Friday, September 14, 2007
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. (Psalm 128:1)
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. (Psalm 35:9) Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
My heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body rests secure... You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:9,11)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. (Luke 6:20-23)
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1) Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. (Psalm 1:1) How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. (Job 5:17) The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)
All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15) Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1) We must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Happy people are easier - much, much easier - to live with.
Just about everybody wants to be happy. You dream of happiness, you plan for it, and perhaps pay any price to achieve it. Searching for happiness, one person will make a lot of money; another will give all their money away. In the same search a woman will have five or six children; another enters a convent. Ask the average person what he or she wants out of life, and the chances are they'll reply without hesitation, 'I just want to be happy.'
Occasionally in my counseling I meet someone who enjoys being miserable - and gets a perverse delight in making others unhappy. Woody Allen apparently wasn't joking when he said, 'If my film makes one more person miserable, I've done my job!'
Where do you find happiness? Bumper stickers tell us Happiness is... a German Shepherd, Being Single, Being a Grandmother, Being Italian, Dreaming in Colour, or whatever. Happiness is being a nonconformist, according to Emerson. Happiness, said Rousseau, is a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
Although we know in theory that happiness is in the mind, many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Sure, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be; certainly if you 'keep your face towards the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you'; but there's still a vague unease... The old Scottish proverb can invite us to 'Be happy while y'er leevin' for y'er a long time dead,' but the blues still come uninvited, and overstay their welcome...
Jesus doesn't offer you happiness; but he promises you'll be 'blessed'. Indeed he essentially promised three things to his followers: constant trouble, constant joy, because of his constant presence. The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be useful, to be loving, to be unselfish, to have made a difference... Happiness is a by-product of having worthwhile attitudes and doing worthwhile things. Happy people serve others, have goals, are close to nature, are in touch with the child within...
And yet, and yet... Deep within just about all of us is the elusive promise of joy, somewhere. As C S Lewis put it, memorably, in The Problem of Pain: ALL YOUR LIFE AN UNATTAINABLE ECSTASY HAS HOVERED JUST BEYOND THE GRASP OF YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS. THE DAY IS COMING WHEN YOU WILL WAKE TO FIND, BEYOND ALL HOPE, THAT YOU HAVE ATTAINED IT, OR ELSE THAT IT WAS WITHIN YOUR REACH AND YOU HAVE LOST IT FOREVER. [C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain, London: Collins (Fontana), 1957, p. 136] 
Happiness, as the song says, is different things to different people. The OED defines it as 'the state of pleasurable content of mind which results from success or the attainment of what is considered good.'
Happy people are 'free' people. Cat Stevens (Harold and Maude) picked up this theme (though their sentiments need some Christianizing): 'If you want to be free be free/ If you want to be you be you/ There's a million things to do/ If you want to be me be me/ There's a million things to be'.
The fundamentalists are not really free. They try to be free from complexity but are not free from fear or doubt. The theological liberals may be free of dogma, but are not free to be sure about too many things. The Pentecostals may be emotionally free in some ways, but they are not free from stress...
Happiness - whether you're a Christian or not - is not attained by trying hard to be happy. Happiness is 'serendipitous' - the art of making happy discoveries while looking for something else. The most beautiful adventures, said Robert Louis Stevenson, are not those we go to seek. You can only be happy, according to George Orwell, when you do not assume that the object of life is happiness. Make happiness the object of your pursuit, said Nathanial Hawthorne, and it leads you on a wild-goose chase. Rather, as Ashley Montagu claims, the moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. We do not seize them, they seize us. Happiness is where we find it, rarely where we seek it.
Happiness is the by-product of what happens in three relationships - with God, with others, with self.
# C S Lewis wrote somewhere, 'God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.'
# Confucius said, 'Those who wish to secure the good of others have already secured their own.'
# Ultimately, your real self-worth is in yourself, not in the things you do or the offices you hold. Being rich or famous doesn't make you happy. Aristotle Onassis said just before he died, 'I've just been a machine for making money. I seem to have spent my life in a golden tunnel looking for the outlet which would lead to happiness. But the tunnel kept going on. After my death there will be nothing left.' Richard Burton tried to drink himself to death. Voltaire wrote, 'I wish I had never been born.' Gould, the American millionaire, when he was dying, said 'I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.' You know the definition of a celebrity: someone who works all their life to become famous enough to be recognized, then goes around in dark glasses so no one will know who they are!
Happiness is not in the ideas others have about you. After all, a diamond remains a beautiful and precious stone whether embedded in a crown or thrown into the garbage bin. Happiness is enjoying living with yourself. It's the art of being yourself. Happiness is being your own best friend.
