There seems to be a perennial debate in Christian circles that revolves around this question: Does God want us to be happy?
In the “Name It and Claim It” (otherwise known as the Prosperity Gospel) corner, you hear the resounding answer “Yes! And not only does God want you to be happy, but He also wants you to be wealthy, comfortable and successful, and generally have life altogether.
In the other corner, you have the more morose group that says, “No, God doesn’t want you to be happy; He wants you to be content.” Which implies, of course, that mature Christians have moved passed that pipe dream of feeling as though they need to walk around with grins plastered on their faces and take a holier, pious outlook on life. To them, happiness seems to be an evasive allusion, an emotion not worth the paper it’s written on and immensely overrated.
Finally, you have the people in the middle who are sometimes happy and sometimes not, and waffle back and forth between the two corners. They’re not sure if God wants you to be happy or not, and they don’t worry about it too much. They just live life day-to-day, making pragmatic decisions.
I apologize if I sound cynical, but the subject has been nagging my conscious a lot lately. (Maybe because I seem to have been having so many days tinged with feelings of unhappiness.) Are we supposed to be happy, or are we not supposed to pursue that goal or live in expectation of it? Why are some Christians just oozing happiness and joy while others seem to mope through life? Are they really that happy or just faking it for the rest of us?
I hear people say you can lose your joy and happiness, but I’m not convinced that’s correct, either. Certainly you can feel pain and grief at the loss of a loved one, a job, a wandering prodigal son or daughter, or a friend’s rejection. But do you have to lose your joy or happiness in the process?
Saying you “lost” something implies that you misplaced it. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, it encompasses some of the following:
1. unable to be found;
2. not knowing where you are or how to get to where you want to go: unable to find your way;
3. no longer held, owned, or possessed; and even
4. hopelessly unattainable.
Let me back up and refresh your memory with the definitions of joy and happiness I gave you last week, per Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Joy is the: “feeling of great happiness.” And happiness is the: feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.; or showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment.”
Given those definitions, my belief is that if you are a Christian, it is impossible to “lose” joy. And if you can’t lose your joy, then I think it’s hard to lose your happiness. I mean true happiness. Not the fly-by-night kind of happiness.
Why do I say that? Because if you are a Christian, you know the Lord, He has taken up residence in your heart, and, because of these truths: You know the source of the joy and you know where to find the joy and happiness. While you might not know the way to go, He does, and you can trust that He will lead you there. As for the third definition, I’m not in the camp that believes you can lose it, because He promises never to leave us or forsake use. So, if He’s with us always, we always have joy.
So if we’re not feeling so joyful or happy right now, and we aren’t in the middle of profound grief, then I think we can identify some reasons why we find ourselves without joy or happiness in our lives:
1. We spend too much time listening to advertisers tell us what we need, and, worse yet, what we deserve.
2. We’re easily bored, and, as a result, we’re dissatisfied with our lives.
3. We make too many not well-thought-out and knee-jerk decisions based on what someone else says we should do with our lives; or decisions based on our fragile, unreliable emotions. The end result is often not doing what God designed and gave us the talent to do. We’re “kicking against the goad,’ as Jesus put it. And He says that’s hard to do.
4. We spend too much time comparing ourselves to others, especially the more successful.
5. We’re just plain weak and double-minded and let our fleshly desires (and, often, our misguided hearts) drive us to make poor choices. And those poor choices can lead to disastrous results.
6. We arrogantly reject sound advice and then suffer.
7. We spend a lot of time complaining and pointing fingers of blame at others. (It’s tough to be happy with that kind of attitude. And as the old adage goes, When you’re pointing your finger, take a look at how many fingers are actually pointed back toward you.)
8. We focus on our human limitations rather than on His power and love.
The more I ask myself why I’m unhappy, or feel just blah and flat, the more often I come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m letting my ego and human flesh take control and allowing someone—or something—to rob me of my happiness. No. Let me change that. To be honest, I’m probably pointing fingers and giving too much credit to someone else; or spending too much time thinking about how someone else has robbed me of my joy.
In reality, I’m actually giving my joy and happiness away, or deliberately laying them down and setting them aside. That’s what you do when you lose something. You lay it down and forget where you put it. And then I end up reveling in a one-woman pity party. (Let me clarify that I’m not talking about losing a loved one to death. In that sense, perhaps we don’t use the term lose properly.)
So, after thinking these deep thoughts, asking questions, and, yes, hunting through God’s word on the matter, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the Christian teachers who tell us that God doesn’t want us to be happy (and talk about it as though it’s a flimsy, overrated and fleeting feeling) tell us that because they aren’t too happy and they don’t know how to be.
So, yes, I believe God does want us to take His joy and be happy! And if that’s the conclusion, other questions naturally arise: If God does want us to be happy, what kind of happy does He mean? Self-indulgent happy? I just got a great new dress at a great price happy? Everything’s going my way happy?
Or: Does being happy, or full or joy, mean an absence of frustration or grief? Can happiness and frustration co-exist?
Before we answer those questions, let’s return to the fourth definition of lost being something hopeless or unattainable. I think it will become obvious during the next several posts that joy and happiness are not hopeless endeavors. They are not something unattainable. If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we already have them, they are ours to keep, ours to pursue, ours to grasp. They are ours to handle and care for as precious commodities that most of the world finds elusive.
Ultimately, they are ours to share and to give.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I hope not (and I don’t think I am).
Join me over the next couple of posts, and I’ll give you supporting answers that helped me arrive at my conclusion. And we’ll answer the questions I’ve asked here.
Join the discussion. And if you think I’m way off base and just plain wrong, let me know why you feel that way!
So, until next week,
Thanks for joining me!