When I was away at college, I was on the phone with my mom and dad. We were talking about things going on back in my hometown and conversation drifted towards our church. My mom told me that the pastor had decided to leave his wife because “she just doesn’t make me happy.” It came to light that he had started an emotional affair with another woman and ended up divorcing his wife and getting together with the other woman. It was his third marriage to end.
“Well, whatever makes him happy, I guess,” was my response. (It was said in extreme sarcasm.)
Here was this guy who led marriage retreats and talked all the live-long day about working on your marriage. Then he ends it because someone else didn’t make him happy.
My goal with this post isn’t to get mired in all of the complexities that divorce and remarriage brings. I do not wish to bring judgement to anyone’s situation, past or present. But I do want to talk about something that bugs me to no end–the reason he stated why he left a woman utterly destroyed, all in the name of his pursuit of something.
Happiness. Being happy.
It’s pretty overrated.
I’m not saying that being happy is wrong. No one likes to be unhappy, and I lump myself into that category, too. What I am saying is that our history lessons have grounded it into us that the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate ideal. It is set up as the end goal for all U.S. Americans, right there in the Constitution. I agree that happiness is important and a good goal, to the extent that God wants us to enjoy the life given to us. But I think we abuse this idea of happiness when we start to believe that we deserve to be happy at the cost of others’ happiness. And then we throw temper tantrums when we don’t get it.
“Being happy” can end up becoming an idol.
Some things are more important than being happy, at least our version of what it means. Maybe the American ideal of being happy is more of a selfish version of being happy. I think we find what it means to be happy when we realize that emotion is fleeting, whereas joy is something that endures. Happy is a moment; joy is a state.
Scripture teaches us that our source of joy is in God and living on that path laid out for us. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Our circumstances might make us happy, but being joyful is a choice. When we live for God, we find that we are happy more often. God’s path leads us to experience a better life, which leads to having more happiness. Check it out:
Psalm 119:1-3 (Common English Bible)
Those whose way is blameless—
who walk in the Lord’s Instruction—are truly happy!
Those who guard God’s laws are truly happy!
They seek God with all their hearts.
They don’t even do anything wrong!
They walk in God’s ways.
Psalm 119:76-78 (NIV)
May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.
Psalm 119:173-175 (NLT)
Give me a helping hand, for I have chosen to follow your commandments. O Lord, I have longed for your rescue, and your instructions are my delight. Let me live so I can praise you, and may your regulations help me.
Psalm 119:77 (NIV)
Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight.
Psalm 119:174 (NIV)
I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight.
Maybe Sheryl Crow is really on to something in her song. “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. If it makes you happy, then why are you so sad?” Anytime we set something up as an idol to replace God, we end up disappointed. Only God can provide us with true happiness and joy.
Serving others, having compassion on those who need it, and sowing love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace are things that are all over Scripture as what gives us meaning. Those are all things that help us find happiness and joy.
Happy is a moment; joy is a state. Seek to live out compassion in your life and maybe you’ll find out what it means to be happy along the way.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.