But - and this is an important footnote at this point - all authentic Christian spirituality, from the first century onwards, encourages both self-affirmation and self-denial. You are an unrepeatable miracle of God's creation, made in his image. But you must not just live for yourself. This, of course, is in remarkable opposition to the 'I gotta be me' message of many secular self-esteem gurus...
Happiness comes from fulfilling the primary purpose of life - to love God and to love others. The happy person has something to do, someone to love, somewhere to call home and something to hope for. You may not yet be the happiest or best put together person you know - but the Lord hasn't finished with you yet!
Happiness is not the fulfilment of desire. Fulfilling the desire does not liberate from it, but creates a new desire for its repetition. The cycle repeats itself, the need for greater gratification increases each time, as all earthly pleasures are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and frustration sets in. The cycle has to be broken, that is, attachment has to be dropped. Learn to enjoy things in freedom: if I have it, it's fine, and if I don't have it, it's equally fine. The way to enjoy everything is to stick to nothing.
Happiness is enoughness. The secret is to be content with what comes our way, rejecting nothing and hankering for nothing... to take what comes and let go what goes. God gave and God took away. Blessed be his name forever!
Carlos G. Valles S.J., Mastering Sadhana: Anthony de Mello, New York: Doubleday, 1987, pp. 36-37. 
Don't be afraid of misfortune and do not yearn after happiness. It is, after all, all the same. The bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if hunger and thirst don't claw at your sides.
If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and those you wish well...
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Source unknown, quoted in Australian Presbyterian Life, September 1985, p. 25. 
On more than one occasion I have raised my eyes to heaven and said: 'Could not You have made it a little easier, God? Was there no way to create a world without such pain at the middle of all things human?' And when I have stayed with that question long enough to work it through, the answer comes back clearly: 'No, this really is the best of all possible worlds if the experience of personal joy is the goal of all things.' Stop and think about it for a moment: if there were no choices, how could any sort of personhood exist? If we could have everything, and never had to evaluate or set this over against that or go through the process of deciding, it would be simpler, but would it be better...? It is true, we can't have it all, and not to realize that is pathetic. We can't have it all, and to choose among many options is painful, even tragic. But do not forget, we can have some things. The trees that are available, the roads that can be taken are all rich in potential beyond reckoning... The very capacity of self-transcendence is a joy in itself...
Eugene O'Neill once wrote: 'I can partly understand how God can forgive us humans, for we are so weak and foolish. But what I cannot understand is how can he forgive himself for creating so painful a world?' I honestly do not think God is losing any sleep at this point. The joy he wanted us to experience could be on no other terms than our being persons of choice, and long ago he concluded, I think, that such a prospect was worth the risk... The point of this whole sermon: There is abundance and we can choose. Let us begin...!
John Claypool, 'You Can't Have It All', unpublished sermon. 
[Bishop Fulton Sheen] put his arm around my shoulders and said, 'God loves you. And you know something? So do I.' I found tears in my eyes. It was the love power of that man...
Jesus Christ loves you. Your mother loved you; your father loved you; your wife loves you; your husband loves you. But nobody loves you as Jesus loves you. And that makes us happy, because it tells us we are of infinite worth and value. If you are loved like that by the Son of God, then you have a value that is beyond any material thing. And your life will be continuous into eternity because value, in the highest form, never deteriorates. Love! Love! Love! That is the secret of happiness.
Norman Vincent Peale, 'Meet the Happiness Giver', Creative Help for Daily Living, Part III, Vol 31, No. 9, Pawling N.Y.: Foundation for Christian Living, 1980, p. 34. 
A day so happy. Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden. Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers. There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess. I knew no one worth my envying... Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot. To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me. In my body I felt no pain. When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
Czeslaw Milosz, 'Gift,' 1973. Quoted in Newsweek, October 20, 1980, p.54. 
The three greatest enemies of happiness [are]... worry, boredom, and self-centredness... Christianity slays them all! Worry...? Even though the worst should happen, even though your whole scheme of things were to collapse... nothing, absolutely nothing can pluck you... out of the great Father's keeping! Boredom...? Christianity [fills] your life full with the glory of a friendship whose wonders are unending... Self-centredness - Christianity finishes that. How? By taking you, once and for all, right out of yourself...
Why be a Christian? The Christian life is happier than any other. [But] the Christian life is also harder than any other... The life in Christ is holier than any other... [And] the Christian life is more hopeful than any other.
James Stewart, 'Why Be a Christian?' in The Gates of New Life, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956, pp. 23-29. 
