A year or so ago, that is the question a Bible study group addressed: Does God want us to be happy? We were fairly ruthless in our discussion. I shared a few personal situations in which I saw, with 20/20 hindsight, ways in which I had sacrificed righteousness for the "happiness" I longed for loved ones to experience. I had actually encouraged wrong behavior in a few instances, because I so wanted this child, or this relative, to be happy.
It backfired almost every time. The very happiness I wanted to encourage got lost along the way of bad choices and poor decisions. I doubt anyone remembers my support in those trying times with fondness, or even appreciation. More likely, the individuals concerned think, "I wish someone had just told me to stop, to go another direction. I wish it hadn't been so easy to take that path."
There are, absolutely, more important issues in the universe than me having a smile on my face, or you feeling particularly perky, but...and it is an important but...I believe that God does want us to be happy.
For one thing, joy ranks high on the lists found in the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit: love, JOY, peace... (Galatians 5:22). The kingdom of God is not meat or drink but righteousness, peace, and JOY....(Romans 14:17).
Christians are so smug about joy at times. "Joy, yes, but that's not the same thing as happiness," you might hear (and want to slap the speaker...in a good Christian manner, of course). "Joy is spiritual. Being happy is all about being human. It's fleshly."
God is the one who wondrously, awesomely created our flesh, remember. And he took the time and trouble and printing space to include some candid remarks about happiness:
- For one year (a man) is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married (Deuteronomy 24:5)
- To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:26)
- Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)
- May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful (Psalm 68:3, italics mine)
- A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).
Is happiness to be the main goal in life? I think not. "God is love," St. John wrote, not "God is happiness" or even "God is joy." And yet, he is the source of the highest forms of happiness and the highest joys. Surely, we should never see happiness in a negative, less-than-spiritual light.
The greatest argument for God's desire that we be happy is that of his role of Father. What loving father does not want his children to be happy? As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 7: 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Even WE know how to make our kids happy. We are, unless it is taught out of us through neglect and terror, instinctively aware as we become parents ourselves, of our children's need for love, encouragement, training. We delight in taking our children on fun outings, or seeing their eyes glow on Christmas morning. We may not have the means to provide everything our children want, but most of us will bend over backward to bring a smile to our children's faces.
A friend of mine tells me that during a particularly trying time in the life of his family, his wife was not living at home. Taking on the role of both father and mother, he found a creative way to communicate how special his daughter was. If he saw that something was coming on television he thought especially worthwhile, he'd send his little girl to bed early, then wake her up during the night to watch the show with him.
That is cool on so many levels. It made her feel special. It gave them important together time. Maybe it wasn't something the parenting books of the day (or even our day) would have advised, but it worked wonders. When this little girl, now all grown up, thinks back to her happiest memories it is to those days, despite other troublesome factors.
A regular guy knew how to make his daughter happy during what might have been a traumatic, dismal period of her life. Her happiness was paramount to him. Think back to times your parents did something special for you just so that you would be happy.
I am hesitant to withhold that facet of being a parent from the best Father of all. He wants me to grow, to learn, to be holy...absolutely. But he also wants me to be happy. And he has the best ideas of all, about what that will require.