Christians rarely use the word happiness. It’s taboo. The more acceptable word is joy. Happiness has a less-spiritual reputation. It is used about 30 times in the Bible, but joy is an actual theme, used ten times that amount. A word study will show you that happiness is situational, while joy is more a state of being. Given the two, joy seems the better long-term investment. But let’s not knock happiness. These are both positive emotions. Much of the world is chasing them, or one of their synonyms. And happiness, even with its worldly connotation, is not a bad thing, in itself.
Each of us is so uniquely made that we can spend hours comparing notes on things that we like and dislike. Happiness comes in many forms. My friend, Barb, likes her personalized mug. It makes her laugh. My husband likes orange marmalade and has a less-happy breakfast without it. I like walking. I like the scenery, the chance to have 1:1 time with God, and the fact that it really, really counts as exercise. It’s a win-win-win type of thing, and it makes me very happy.
Given the two, joy seems the better long-term investment. But let’s not knock happiness.
My brother successfully hiked the Appalachian Trail, in its entirety, last summer. Many people in New England have gone to their town libraries to see his slide show and hear the hilarious and inspiring tales of his 2,200 mile trek. Sounds fun, but it’s not on my lifetime agenda. Instead, I like to walk little-by-little, three or four miles on most days. The Appalachian Trail is too all-or-nothing for me. My trail is local.
Two years ago I got a double stress fracture in my foot that waylaid me for a couple of months. The injury repeated itself a year later, even though I favored it and bounced back sooner. Injuries take people off of trails all of the time. Only about 25% of A.T. hikers finish. Since my trail started at the end of my driveway, I thought I was good to go. Always. Until it was just taken away from me, like an lusciously-balanced, tall and drippy ice cream cone, dropped on the pavement on a 92 degree day.
When you have a good thing going, you can take it for granted, and I took walking for granted. Certainly, walking can’t be taken from you. It never occurred to me that it could. It’s the safe, moderate and sensible exercise. Even as I downed prescription painkillers and begged God for sleep last night, I denied that I had repeated my prior stress fracture injuries, but on the other foot. Hours spent at Urgent Care this morning, and three x-rays of pale gray intricate foot bones against a navy blue background later, I clumsily left on crutches.
I decided then and there to go for the good attitude. I was not defeated, just disappointed. I knew I would heal, but I also knew that I would need to readjust more than just my diet to prevent continued serial metatarsal fractures. For months my family had been advising me to not overdo it. For months I didn’t like the idea of stopping what I was doing. I overdid it.
I decided then and there to go for the good attitude. I was not defeated, just disappointed.
It may be that I will be miraculously healed by God. I certainly don’t rule that out. I will pray such. The reality of the impending change in my lifestyle, however, hit hard. As I awkwardly slipped on the crutch and felt a sharp stab in my foot, I instinctively and instantaneously understood that I would have to choose to accept this. Pouting would get me no where. I admit I knew this from experience.
Mature Christians know that we should be thankful in everything. I Thessalonians 5:18 says, simply, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Our tendency is to contort this verse in order to be able to comply to it. What some of us do is “Give thanks for what did not happen in all circumstances.” We don’t say, “Thank you, God, for broken metatarsal bones!” but say, instead “Thank you, God, that I broke only one or two, instead of three or four,” or “Thank you, God, that the Urgent Care was open and that I got a pain prescription.” Really, Paul says be thankful, that is, have a heart of thankfulness, in all circumstances.
Our tendency is to contort this verse in order to be able to comply to it.
Romans 5:5 manifest today. It says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Peace penetrates to the bone (literally, in some cases) when you are able to accept what a day hands to you and know, without a doubt, that God has you covered; “Thank you, God, for this stress fracture, because I can’t go wrong with you.” And even better, “Thank you, God, for what you are going to do next, whatever it is, because it’s gonna be good, because that’s how You do things.”
Acceptance isn’t resignation. Our ambitious culture tells us that to accept something is to settle for less than the best. With God, this is flipped. With God, to accept what is on our plate, so to speak, and to offer up thanks for it, is to trade up. If you are faithful with what you have, He promises more (see Luke 16:10).
Acceptance isn’t resignation. Our ambitious culture tells us that to accept something is to settle for less than the best. With God, this is flipped.
I am not suggesting that we lie down and die when bad things come our way. That is not the way of the spiritual warrior. In fact, the Holy Spirit frequently leads us to pray against the bad things that happen to us. The issue is our reaction to these apparent assaults against us. Instead of allowing our happiness to be stolen, killed and destroyed, we should stamp our foot (metaphorically) and refuse to see it gone. To say “This is my lot, today, and I’m thanking God for it, so there,” is to truly defeat the devil. To say “God, thank you that You are SO good, and I trust you,” is to embrace peace.
Lots of little bits of happiness (situational) add up to an overflowing cup of joy (a state of being). The habit of acceptance; that my Sunday was spent in a waiting room, not in corporate worship, that my kid did not get a certain position, that a third attempt at fixing the shower failed, can shift our worlds. Having lived years in a world where grumbling was standard, I step back now and feel authentically sad for people who seem deserted on that island.
I love what my father-in-law, a man who lived nearly 15 years as an African missionary, frequently says. He's hard to ruffle. His reaction to anything annoying or inconveniencing; “So it goes.” So it does go.
Psalm 147:4 says, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” He who named every star knew where I would spend this morning. He sees our disappointment and weathers our sadness because He knows why He has allowed our desire to be situationally unrealized. A broken shower is nothing to Him; he determines where each rain drop will fall. The thought makes me happy. It brings me joy.