Brother Masseo once tried to test how humble Francis of Assisi was. 'Why you? Why you? Why you?' he asked. 'The whole world seems to go after you, all seek to see you, to hear you, to obey you, but you are not a handsome man. You are not a man of great knowledge or wisdom. You are not noble. Why, therefore, does the whole world come to you?' When Francis heard this... he stood [silently] for a long time, his mind turned to God. He came to himself, fell on his knees, and with praise and thanks to God with great warmth of spirit, turned to Brother Masseo and said: 'You wish to know, and know truly, why the whole world comes after me. This comes to me from those most holy eyes of God which everywhere observe both good and evil. Those blessed and most holy eyes saw... no greater sinner, more useless and vile than me. Therefore to do the wondrous work he had in mind to do, since he could find on earth no one more vile, he chose me, for God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the mean, contemptible, feeble things of the world to confound the noble and the great, so that the grandeur of goodness should proceed from God, and not from that which God has created, so that no creature and no flesh should boast in his sight, and that to God alone should be honour and glory for ever.'
Then Brother Masseo was amazed at a reply so humble and so warmly made, and truly knew that the holy father was grounded in true humility, a true and humble follower of Christ.
E.M.Blaiklock and A.C. Keys (trs.), The Little Flowers of St Francis, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, pp. 42-43. 
[A girl from Mauritius, highly educated, entered Mother Teresa's society in India]. 'The next day I sent her to work in a home for the dying. For three hours she lovingly cleaned a woman who had been picked up on the street. She came home radiating joy. "I have been touching the body of Christ for three hours," she told me...'
[To her fellow-workers among lepers]: 'Be kind and merciful. Let no one come to you without coming away better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, in your warm greeting...'
'Joy is prayer - Joy is strength - Joy is Love... God loves a cheerful giver! You give most when you give with joy. The best way to show our gratitude to God and the people is to accept everything with joy. A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love... Never let anything fill you so much with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen... We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now - to be happy with him now means - loving as he loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him 24 hours, touching him in his distressing disguise.'
Mother Teresa in Peter Dwan, Apostle of the Unwanted (Mother Teresa), Melbourne, Australia: ACTS Publications, 1969, pp. 5, 10-11, 19-20. 
For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance...
Every now and then you run across radiantly attractive people and you're delighted to find they adore you, till you realize that they adore just about everybody - and that's what's made them radiantly attractive.
Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, quoted in Reader's Digest, date/page unknown. 
Happiness is being a Christian. To put it as Peanuts does, that is what happiness is. He has said... that happiness is a nice warm bed, happiness is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, happiness is your first loose tooth, and a hundred other things... He should try this on for size and you should too: happiness is being a Christian.
Sometimes we use the word Christian to mean simply nice and kind and good... When I say happiness is being a Christian, I don't mean Christian in that very broad sense. There are of course millions who are Christians in the sense that they are citizens of Christian nations, but they are not a bit happy at all.
The Bible connects happiness and Christianity... It leaves no doubt that those who believe that Jesus is their Saviour and their Lord will experience his presence in their lives. They will be new people who begin to participate in Christ's victory right now. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is the key to happiness and joy. There is no other way.
Joel Nederhood, 'Happiness is... You'd be Surprised', Back to God Hour pamphlet, undated. 
Christians are free of vindictiveness because they trust God's justice; but they are free for blessing because they know God's goodness.
Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988, p. 141. 
Make me, Lord obedient without complaint, poor without regret, patient without murmur, humble without pretence, joyful without foolishness, truthful without disguise.
Thomas Aquinas, cited in Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.64. 
Eternal God, you dwell in light unapproachable, beyond the power of our thought to comprehend or our imagination to portray. Yet you are revealed to us in the beauty of the world we live in, in the truth our minds discover, in the inward presence of your Spirit, and above all in Christ, your Son. With reverent hearts we worship you.
We bring our fragmentary lives into the presence of your wholeness. We bring our transient thoughts into the light of your eternity. We bring our restless spirits into the calm strength of your everlasting purpose.
We have complained about the circumstances that have fretted us, about enemies who have wronged us, and even about the justice of your order that has hurt us. Teach us, nevertheless, we earnestly ask, to search our own lives, to see that each has our own destiny, each soul its own heaven and its own hell. Send us back into our souls to find there, by your grace, peace and power and adequacy to conquer life. May we be victors and not victims. Amen.
Eternal God, Grant us this day and every day such readiness and delight in following Christ, that whether our lives are short or long we shall have lived abundantly. Amen.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland, Collins, 1989, p. 106. 
May God, from whom to be turned is to fall; to whom to be turned is to rise; and in whom to stand is to live forever: may this God grant us in all our duties his help, in all our problems his guidance, in all our dangers his protection, in all our sorrows his peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Adapted from a prayer of St. Augustine, cited in Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.22. 
By Rowland Croucher