“Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
Those are the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I would agree with him, but I think the way the Bible articulates it carries the weight of eternal truth.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” – 1 Peter 4:12 (NIV)
The Bible clearly instructs us to expect hard times; frames it as a part of our fallen world existence. On several occasions in God’s Word, He makes the dark-sided promise of trial and difficulty. James 1:2 even postures trial as a remarkable opportunity for that most defiant and unlikely state of being – joy. This perspective so counters what we are taught to desire, to embrace, to pursue.
As soon as I say the word “pursuit”, a concept probably springs fully-formed to mind, especially for us Americans.
The pursuit of happiness. It’s in the hallowed words of our Declaration of Independence. It’s a blockbuster movie. Shoot, it’s a song by Kid Cudi! LOL!
But is it a biblical promise?
I would say no. I would submit that God is a lot less concerned with our happiness than we sometimes assume. Sometimes I think the way many in the church proselytize a culture-tainted prosperity is rooted in the fundamental misapprehension that our happiness here on this side of eternity is paramount to our Father. Brace yourselves.
It is not.
Do I think God wants us unhappy? No. I think God wants us mature. I think He wants us dependent on Him. I think He wants us pointing to Him as the reason we live and have our being. And sometimes happiness murks that, and difficult circumstances peel away that outer layer of happy until the only thing that remains is what we can draw from Him as our source. When we walk through our trials with God’s real promises – that He will never leave us or forsake us, that His Holy Spirit is an in-dwelling Comforter giving peace that bypasses reason, that we can count on His unwavering love and blood-bought forgiveness – that is when we glow for Him. That is when we cling to Him. That is when we become more like Him, and that is the point.
Happiness is a gift. One we should not take for granted because it is too-often fleeting and vulnerable to life’s sharp edges. It is a frothy confection; a fragile bubble too easily popped by circumstances. A sick child, a lost job, a ruined relationship – happiness dissipates. Evaporates.
In the darkest, coldest seasons of my life, I refused to embrace that saccharine-coated phoniness that we as Christians so often indulge to impress others and to deceive ourselves. I was not happy.
But I had joy, that elixir that is grit mixed with grace. I couldn’t pretend things were good. I couldn’t pretend I liked my circumstances. But there was something right inside of me. Something authentic built from a greater hope and a trust that God did indeed hold my life in His hands. And He was trustworthy. That’s what it comes down to.
Am I saying that God doesn’t want us wealthy, healthy, prosperous?
No, I am saying our happiness isn’t the point. The point is to be like Him, and from time to time, the things that aren’t like Him have to be burned away in the crucible that is life. Bubbles don’t survive in the crucible. Sometimes happiness is burned away, but joy is reinforced by steel. Peace insulates our joy. And God harbors inside Himself the secrets to that greatest mystery – contentment.
True contentment. Now that is a sturdy concept, not swayed by storms or shaken by life’s hard times. It is not fragile, and can be found when we seek Him with all our hearts.
And that is a promise.
Tina Dula is a wife to the love of her life, mom to a special, beautiful son, and a friend to those living with autism through her foundation Myles-A-Part, serving Georgia families. Her writings have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and USA Today, and she has been featured on the Montel Williams Show, NPR, Headline News and others. She writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction under the pseudonym Kennedy Ryan. 25% of her royalties go toward her own foundation and to her national charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).