Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 41, 52; Joshua 7:1-13; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 26:36-46
Our modern understanding of happiness – as in “life, liberty and the pursuit of” – is a fairly new concept. American culture equates happiness with gratification, pleasure, or pleasantness and portrays it as a normative state. The happiness our culture tells us we should pursue is in truth impossible to sustain, so we feel failure or even guilt because we aren’t happy all the time. We are uncomfortable with grief, anger, or any emotion standing in the way of happiness. Our impulse is to muscle our way through difficult emotions – to manage them rather than feel them.
The Hebrew root of “happy” as it’s used in Psalm 41 (“Happy are those who consider the poor”) is also used for blessed, fortunate, place, step, and fate. Happiness in the Psalms refers to a condition of right relationship with God – regardless of our emotional state. “Satisfied” isn’t quite as… satisfying a word as “happy,” but it is more accurate. Satisfaction is independent of emotion. If happiness is a breathtaking sunset, satisfaction is the ground under our feet: we don’t notice it most of the time, but if it starts to crumble beneath us, we realize the sunset is merely a pleasant distraction. Because happiness is comparatively intense, we think of satisfaction as a lesser state, when it is actually foundational.
When Jesus in Gethsemane prays for suffering to pass him by, is he what we would call happy? How about when he realizes his friends can’t stay awake with him? Or when he accepts God’s desires above his own? Jesus shows us that feeling good is not as important as doing what is right. In the core of his being, Christ is happy as the Psalms describe it.
Some people go to the opposite extreme of happiness, and seek out suffering to please God. While we must be willing to suffer in the name of love and solidarity with Christ, such manufactured piety is unhealthy. Being in right relationship with God comprises both rewards and difficulties, and the transient emotions accompanying them are like sunsets and rain. We need solid ground to enjoy or endure.
Comfort: We are created for more than happiness, we are created for relationship with God!
Challenge: When you get a chance, watch a nature documentary. As you watch, reflect on the struggles and rewards that are part of the natural order.
Prayer: God of all Creation, above all things I seek right relationship with you. Amen.
Discussion: During what experiences have you suffered, yet been at peace?
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