Friday, August 30, 2013

Don't Let Being Unhappy Make You Feel Guilty

I am very conscious that what I said in the last post about the importance of seeking happiness can easily come across as making it sound like it's our fault if we're not happy. Telling someone who is very unhappy that he or she needs to be happy sounds insensitive and condemning, not to mention unhelpful. That isn't what I want to convey. The conviction that God encourages happiness and wants us to seek it should give us hope. The fact that we can't make it happen takes us back again to one of the keys to spiritual life: the things we need and the things we are supposed to do are impossible for us to accomplish by our own strength.

Being told you should be happy can't give you the ability to be happy when you're not. It often simply tends to make you feel worse. The only thing that can make you happy when you aren't is for God to act in your heart to give you joy. God uses many methods and means to do that, but the main way it happens is through prayer. Believing that God wants us to be happy and satisfied should give us hope that God wants to give that to us when we ask Him for it. It should make us bold in praying to God for happiness, joy, and freedom from anxiety or depression. We have every reason to eagerly trust that He will answer us because we know we are asking for something He already wants to give us.

The mystery of why God desires that we ask Him earnestly and prayerfully for things He already wants to do isn't something we will fully understand on this side of heaven. But it should be enough that the Scriptures tell us this is how He relates to us. We don't know how or why it works that way, but the important thing for us is that it does work. Jesus tells us God knows our needs before we seek them (Matthew 6:31-33), but He also tells us to ask God for our bread daily (Matthew 6:9-13). God desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4), but Jesus also tells us to pray to God that He would send laborers out to the harvest to save souls (Luke 10:2). God has blessings to give us that He is waiting for us to ask Him for.

Perhaps the most helpful explanation of this I have heard is that God's goodness and faithfulness and generosity are displayed more clearly when we desperately ask Him for something and He gladly responds by giving it to us than they would be if He simply gave us everything we needed without our ever thinking about it.

The bottom line is that God has given us a message that He wants us to be happy. We can't make it happen by ourselves. But we can choose to seek it diligently in every possible way, chiefly by praying to Him that He would make it happen. And the fact that He has told us He wants us to have it is the guarantee that if we keep asking Him for it, He will do it.

Wanting to Be Happy Is a Virtue - and a Necessity

This perspective by C.S. Lewis has really ministered to me through a painful summer. Walter Hooper describes the virtue of Lewis's positive willingness to pursue his own happiness: "Lewis had his share – some would say more than his share – of worries. But, having done all in his power to solve them, he left the matter to God and got on with his work and pleasures. … Lewis really wanted and liked the happiness which the Divine Son died to give all men. …in a letter to his brother … he says, 'I begin to suspect that the world is divided not only into the happy and the unhappy, but into those who like happiness and those who, odd as it seems, really don’t.'" (Introduction to The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses)

The world will give us plenty of reasons to be tempted by despair. We have to teach ourselves to unapologetically choose to be happy. Many people are sad, lonely, or depressed when they very much do not want to be. But it seems that not many of us feel the freedom to actively choose to cast away our anxieties and cares upon God and simply enjoy the life He has given us. (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:6-7.) It seems it is all too easy to succumb to sorrows and to become accustomed to being burdened by them, so much so that it almost feels unnatural and "guilty" to us to simply enjoy some free and unfettered happiness - as if we're somehow being selfish for having a carefree mind and unhindered joy. The Scriptures show that God Himself is supremely happy in being who He is and in the work He does. Then it follows that it is a quality of godliness to diligently seek to be as happy as we can in the ways God designed us to find our joy, however much we must work to get there. Happiness itself is a genuinely good thing of which God heartily approves.