The Happiness Trap

Happy Birthday! Happy Halloween! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Anniversary! Happy Kwanzaa! Such exclamations flow from our good intentioned hearts as we send greetings and good-byes with our well wishes of happiness towards others.  As stated in the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the rights that we possess and which have been given to us by our Creator.  To pursue happiness in our lives would therefore seem like God-given task that we should try hard to accomplish…after all, God wants us to be happy, right?

This is an interesting question.  To answer “no” would lead us to ask the follow-up question, “So, then does God want us to be miserable?”  Of course, the answer would be “no.”  To answer the question with a “yes” would then give us license to do as we want when we want so that we might be happy.  Of course, we would say that there are limits to that.  In other words, we would probably agree that removing someone from our lives that make us miserable through murder would go past that line.  But really, what are those limits and lines and where are they drawn?  Different people would come to different conclusions.

The trap of happiness is this:  happiness, to many, is the goal to achieve rather than a result that is achieved.  To pursue happiness (as defined by me) can itself be an idol.  It is the idol of self-centeredness.  “What do I need to be happy?” “What can I do that will meet my need for joy?”  These are some questions that are typically asked. Often, for those who believe in God, they justify their actions by saying, “God wants me to be happy,” so they follow through with their action to meet their idol’s need. When this occurs, it is easier to do it over and over again.  In our goal to be happy, what we often find is that we don’t receive liberty, but we become slaves of our own idol of happiness.

Though it is true God does not want us to be miserable, I would argue that God does want us to be happy.   But the happiness that God wants us to have comes as a result of obedience, gratefulness, and a life lived in relationship with Him, through Christ.  When we pursue happiness, we pursue self.  When we pursue God, the results of happiness come as a blessing to self (Mt 6:33).  Happiness is a gift from God, not a goal to achieve.

This sounds simple, but it is not.  Pursuing  God may seem like it is a trivial thing to do amidst the life circumstances.  You may say, “Yes, it’s a good thing to do.  But how is that going to help me be happy in life?”  Please remember, happiness is the by-product and not the goal.  The goal, instead, is to pursue God.  Focus on His love for you.  Focus on the cross.  A person who seeks to understand God’s love for them, who seeks to understand what Christ did for them on the cross and what He saved them from will grow in love, compassion, gratitude, peace, and happiness, because their joy is found in Christ and not in the circumstances surrounding them.

Friends, seek Him first above all things, and do not put any other thing above Him.  The results will be astounding!

Uncle!

As a child, my sister and I, as well as other friends, played the game “Uncle!”  The point of the game is this:  while facing the other person and interlocking their hands in yours in a hand death grip, you move in differing positions and show off your strength and cunning while inflicting pain upon the other person until you either hear something break, or they call out the word, “Uncle!”  The purpose of the game is simple:  to win.  The strongest survive while the weakest either go to the Dr. for a sprained wrist or humble themselves by crying out for mercy.  Why the game is called “Uncle,” I don’t know….but if you do, please comment below or offer suggestions…

Recently, I heard about a book called “Radical,” by Pastor David Blatt where he challenges people to follow Jesus.  In this book, he shares how the American dream is often in conflict with Jesus’ invitation to “Follow Me.”  Though some had chosen to do so, many others left when he challenged them with hard to understand teachings.  Jesus often tried to warn people that in following him, there would be a huge cost.  For some, the cost involved leaving family and friends, for others it would involve leaving occupations, and for one man, he was asked to give all of his wealth away.  Though the cost for following Jesus is great, the reward is even greater.

Although I have just started reading this book and am only a few chapters in, I can’t help but notice the challenge that is ever-present…”Will you give up your comforts, your occupation, your family, or wealth (or whatever God calls you to give up) to follow Jesus?”  Now giving up is not something I tend to do easily.  It goes against my pride that says “I can do it.”  I never did like crying out, Uncle!! I would hold on as long as I needed to until the pain in my body would shout louder than my pride.  Holding on would only result in more pain while humbling myself and crying Uncle would result in more freedom.

Why is that we choose to hold onto things that grip us and will eventually lead to more pain, or at least, a long-distance relationship to Christ?  When we hold onto these things, we are telling Jesus that these things are worth more than he is.  These things we hold onto can be the opinions of others, an addiction, bitterness, time, money, occupation, other people or relationships, etc.  And as we hold on, we cause ourselves more grief.  Our pride and self-centeredness refuses to give in and believe that giving up will be too costly and the rewards of surrender are not worth it.  Somehow, we cannot see (or trust) that just by crying Uncle!, we will gain so much more.    When we surrender to Christ, we don’t surrender as a prisoner of war to be tortured, but as a prisoner of Christ to be loved.

So what say you:  Is he worth it?  Is he worth crying Uncle! to?  Is he worth following?