I'm just not happy anymore.
I can't tell you how many times this statement is the cellar-floor response for someone going through crisis. From marriages to church attendance to job change, happiness is the litmus test for whether or not things are going "good' or "bad." For most people the lack of happiness signifies the lack of life. It is the sign that everything is out of sync. It is the sign that we are in a bad place.
Many times, it is equated with the sign that God either is done with us or is ambiguous toward us in general. Doesn't God want us to be happy? Sure, that sounds legitimate - so what happens when we're not happy? We could blame it on our own disobedient pursuit of life outside of Him, sure, but what if it isn't that?
What if this lack of happiness comes from the outside and we find ourselves with no choice other than to make the defendant God in the case for our life's happiness? In other words, "Why isn't God helping me be happy?"
The reality is that happiness belongs to the emotional world - it's a world that struggles to be stable and often lets us down. Please hear me out here, I'm not saying emotions are bad. Honestly, that would be ridiculous because emotions are unavoidable. However, they aren't the best security guards over the central purposes of our lives.
I believe that God's vision for us includes happiness, but it is a subcategory under the greater and more powerfully poetic category of joy.
Looking at the Bible, joy comes in the weirdest of places:
"I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy." (2 Cor. 7:4)
"...their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2)
"Jesus...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it's shame..." (Hebrews 12:2)
"Count it all joy...when you face trials of various kinds..." (James 1:2)
Joy comes in trials, joy comes in crosses, joy comes in affliction and extreme poverty? Sort of reframes the "Joy to the World" carol for you doesn't it?
In a sense, that is the point. We have to confront these very potent and real truths about the world:
-God is good -This world and the people in it often reveal themselves not to be good -We can be our own worst enemies, either actively or through our Adam-gifted biology, bringing unhappiness on ourselves -The lack of good overall leads to our unhappiness -So, if God is good and we live in Him and with Him in a world that doesn't always reflect good then what is the highest value?
Let's all say it together: "JOY."
Joy allows us to be content in any and every circumstance, knowing that God will give us our needs (Phil. 4:11-13)
Joy allows us to be deep centers of peace when chaos is spinning around us in our families, work, etc.
Joy allows us to walk through dark valleys, deep sadness, and huge trials - suffering from our emotions but clinging on to a core that cannot be taken from us.
Jesus enduring the cross for the joy set before Him did not somehow magically and retroactively cause his nerves and muscles to avoid pain. The cross was the aching and destructive summary of all the pain the world would ever know.
Jesus enduring the cross and all its gory graciousness signifies to us that joy is possible even when happiness is on the missing persons list, with flyers hanging on every telephone pole.
In a sense, our Constitutional right to "pursue happiness" cheats us of the real goodness of joy and sells us an impostor life.
Father, help us not to measure our lives by what makes us happy but by the brilliance of that spark - the joy-spark kindled in the manger, fanned into flame at the cross, and released as a wildfire by the empty tomb.
This is not the end, however, because in order to re-center our lives from happiness to joy we have to deal with two other concepts that derail God's movement in us. Those will come on my post tomorrow. Peace friends.