It’s in our Declaration of Independence, right? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” But is that really the thing that we should be pursuing?
After hearing the phrase a few days ago, I’ve been meditating on it a bit under the umbrella of what I’ve been learning about our “goodness” versus our holiness ( https://samfindsfaith.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/good-christian-bad-christian/ ) and one particular scripture really stands out to me as almost a contradictory statement to the belief that God wants us to be “happy.”
You may be familiar with John 16:33; in it Jesus says “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! For I have overcome the world.”The part that just keeps echoing to me in regards to the pursuit of happiness is the phrase “in this world you will have trouble…”
There is something about happiness that seems so anti-troubles. Happiness implies something circumstantial usually. For example, my daughters laugh makes me happy. My birthday makes me happy. Hugs make me happy. But there’s a lot out there that makes me unhappy… debates, sin, my toddler’s terrible threes, when my boyfriend doesn’t listen to me… etc, etc…
Now, I like to think I carry a pretty realistic mindset that there isn’t much I can do to prevent these things. They happen; it’s life – “in this world you will have troubles.”
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the pursuit of happiness; I’m just saying that growing up believing that “what made me happy” was the most important thing really messed me up. See, not all of life is happy. Happy happens for happy moments and not every moment is a happy one. I can’t make myself happy burying a loved one. I can’t make myself happy at the thought of my dog having glaucoma. I can’t make myself happy with my three year-old having a tantrum.
Before I really came to know Christ (which happened well after I was saved), I really believed my happiness was one of the most important things to strive for, and because of it, I really depressed myself when troubles came along that I couldn’t avoid or find happiness in. Looking back, every season of depression in my life is tied to the fact that I could not find happiness in a single thing, even myself.
One thing I’ve found since really allowing myself to come into contact with the Bible is that the word “joy” is used a lot. So, is joy different? In my understanding, it would have to be because the word joy was continuously used instead of happiness. However, when you look up the definitions, happiness is used to define joy. And joyful is used as a synonym for happy. So… what’s what? What’s the difference?
Today I read a pastor’s take on joy and happiness and he was in the same spot I was as far as definition. His small group had gotten heated about what the difference really was, if there even was one. And he began polling people. Some of his “mature” Christian friends all said that same thing: that joy is happiness but it’s something more. Well, what’s more? And I love what he found about it. He defined joy as “an abiding sense of happiness.” Joy is a consistent stream of happiness that comes from and lives within us. It isn’t determined by exterior circumstances or events or even emotions. (http://theologica.ning.com/profiles/blogs/joy-is-not-happiness )
A few months ago, I heard a great message preached on the differences between joy and happiness where the woman identified happiness as a solid and joy as a liquid. That happiness, like a solid state of matter, can be set down in one place and it stays there; like my cell phone for example. I set it down on my desk, and it stays put. It doesn’t move anywhere or change shapes. If I set it on the chair, it’s the same story. It just exists where it lies. But my lemonade is a different story. Yeah, the cup that it’s in, which is a solid, holds in one place, but if I were to try to put the lemonade itself directly on my desk or chair, it’s going to move, change shapes, cover the desk, slide in the cracks, absorb into the cushion, spill onto the floor… you get the idea.
Joy covers everything. And where does joy come from? Like I said, before I really knew the Lord, I was easy to put down or prone to depression, but since I’ve known Him, troubles have come along that would have normally rocked my world or thrown me into a whirlwind of self-hatred or loss, and… none of that happened. I was strong and carried on – because the JOY of the Lord is my STRENGTH (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy comes from the Lord.
So if God provides the joy, and He’s not really calling us to pursue happiness, then what is He calling us to pursue? And I think this one is simple, but I’ll say it anyway: He wants us to pursue Him. He wants us to pursue Holiness (and not to plug my own stuff some more, but see the last blog post before this, because it tells all).
It’s not that God wants us to be unhappy, but happiness is not His priority. He knows troubles are coming for us; He knows when they’ll be here and exactly what they are. His priority is for us to pursue Him and His Holiness so that He and His joy may abide in us. And because of that joy, that we may have peace through our troubles knowing that, through Christ’s overcoming, we too, overcome.