I remember the phone call and the subsequent conversations that forever changed my life vividly.
“It’s my time to be happy.”
It was my father’s voice, giving me one of the reasons he was leaving my mother after nearly 30 years. My father was walking away from his job and marriage in the pursuit of happiness.
I would love to say that my experiences at the hands of “happy” are unique, but over the past year I have watched “happy” break apart multiple marriages, damage churches and shatter families. My heart aches as I watch the fallout that occurs when happy trumps holy. I watch friends—and myself—make life-changing decisions based on what would make them more happy instead of more holy.
I feel a little helpless, sitting back and watching as this adherence to happiness infects the Church like poison. Slowly, and sometimes silently, it seeps into our thoughts, our prayers, our relationships. We are drug addicts, endlessly searching for our latest fix. The moment the effects of our latest hit of happiness have worn off, we are in pursuit of the next. We cannot stop and sit in our pain, disappointment or emptiness.
Happiness is our idol. Why are we not pursuing holiness with the same passion with which we are pursuing happiness? How have we come to allow ourselves to put more trust in a fleeting emotion than in a God who says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … Blessed are the poor in spirit … Blessed are those who mourn”?
Happiness is a perilous thing. It focuses our attention on ourselves and how we are feeling in the moment. But moments change. People change. Happiness will not hold. It’s a season—a side effect of when things are going well and your dopamine levels are up. Happiness is great to enjoy in the moment, but to spend a lifetime chasing it warps it into the idol we have made it out to be.
Happiness is not something to pursue. Holiness is something to pursue.
When we pursue happiness, it breaks and fractures relationships. It pits your happiness against my happiness. Acting for your own happiness will almost always end up breaking someone else’s. In pursuing happiness, everything becomes a commodity. We judge everything by the value of how happy it will make us. When it doesn’t make us happy anymore, it’s time to move on and find what will get us the next hit.
And we don’t just do this with objects. We treat people the same way. We throw away relationships, friendships and marriages when they don’t add value to our happiness anymore. We walk away from them, choose to pursue “happy” instead.
I praise a Jesus who does not walk away from His bride—flawed though she is. Christ spent His entire time on earth not teaching us how to be happy, but how to be holy. He is the perfect example of what it looks like to sacrifice humanly happiness for God’s holiness. His ragtag group of disciples irritated Him and argued with Him and each other, and He always knew one was destined to betray Him. But He spent time with them anyway, teaching them, loving them, pushing them to grow in holiness. The cross didn’t make Him happy, either. Christ was in distress, in pain, and he died.
Between happiness and holiness, Christ chose holy. He chose to make us holy.
I praise a God who does not give up on us when we don’t make Him happy. I praise a God who teaches me time and time again that happiness is not my ultimate goal. His goal is not for me to be happy, but to be holy. He warns me over and over that it will hurt—hat I am destined for trials—but that He is with me always. He tells me to rejoice always.
By chasing after God, I am chasing after holy. And there is nothing more joyful than that!