Photo courtesy of ©photodune.net
We write songs extolling it. We make blockbuster movies portraying it. We craft products and services that promise a little more of it. The Declaration of Independence affirms our right to pursue it.
One definition reads, “The mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions.” No wonder it’s popular. In the midst of an often chaotic world full of challenges, happiness sounds pretty good.
We long for it, yet it evades our grasp. From time to time, we snatch a bit as it flashes past. It feels so good. We want to hang on, but the next challenge bears down upon us and those wonderful feelings seem to evaporate into thin air.
I’m not sure happiness is what I’m after. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy feeling good, and I like pleasant emotions. But searching for something that appears so transient and fickle doesn’t exactly thrill me.
I’m hoping for something way beyond happiness.
Two Ways to Send Happiness Packing
Happiness is unstable enough, but we tend to make it impossible. If Dr. Depression could write a prescription to alleviate all symptoms of happiness, it might go something like this. How to be unhappy, in two easy steps:
1. Make it about you.
Believe the world is here to serve you. People owe you. You deserve such-and-such. Embrace entitlement. Let these thoughts run deep. Dwell on them. It’s a sure way to court disappointment and anger.
Blame others for what goes wrong, then project that out in the form of gossip. Find other miserable, entitled folks to commiserate with. Chew the fat and share your complaints. This keeps everyone stuck and the cycle of anger and frustration snowballing.
I wonder how deep this runs in me. I’ll bet I struggle with entitlement more than I realize. I’m not a good observer of myself, and need the help of others to know how I’m coming across. I need safe people I trust to speak truth into my life with compassion and grace.
2. Go it alone.
Do it yourself. Be stubborn and isolated. Be deceived that this is real strength. Become an island. If people are going to treat you this way, you don’t need them.
Withdraw. Trust no one. Self-medicate. Eat, drink, and do whatever you need to do to silence the pain. Hold the grudge. Fuel the fire of anger. Let it devour you from the inside out. Exercise control of people and situations to mask how out of control you feel. Hide.
This is another way of making it all about you. Your life, your plan, your way.
This is part of the plan of evil – to divide and conquer, to keep us apart, separate, and alone. We were created for connection, and we do life in teams: friends, families, marriages, workplaces, small groups, neighborhoods, churches.
I have a number of teams in my life. You do too. They make life rich and meaningful. We can’t heal, grow, and engage in God’s purpose without them.
The Dream of Many Coats
A few weeks ago, I had a dream. I saw myself, burdened and weighed down with many heavy coats. Jesus came up to me and smiled. He held out his hands. I tried to give him the coats, but it was like they were glued on.
“You must let me take them off,” he said.
I relaxed. He came to me and took the first one off, then the next. Other people appeared and helped Jesus remove more coats. The coats had names: fear, loneliness, hurt, financial worries, health concerns, relational challenges, etc.
Finally, Jesus and his helpers took off the last heavy coat. It was shame. I felt so light. Jesus smiled and began to run. I laughed and ran after him. Soon we were all running together at a blistering, inhuman pace. It was wonderful.
When we stopped, I wasn’t even winded. Then I noticed we were surrounded by more people, each of them isolated and alone, burdened with many coats.
I looked at Jesus. He smiled. “Come. We have work to do,” He said.
We Have Work to Do
Happiness is good, but contentment is great. I think of contentment as a deep sense of peace and okay-ness that flows from the conviction that God is good and can be trusted. Contentment never bows to circumstances, but lives above them. That’s powerful.
If you’re burdened today, take heart. The Burden Bearer is here. He has placed teams around you. Lean on Him, and them.
You aren’t alone.
Come, there is work to do.
Question: What’s the biggest roadblock to contentment for you?
Photo courtesy of ©photodune.net
In the summer of 2001, an adoption agency magazine showed up at my house. I opened it to the “Waiting Children” section in the back. As I turned the pages, my eyes fell on a picture of three little girls in Colombia.
A voice inside said, “Meet your daughters.”
This isn’t what we had planned. We were childless and were considering adoption. We thought infant, Asian. We thought some more. Two would be cool, one of each gender, about 2 and 4 years old, preferably Asian.
What were we doing? Ordering off a restaurant menu? Sheez.
Then our social worker asked, “What about Colombia?”
“What about it?” I answered.
“They have lots of sibling groups there. Just consider it.”
I thought, Colombia? No way. Not in my plan.
The next week the magazine I mentioned above arrived, and three months later we were on a plane to Cali to get Diana, Lised, and Maria (who were 10, 9, and 6 respectively).
When Life Turns Upside Down
Imagine this – three young ladies with all their formative years behind them, from a background of heavy-duty abuse, speaking no English, thrown together with two Caucasian 40-somethings. One word comes to mind – drama. It was like a nuclear warhead went off. Five of us, 20 total relationships, all in adjustment phase.
Oh, and I was the Lead Pastor of a multi-staff, thriving church.
People thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. But I do know this – I’ve been blessed in ways I could never have dreamed by those three young ladies, now 23, 22, and 18.
I look back and laugh at all the Spanglish, ridiculous cultural faux pas, wild dances, and improvised games. We loved one another, challenged each other’s comfort zones, and grew together. We also experienced tragedy, unwanted transition, and change. When I began having flashbacks about childhood sexual abuse, my girls experienced that with me – they had their own flashbacks, and we walked the difficult road of healing together.
I could have missed all this. One simple decision could have changed it all.
Rethinking What’s Possible
Most of us want to make an impact on the world around us. In the beginning, dreams are big. Then life hits. We get buffeted by trials and difficulty. We get tired. We lose our edge. We downgrade to what we think is possible.
That was the door slamming shut on our potential.
I’m not talking about mere human potential, but about what God placed us on the planet to be and do. That mission isn’t defined by our perceived abilities and skill set. Nor is it defined by past experience, ethnic background, age, or education.
Our mission and purpose is defined by God Himself. The question isn’t, “What can I do?” but “What can He do?”
Anything He wants. Anytime He wants. With anyone He wants. Including me. Including you.
Daring to Believe
Here are a few things I learned from adopting my girls:
- Stay open and available. It’s His plan, not yours. It’s not about what you can do, but about what He wants to do through you.
- Listen carefully. Make sure you’re hearing his voice. Tune in. Refuse to be distracted by the noise. He’ll surprise and delight you. But it might be scary, too – meaningful adventures usually are.
- Watch. Look for Him. He’s always at work, usually in the small details and interruptions. If you seek me, you’ll find me, He said.
- Pray! If you make prayer less of an activity and more of the atmosphere in which you do life, your heart will begin to reflect His. His desires will become yours.
You might begin doing nutty stuff like adopting three girls from Colombia. What an adventure!
When life blows our plans to bits, it may be a blessing in disguise. Life is a risky, edge-of-your-seat business. We can’t afford to think small.
Question: What do you do when life messes with your plan?