Points to Ponder: Is Happiness An Entitlement?
Points to Ponder
Is Happiness An Entitlement?
When I hear that famous line from our Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," I wonder if that third concept is an elusive thing to "pursue." Happiness really depends on what's happening and it is usually the by- product of something else.
I found myself in conversation with a man from Baltimore. He shared with me the good things going on in his life and the overall joy he experiences day to day because of his relationship with the Lord. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Knowing that suffering and crucifixion was yet before Him, Jesus prayed, "that they may have My joy fulfilled in them" (John 17:13)
The Spirit of God dwells and makes His home in the believer's heart (John 14:23). Whereas happiness depends on what's happening around (outside of) you, joy is internal and flourishes from the life of God within you. So it is normal, although amazing to observe, when a believer's circumstances are difficult and even oppressive, that that individual's attitude is undaunted. As one of my mentors, Pastor Vandy Kennedy, would say to me when I hit a low point, "Don't let it steal your joy, son."
So when you consider the source of happiness in comparison to the more reliable Source of joy, are some of us too focused on acquiring the former rather than living in the latter?
Are we entitled to happiness? What is worth sacrificing in order to attain it? This Baltimore man, whose life is otherwise going well, shared with me that his marriage is not a happy one. No one would know it through casual observation; there are no big fights or abuse. It is a committed relationship. Neither spouse would ever speak of divorce even if his looming unhappiness were put on the table for honest discussion. It just seems that as marriages crank up the mileage in years, and decades, the expectations and dreams with which couples began can become tarnished or neglected. The one spouse vetoes some expectations over the desires of the other. To avoid a painful discussion, the disappointed one absorbs the hurt and tries to accept the adjustment to his or her world. In the early months and years of the relationship, the dreams and expectations may have been expressed, discussed, and even agreed upon. But people change, things change, demands of life accelerate in a different direction. One thinks there should be a concerted effort to keep the standards and ideals with which they had begun. The other fails to see why it matters anymore.
He's unhappy and has been for a while. She doesn't seem to detect it. They made a commitment to each other. They love each other. But he's not happy. Joy he has; happiness comes occasionally when events perk up the mood. But for the most part, the relationship doesn't feed him. "But so what? How vital is happiness?" he wonders. If you pursue happiness by severing things which you believe are at the root of the current unhappiness, would you really be happy then? Is it her - or is it really him? Or a combination of both?
Not that one should be satisfied and resign to their depression or even pursue that; but if you consider the deep commitments you've made, vows you have said to and before God, can you truly expect happiness to be your reward? (This is NOT an attempt to justify abuse or make light of any kind of marital or other relational problem - note that.) This is to speak to those who may be so focused on being happy or happier that they may lose sight of the effects their attitudes and actions can have on innocent people (i.e. children). In fact you may actually undermine the long-term plan which God is working out along that difficult path. While you dwell on your malaise, is it possible you are missing the hand of God on you and on your situation?
Feelings are very undependable. To dictate your path from the perspective of how you are feeling about it could run you into an even deeper ditch, the size of which is beyond your current understanding. If we judged any of our commitments this way, how long would they last?
In the Beatitudes, Jesus lists nine statements beginning with "Blessed are..." which means "happy are." Would you say any of these declarations declare a happy feeling?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." (Matthew 5:3-11)
Maybe there is a level that is higher than being merely happy. But how can you pursue the Knowledge of that? Consider the Source.
"He who heeds the word wisely will find good. And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he." (Proverbs 16:20)
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com.