I started reading a new book yesterday and it's not one of those that I just can't put down. It's very well written, but there's a character that grates on me. What the character says is thought provoking for me because I disagree with the character so much!
As I was reading yesterday while my husband was driving, I came across one quote that particularly struck me. I'm reading the book on my Kindle so it's difficult to get back to the quote. But, basically, the character said that contentment is when people settle for their lives because they're unhappy. It's resignation. They don't want to change and are actually miserable so people justify it by saying they are content. People who change and progress with the times are actually the happy ones. So, the character says...
What I read made me think about contentment. As a Christian, I seek contentment. Because contentment means something different to me. It means trusting in God's plan for my life over my own and finding joy in that trust. God's plan undergirds my life. His providence. His plan. It's better than my own could be for my life. Contentment is lasting. It is something to strive after and seek. Happiness, on the other hand, is fleeting. It feels good in the moment. But, it isn't able to be sustained continuously. It is often self-centered and selfish in nature. At the core, happiness--in the way that our culture often refers to it--is about us, rather than about God.
But, Christians get it wrong, too, I think at times. We can fall into the trap of thinking that it is bad to be happy. Happiness isn't bad in and of itself, I think. What's bad is when that is our goal instead of contentment and we make choices seeking happiness instead of seeking to glorify God and trusting Him. But, I come back to Ecclesiastes 3:12-13...
12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
It is one of God's gifts to us to enjoy our work and food. I've known some Christians that shun the world because they think that it isn't okay to be happy and enjoy something. But, I think that is wrong theology too. God has given us gifts and this verse tells me that He wants us to enjoy them. The problem isn't happiness, it is that the world has twisted the importance of happiness and turned it into an idol.
A few years ago, when we were doing a Bible Study on Genesis by Tim Keller, we took a look at how the Serpent works in the Garden of Eden. At first, the serpent just repeats back what Eve says, but then the Serpent says it with a little twist. Each time the Serpent speaks, he twists what God said to Adam and Eve more.
I hear the mantra often "I just want to be happy." A friend of mine who works at a counseling center said over Easter dinner that all group sessions state that the goal people should strive for is "to be happy". Hmm. Happiness isn't evil, but it isn't primary goal we should be striving after. At least, that's what I think and what I find when I read God's Word.
The two greatest commandments are that we are to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength--and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Neither of those list happiness as the most important thing we should do. I think happiness in the life of a Christian looks like joy and it is in the Word in Galatians 5:22-23:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;against such things there is no law.
Yesterday, my son turned 6 years old. And I was happy. I was joyful. I loved that he enjoyed his birthday presents from us and his sisters so much. Each gift was perfect for him. I loved watching how his sisters sought to make it a special day for him. I loved the peace in our family--it wasn't perfect and Eli still had a few tears when he got frustrated at moments and Sami got frustrated when the rain spoiled her plans. But, I saw those blessings, joy, and happiness as coming from God. They were gifts and undergirding how I felt was my unspoken thankfulness to Him. I said to my husband last night that my goal when it comes to my kids isn't that they would be happy or that they would have all experiences available to them. It is that they would know how much God loves them and how much we love them. And that they would get to be kids. I don't want the world to steal their childhood from them.
But, back to where I started with this post. It hadn't occurred to me before yesterday that contentment is something I desire, but it doesn't play the same role in my thinking that it does in someone who doesn't trust God or believe in Him. If one didn't believe in God, why not pursue happiness first. It's what makes sense, doesn't it? Why not want to be happy and feel good? If there isn't a plan undergirding anything, like Romans 8:28, that's what makes sense.
It's moments like this, when it occurs to me what my life would be like if I didn't trust the Lord...what my life would look like if I was constantly striving after happiness, which never lasts and is always fleeting. I am so thankful that the Lord drew me to Him. With great humility and tears, I am thankful. I was lost and angry in my teen years and early twenties. But, years later, I feel joy now when I look at my children and marvel at how He has made them. The peace I have because I trust the Lord's plan for my life and theirs is lasting.
Well, I think it's time that my musings must come to an end for this morning and I need to get my children going! I hope all of this makes sense. It may have come out a bit rambling along the way...