03 Mar What Does it Mean to be Happy?
I have no discernible athletic ability. I go to the gym most mornings and suffer through enough cardio to keep reasonably healthy. For many moons I kept waiting and hoping I’d begin to enjoy working out, like some of my gym mates seem to do. But nope, clearly that’s not gonna happen. It’s an internal wrestling match to get myself out the door every morning, and it’s an endurance test once I’m there. So, I suppose it’s a bit idiosyncratic that I am rather addicted to reading the daily sports pages, especially now that the Washington Nationals are getting tan and fit down in Viera, Florida where spring training has commenced.
You can read the darndest things in the sports pages. Jerry Brewer, in his column earlier this week, relayed a quote from actor Michael J. Fox that once appeared in a “What I’ve Learned” column in Esquire magazine. “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations,” he said. You nailed it, Michael J.
At Calvary we are working our way through Jesus’ Beatitudes during this season of Lent. I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons the Beatitudes have had such enduring impact is that they address one of the most fundamental questions human beings ask: what does it mean to be happy? Everybody wants to be happy. That is, perhaps, the great motive behind every act and ambition, behind all our work and striving and effort. With everything we’ve got, we want and we pursue a good and happy life.
But one of the great tragedies of life is that, though we give ourselves wholeheartedly to this pursuit, happiness eludes us. We never seem to be able to grasp it, and even when we think we’ve laid hold of it, it turns out to be fleeting. We are happy for a moment, but then it is gone. The perfect job turns out to be not so perfect. That wonderful new relationship turns out to have problems just like all our other relationships do. That mountaintop experience with God? It turns out we can’t live on the mountaintop and the wilderness is still a part of our lives. The thrill of the latest purchase or trip or event—that thrill never lasts for long.
It turns out that happiness is not something that can be sought directly. It is always the result, or the byproduct, of seeking something else, and that something else, according to Jesus, is God and life in God’s kingdom. It’s certainly hard to keep that in mind with the daily demands that flood our lives. Where is God in the stress of a workday, in waiting for test results, in maddening rush-hour traffic? What does it mean to seek God’s kingdom as we rush through our overcrowded schedules, navigate conflicted relationships or provide care to the very young or very old?
Our acceptance (or lack thereof) and our expectations have a lot to do with what we see and experience in our circumstances. Jesus invites us to see beyond the “real” to what I call the “really real.” God is always present, always at work, always loving whether we see it or not—but how willing are we to have our eyes opened? There’s a risk and a cost involved in trusting God. It takes courage to make that leap of faith, but that is the only way to have the happiness, or “blessedness” that we so desperately seek.
We settle for so little when we buy into the lie that the next new thing (be it event, relationship, “toy” or experience) will make us happy. It won’t. It can’t. To be happy, Jesus says, “Come, follow me.”
Yours for the Kingdom,