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The Happiness Canard

Posted by MDViews on January 31, 2013

Many times have I had a patient, or friend or acquaintance speak of their wayward adult/teen/adolescent children through tears saying, “I just wanted him (or her) to be happy,” As in, “What a simple request I’ve made of them. I’ve demanded nothing of them. I’ve paved the way for them. I’ve not insisted they be a sport star, or a straight “A” student, or have a perfect room, or do chores day and night.” But then something happened to disappoint them and their poor offspring was in trouble with the law/divorcing/on drugs/flunking out of school/ and on the list goes.

Few goals a parent may have for a child lack parental insight more than “Be happy.” It’s an easy trap to fall into, but one we should avoid.

First, you are their parent, the authority figure, the one in control of the car keys, the money, the house and the schedule. You are not entertainment, a bank, a car dealer, an endless chauffeur, a video game dealer or a social calendar organizer. You must make decisions for your child and discipline your child which leads to great unhappiness with tears and raised voices and angst. Now, you can try to be their buddy and best friend, but it isn’t what they want and certainly is not what they need. Be the disciplinarian you need to be. Study it. Buy Christian books on it. Read the Bible and pray for your child. Be good at parenting. But don’t think leniency will lead to a happy adult child. A child raised with loving but firm boundaries will fare much better in the world.

Second, once your child is an adult, you can offer advise or counsel, but your adult child can refuse it, listen to it and reject it or just get really angry you are butting into his or her life. MYOB, may be the reply. But whether or not they are “happy” by that time is up to them, not you. Don’t sweat it. In fact, unhappiness, trials and torment can be a great teacher. Don’t try to relieve them of such a valuable teacher.

Third, what is the source of happiness? More stuff? Better sex? Bigger bank account? Better advanced degree? Dying with the most toys? Is the source of happiness random acts of kindness? Serving turkey at a shelter on Thanksgiving? Helping others? Is the source of happiness being “true to yourself?” Looking out for #1? Following eastern religion by meditation and navel gazing? Getting your piece of the pie, whatever it takes? If you, dear parent, can’t answer that question with a resounding confidence, how can you expect your child to find this elusive “happiness” state of mind?

I would posit the ultimate source of happiness is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The first question of the protestant catechism wasted no time or words in getting right to the point of the most important question faced by man. The question? “What is the chief end of man?” The answer? “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” John Piper would change the “and” to “by” making the answer read “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever,” meaning enjoying God, taking pleasure in God, making God your ultimate goal and satisfaction is accomplished by glorifying Him forever. Our ultimate joy comes from God and the realization that we are depraved individuals, dead in our sin and unable to see God’s glory and beauty and desirability unless He awaken in us that desire. We deserve Hell and eternal torment. Thus our commitment to Christ, our walk with Him, our joy in making much of God and worshiping Him is totally His wonderful gift. We didn’t “clean ourselves up” to be acceptable to God. We didn’t choose God because we were so smart and good and upstanding. Even our best is as filthy rags to him. It’s only through the cross and God looking at us through the beauty of his son who is perfect and blameless and who presents us as perfect and blameless to God that we have this joy.

Thus the source of our joy.

Knowing God is sovereign and in control and has chosen us to spend eternal bliss with him one day is more than “pie in the sky in the sweet by and by.” It’s our rock, our fortress, our stronghold, our strength. It’s a promise in which we can always take hope.

Does that mean Christians are bubbly happy, always smiling, “chipper” (John Piper’s word!), never down, always trying to prove to the world that “we Christians are happy and have fun, too!” like I seem to hear again and again on some Christian radio stations? No, of course not. Those bubbly, chipper sorts are play-acting in my book. How can we “bubble” when so many in the world are bound for hell? How “chipper” can you be knowing that in the congregation each week sits someone wondering if the cancer has spread, wondering if their husband will file for divorce, wondering if their teenage son is drunk again, wondering if they will miscarry again, wondering how to deal with the guilt of having had an abortion? Church is not “chipper.” Church is a serious time of serious worship to the creator of the universe, the one who hung and named each star, the one who grants the next breath I will take, the one who provides my purpose for living.

Such Christians are joyfully sorrowful–joyful in the service and worship of the King, but sorrowful for all the reasons above. In other words, Christians face the world as it is knowing and recognizing the hurting and pain and suffering that eventually visits all of us in one terrible form or another, but recognizing the Blessed Hope of our dear Savior and the promise to spend eternity with Him one day. Thus our unending joy when surrounded by tragedy, poverty, pain, hurting and death. And, more importantly, our unending joy when tragedy, poverty, pain, hurting and death visit us personally.

I have a hard time imagining how the sprightly, vivacious and chipper Christians handle bad news–really bad news–without going to pieces and denying their faith. Because, if being a follower of Christ is supposed to make you upbeat, bubbly and chipper–then, if you are not upbeat, bubbly and chipper because of the terrible calamity visited upon you–what do you have left? Nothing but questions without answers.

Not that joy in Christ is a slam-dunk. We must fight for joy. How? By staying as close to God as we can through worship, prayer and study. By realizing these trials are temporary and the best is yet to come. By realizing this is not our home, we are just passing through. By associating with like-minded Christians for love, encouragement and support. By serving God with all our hearts, an activity sure to take your eyes off of ourselves and onto Christ, the source of joy.

So, please, don’t tell me “I only want my child to be happy.” It’s an unachievable goal sure to disappoint you and frustrate your child. Rather wish for them commitment to Christ in all His glory. The “happiness” will take care of itself.

4 Responses to “The Happiness Canard”

  1. MDViews said

    Thanks Erica,

    I ran into the phrase, “I just want my kids to be happy,” on a web site in which this parent was agonizing over the bad behavior of her children. Obviously, it hit a nerve!

    I’m forever amazed at the lack of thought and reflection most in our society exhibit on the big questions in life [Who am I? Why am I here? What are my goals for life? What is the source of happiness? Or, as the Westminster Catichism starts with question #1, What is the chief aim of Man? The answer? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. What a great answer! (Pastor John would change it to, “Glorify God by enjoying Him forever.)] and just float along with tide.

    I pray I’ll never be a tide-floater-alonger.

    Thanks for your comments, Erica.

    Matt A.

  2. Erica Halmar said

    Oh, don’t we all need a reminder of what truly makes us (and our children happy)! I like how you address the “chipper” people amidst the sorrowful-joyful battle. Truly, there are points when the hope of heaven is our most precious joy amidst a lot of earthly heartache. A listening ear and tender heart when someone is facing affliction truly helps to administer God’s grace and love to others. This, too, is a wonderful gift to give our children…being able to care enough to love others in this way, because sooner or later, they, too, will need that listening ear and tender heart, not just a plastic, cheery, trite response. I’m glad you’re writing again, too. All’s grace…

  3. MDViews said

    Thanks, Maureen,

    Depression (what an understatement). I’ve blogged before about this problem I have. I probably shouldn’t because it does burden others with a problem they have nothing to do with, but it helps me to write about it sometimes. And, I wanted to explain why I was shutting down. Fortunately, I’m rebounding to a more functional level and re-opened sooner than I thought I would, which is a gift from God. Encouragement always helps.

    Matt A.

  4. After “Shutting Down” I am pleased to read this post. Many prayers are being sent heaven-ward on your behalf. May you continue to find the favor of the perseverance of the saints. Keep the wisdom flowing…your readers need the encouragement.

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