By Rev. Brandon Dirks
I am discontent with happiness.
On the way to school, my 11-year-old son said to his mother, “I am sooooo happy today!”
Puzzled by why Baxter would say such a thing on the way to school, she asked, “Why are you so happy, Baxter?”
“’Cause I wanna be.”
I just can’t seem to get that catchy tune out of my head, Happy, by Pharrell Williams, complete with his stylish, oversized hat, crushed in just the right jaunty way. When I listen to the song, I seem to ‘get happy.’
“Because I’m happy…”
Happy is a beautiful little song that really seems to have captured many people’s imagination. In fact, I would contend, that Happy just might be the theme song of this generation. And for us Christians, we should be concerned.
Oh, Brandon! Have you run out of things to be discontent about? Is there really anything wrong with people wanting to be happy? After all, isn’t that what God wants for our lives?
And there is my problem.
Research has shown that American churched teenagers believe that the “central goal in life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” Seriously? Churched teenagers?
That’s right. According to Christian Smith, lead researcher in the National Study of Youth and Religion, American Churched teenagers see religion as a way to help youth to be nice and feel good. They go on retreats to get the ‘warm fuzzies.” They attend worship in hopes of leaving feeling better. They want to sing songs that are fun and uplifting. They go on mission trips seeking to get something out of it. In other words, religion helps someone to be “happy.” And according to this research, the teenagers believe this because this is exactly what we have taught them!
Think about it. As adults, what are our greatest complaints about church? The sermon was too long. The music was too loud. I couldn’t sing that song. Attendance was down. And as adults, in what ways have teenagers seen how religion has impacted us? We attend church occasionally. We rarely read the Bible at home. We pray with our kids even less. When pain and suffering comes into our lives, we act like it is a great surprise and we whine and complain that we don’t deserve it. If we are honest with ourselves, what is it really we want?
“Because I’m happy…”
But is that what God promised us?
We should be concerned if happiness becomes the central goal of life, but downright panicked if it is the goal of faith. Jesus never promised us happiness because happiness belongs to the world. The truth is, if we are following His ways, he promised us trouble. “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) I often wonder that if the world does not hate me because of the things I do for Christ, then maybe I am not following Christ close enough. The world hated Jesus enough to kill Him, and He laid down His life willingly. Would you say, then, that Jesus led a life centered on happiness?
God never promised us happiness. He promised us eternal life. He promised that sin would bring pain. But he also promised us freedom. He promised us joy. Peace. Love. But not once did he ever promise happiness.