Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happiness in the New Year

On New Year’s Eve, I had the pleasure of encountering one of my favorite cashiers at our local grocery store as I completed my shopping.  This young man is not only extremely competent and fast, he is helpful and friendly.  As I left, he wished me a good day and a happy new year.  I appreciated his cheerful good wishes, and the positive attitude of the other patrons indicated that others were looking for a happy new year as well. 

I want a happy new year along with everyone else.  I love the pleasures that I associate with feelings of happiness, and our good and loving God invented and instituted many of them.  The pleasures of relationship, sex, and food and drink all have God’s name on them.  I love interacting with our pets, I thoroughly enjoy playing games on Lumosity, and I am known to indulge in more than an occasional bowl of ice cream.  But as I entered the parking lot, I also realized that happiness is transitory and temporary.  God wants more for me.  Our Master wants me to experience no less than the peace that passes human understanding and the deep joy that comes as I partake in His nature and participate in His kingdom’s work.

The question is, “Do I want what God wants for me?  Do I want more than happiness?”  Christians often picture the Christian life as one of discipline, of controlling our desires.  To be sure, this is a component of a life of faith.  But C.S. Lewis makes this observation:

            If we consider the unblushing promises of reward 
           and the staggering nature of the rewards promised
           in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds 
           our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are 
           half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and 
           sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like 
           an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies 
           in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by 
           an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily 

 Happiness is wonderful, but if I stop there, if I allow myself to be satisfied with those pleasures that make me happy, I will miss the deep joy and peace that I could experience as I become more like Christ and exercise the gifts He has given me for His purposes and His glory.

The Declaration of Independence tells us that we are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  That is a good foundation for a republic that respects the lives and rights of its citizens, but it is an incomplete recipe for success for those who have committed their lives to Christ.  Happiness is neither the means nor the end of a life of faith. It is not a measure of success.  Moments and seasons of happiness are gifts from our loving God in our journey toward Him. 

Our Lord has no objection to happiness as long as it does not interfere with His greater desires for us—the deep joy and peace we experience as we become more like Christ and exercise the gifts He has given us for His purposes and His glory.  More often than we would like, though, happiness gets in the way of God’s purposes, and we are called to endure trials and meet challenges as we follow our Lord.  As we begin this new year and face the cold, gray, and damp New Jersey winter, let us not be discouraged by the times when we are experiencing an apparent lack of happiness.  Instead, may we enjoy the times of happiness we experience as we pursue that which has eternal value and keep our eyes fixed on the Source of all good and all good gifts.