Pursuit of Happiness

With our entertainment-based culture here in America and much of the “West,” I have noticed that we spend more of our time pursuing the ideal of being happy than most anything else. Sure, it may be in one of America’s founding documents, but for it to be at the basis of the way we live and even the way we parent seems a little out-of-proportion to how the phrase was originally meant.

Don’t get me wrong, I love happy children. Happy children make my day with their smiles, laughter, and contagious energy that seems to jump from person to person. However, if happiness is our only goal, many things fall by the wayside.

To my point, I remember doing things in my family that did not make me happy. I remember taking out the garbage every week, throughout the entire house. Sometimes it was heavy enough to be a real struggle. I remember dusting. I still hate dusting, but it was something I did as part of the family. As an adult, I am thankful that I was given those tasks. I can now stick it out doing things that may not be my favorite, whether at work or at home. I can look at a supply closet and say, “Yeah, today’s the day this thing gets cleaned out.” And I can look at the garbage can at home and say much the same thing.

The Beatitudes come to mind in this discussion. I’ve heard some translations change the word “blessed” into “happy.” This puzzles me a little (and, no, I’m no Greek scholar) since blessings in the Old Testament were spoken to provide often material possessions and wealth, not always, but often. Seems as though a better word might be “rich.” And I just cannot wrap my head around the phrase, “Happy are you when you are persecuted.” Seems odd. The disciples did, but it was because they knew God’s kingdom was taking effect. They knew Jesus’ influence was spreading through their own suffering, and so they rejoiced.

They expected something good to come from their pain, which is more along the lines of joy. I’ve heard joy defined as simply expecting good in a given situation. Joy can be expressed in any situation, unconditionally.

It’s getting close to Good Friday. There is little happiness in that story. What happiness might have come through a shared meal is interrupted by treacherous intent and dire warnings about suffering to come. Pain is everywhere, physical, mental, emotional. The whole account is heartbreaking. And, yet, throughout the account is a sense of anticipation of something bigger, something unexpected coming just around the corner.

At the resurrection, there is an explosion of joy that seems greater than the happiness the disciples felt before the crucifixion. Suddenly, the reasons are clear, and the race begins. Where the disciples were poor, they are now rich, where doubtful, now confident. Now they can say, “Rich am I when I am persecuted.” And so can we when we face trials and problems of all kinds as we tell the world about Jesus being the one, true King.

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