhaps our understanding of happiness.
So being a Christian pastor, I’m supposed to ask something like, “What did Jesus say about happiness?” I’d answer my own question (don’t you hate when people do that? I do) with “We can see in the Bible that Jesus sad quite a lot.” I would take you through the Beatitudes and paraphrase Dallas Willard and say “When Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… he’s talking about finding happiness in the reality of God today not simply dying and going to heaven.” And that’s all good stuff, it really is.
My problem is that Jesus never talks about happiness the way I want him to. He talks about it, he talks about finding life, finding joy, the Father’s forgiveness, but it’s not exactly what I want. Somewhere there’s a disconnect.
Let’s not dismiss this merely as our desires merely being superficial, carnal or suffering from a poor misunderstanding of the Christian gospel. Because what most of us want is not some clichéd prayer, or some easy 3-step program or anything trite.
What I really want is for Jesus to explain happiness without the paradox of things like “finding life by losing it” (Mark 8:35) and without the perplexing ideas of complete surrender and sacrifice. I want to be able to tell my frustrated friend and heart-broken loved one that Jesus says, “ ________(something that is true and accessible) ____________.” I want happiness to be found minus the pain and brokenness.
Further, at the risk of sounding sacrilegious but as I read the Scriptures, I have to wonder if Jesus was really happy. I see Jesus as loving, compassionate, profound, mysterious, courageous but I’m not sure I see him as happy.
Does Jesus really get happiness?
We know he partied with the sinners, we know he enjoyed some wine, we know he had friends, but how happy was Jesus? If he had a Facebook profile, would there be any group-selfies of the Messiah laughing it up with his friends with some cheesy hashtag tagged by Peter like #disciplesforlife?
We could assume from these Biblical scenes that Jesus laughed a lot but I know a lot of people who laugh a lot out loud and who appear to have a great-looking life on Facebook but admit to being down-right miserable inside. Was Jesus happy? Is what we know about happiness misguided?
Does Jesus say bless the poor in spirit with the happiness of the Kingdom of God because He knows the Father or because this is what He’s living too or both?
Does Jesus say you have to lose your life to find your life because he’s doing one of those self-fulfilling prophecies or because he’s completely miserable or neither?
Do these Beatitudes really work? Do Jesus’ words on happiness help us?
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach them, saying:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
What the Beatitudes show us is that good news is always attached to a context, it’s a framework describing a very true reality – happiness is often found in the coming out of the pain. It’s in the pursuit of something better and ultimately will be found in the life with God.
The more I’m learning about happiness is that it doesn’t work the way I think it should. I’m understanding that it’s not about glee, or the nice feeling when everything is going my way or the promise of stable present and a secure future.
I find that the greatest moments of happiness are often on the other side of hurt, stress, and the feelings connected to anger and brokenness. Even more, happiness needs peace, love and a perspective altered by faith to really take root and survive the storms, anxieties, circumstances and the crap of life. As I continue in my understanding of Scripture, I’m finding my own experiences and my observations of others supporting this.
Yeah, maybe Jesus really does get it.