The other day, I was washing some dishes and the kids were making me a bit crazy. I asked them to go to the playroom and said I would be there in a minute. Kenna, always annoyed to get the brush off, replied, “But I want to read this book NOW!”
I have no tolerance for demanding behavior. I gave her “the look” and said, “You need to go to the playroom and be patient, or I won’t be reading that book at all.”
With a sigh that sounded more like a 13-year-old than a 3-year-old, Kenna turned to go to the playroom. After a brief pause, however, she looked back at me and said, “OK. I’ll be patient. But, mommy, patience won’t make me happy.” She stood there looking confused, waiting for my solution to this problem.
Her statement and confusion said so much! Consider the three assumptions behind it:
- Happiness is important.
- There was a conflict between happiness and what I asked her to do.
- Because happiness is important, and my request was for something that would not produce happiness, she identified my request as a problem and felt the need to inform me that something was wrong.
Most of us are wired like Kenna to believe that happiness is an important goal and that what doesn’t make us happy is implicitly bad. Treating happiness as a priority in life, however, can lead to decisions that are contrary to Christian living.
For example, take two of the most important things Jesus wants for us, according to the Bible.
1. Jesus wants us to tell others about Him so they will be saved.
If I tell others about Him, they may laugh. If I tell others about Him, I might be intimidated. If I tell others about Him, I might feel uncomfortable.
2. Jesus wants us to serve others.
If I serve others, I will have less time to myself. If I serve others, I may feel their burdens. If I serve others, I may get overwhelmed. If I serve others, their circumstances may make me sad.
None of these outcomes make me happy. If I prioritize my happiness, it’s easier to choose not to evangelize and not to serve. But would Jesus choose for me to evangelize and serve or be happy without evangelizing and serving? His priority is clear.
Happiness is subjective, temporary and, by its original meaning, dependent on good fortune or chance. Happiness is not necessarily an outcome of doing what Jesus tells us to do.
Blessedness is, however.
Blessedness is an objective and permanent state, not a feeling, that is dependent on God’s grace and our choices (not good fortune or chance). It is to be content independent of our circumstances, because we know we are right with God.
It’s important to understand that being blessed is not the same as being happy. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus says, “Blessed are…”
- The poor in spirit (…but I am happier sometimes believing that I don’t need God’s help)
- Those who mourn (…but I am happier when I don’t have something to mourn about)
- The meek (…but I am happier when I can be the strongest person in the room)
- Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (…but I am happier sometimes when I pursue my own desires rather than God’s)
- The merciful (…but I am happier sometimes when I give others what I think they deserve, rather than mercy)
- The pure in heart (…but I am happier sometimes when I pursue whatever I want rather than whatever is pure)
- The peacemakers (…but I am happier sometimes when I don’t have to make peace)
- Those who are persecuted because of righteousness (…but I am happier when I am not being persecuted)
When we prioritize happiness, we often choose what is easiest, most comfortable or most self-gratifying. Jesus wants us to prioritize following Him and promises us blessedness (Matthew 5) and joy (Galatians 5:22-23) as an outcome. Happiness is a nice by-product of life when good fortune comes our way, but it can be a misleading guide to Christian decision making. It’s our role as a Christian parent to help our kids understand that not being happy is not necessarily a problem; not doing what Jesus wants is.
Use this question as a great conversation starter with your kids: Does God want you to be happy? (Or) How important is your happiness to God?