So I have a confession to make. I think its funny because before I was a Christian when I heard the word "confession" it always made me think of creepy old churches and low-voiced priests veiled behind lattice and darkness, accepting offerings of truth and assigning penance.
Nonetheless, I sit in my front room near a big bright window and buzzing computer screen disclosing my deepest secrets (well, maybe not all of them, but certainly I have some things that could be helpful to expose).
When I came to faith and belief in God, I was so relieved because I was experiencing such joy and happiness. Finally, I had found something to fill the void that I felt inside. I had been struggling, sad and lacking direction in my life. I was so relieved to find God and know that moving forward I could smile, laugh and enjoy life so much more. I was on cloud nine.
We (Brendan and I) were part of a growing and vibrant church community. We were studying our faith and I was in school taking Christian courses, working part time in a Catholic school, and planning a wedding. Life was amazing and I was so happy. That lasted for a little while.
We spent the first couple years of our marriage continuing to be active in our faith community. We helped run the Alpha program, I volunteered with RCIA (a program designed for the education and formation of those thinking of becoming Roman Catholic as adults), and I continued to be involved in a Christian school setting. Life wasn't perfect but things were pretty good for us.
We made the decision to travel to South Korea to teach English (with one of Brendan's older sisters and one of his younger brothers). Upon arriving (literally the day we flew there), we discovered we were pregnant. As it turned out, God knew that if we found out before we left we would've ditched the contract and never gone. That would've been a terrible mistake.
We stayed for several months and then decided to come back to get set up, have the baby at home and start this new chapter in our life.
Now a couple of years into our marriage, pregnant and having no home, no jobs and really no idea of what we were doing, we managed to maintain a strong faith that God would provide for us. I certainly believed that we deserved a joyful and abundant life and that God would set that out before us. We would pray and believe for things to work out so easily. And they did. For a while.
As life played out though, things got harder. With every baby, job change, new house, new care provider, no matter how hard we prayed, we just kept hitting all these obstacles. At first my fervent and upbeat attitude was maintainable. We were faithful in our prayers, our church attendance and our belief that God was working everything out for the good. But after a while, nothing seemed good. In fact, everything seemed hard. And when I speak about this in the past tense, do not be fooled. We have not yet seen the end of these challenges. I have had days in this last year where I wonder where the heck God is and how he could have allowed me to end up in such an awful, exhausting, unfulfilling and miserable spot. All I have ever wanted was to be the best I could be. To follow God's will and do what I was supposed to do. Is that too much to ask for someone who is trying to live out their Christian faith the best they can ... that God would just work all of this out? Don't I deserve to be happy?
Well the conclusion I've come to is simple but its a hard one to swallow. The answer is no.
I think the biggest part of the problem here is the message that our culture sends is completely in opposition to this. Just watch any commercial or read any magazine and you'll see countless ads telling you why you deserve that vacation, that new truck, that better dishwasher, home or even body. After all, you've worked hard, you're a good person. You deserve to be happy.
But here's the catch. God never told us we'd be happy.
There are dozens of promises that God makes to His people in the Bible. He gives us assurance that He will keep every one of these promises. And make no mistake ... some of them are outrageous!
He promises that His grace is sufficient and that He will provide all of our needs.
He has promises us victory over death and eternal life.
He has promises us that He will work out all things for good for those who love Him.
Never though, does God ever promise we'll be happy.
Why on this green earth then would I ever choose to be a disciple of a God who cannot even compete with the local travel agency when it comes to making me happy? Certainly they promise happiness (at least for the 2 week duration of your stay or your money back).
Well, I'd say it has to do with a further examination of the purpose of this thing we call life.
And upon this further examination I have come to believe that the expectation that life deliver happiness is a human-created culture which is not universal.
Certainly this was not the case when Jesus told the disciples that they had to give up everything they had (jobs, money, things, friends and even families) to follow him. If he was concerned with making the disciples happy he would've said, "Stay here, live in big, cushy houses and preach only to people who agree with everything you say. You will not be judged, persecuted or challenged and I will provide you with all of the money and material goods you need to be happy."
No, Jesus did not say anything like that. Because Jesus was not concerned with making the disciples happy. He was concerned with making the disciples, well, disciples.
He was concerned with developing their faith, their character and their witness and testimony. He was concerned with taking their focus off of material things and finding true joy and peace in the real promises that God has to offer. The ones that matter. The ones that last.
Do you ever notice how quickly something that should make us happy can lose its allure, annoy us, or even make us mad? If you've never experience this, just get married. (Wow, that sounded so cynical ... but its true!). A marriage is a union within which both people can grow, develop and raise up the next generation in a safe, loving and character-forming environment. But marriage (like Christian faith) was never designed to make us happy. Don't get me wrong, I have experienced much happiness. But I've also experienced truck loads of the opposite.
God never promised that this would be easy. He never promised that it would be safe. He never assured us that walking in His grace would be smooth and simple.
He did promise us peace though. And joy. And eternal life. And all of those things are so much deeper and richer than mere happiness. They are signs of having and fulfilling your life's purpose, as challenging as that may be. God doesn't owe me any happiness. But He has promised that He will compensate me for any trouble I face in walking His path. It just might not be with a new car or a 5-star vacation. It might be with a depth of character that is irreplaceable and necessary to bring me to a new level of joy or peace. Or it might be with something years from now that I am not even aware of now. Either way, God will ensure His followers are saved. Maybe just not how we expect, or in a way we think we deserve.
I think that once again CS Lewis has such amazing wisdom on this topic ...
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Since I found my faith (and even more so the deeper my conviction to God has become) I have been challenged. I have been attacked, persecuted and faced challenges that I didn't know I'd make it through (and some that I am still in the midst of). We have had struggles in our marriage, finances, in raising our kids and just deep within ourselves that have threatened to break us apart at the seams.
But we cling, desperately at times, to the promises of God. I know that at the end of the day the fulfillment of material and earthly things and experiences will wear thin. I've been there. I've prayed for something (or someone, or some opportunity) SO HARD because I thought it would make all the difference. It always disappoints. But God never does.
One of my favorite bits of dialogue in the Narnia Chronicles is between Susan and Mr. Beaver, in reference to Aslan, the Lion and it goes as follows:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"...
"Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
God isn't safe. Sometimes God is the farthest thing from safe. Just ask those who are persecuted or killed for their faith. Just ask Christ as he hung on the cross.
I choose to follow God because I believe He exists and I believe that His promises are true. His grace will be sufficient for me to face anything I need face. And the promise of my secured eternity and the eternity of those I love is one I do not take lightly.
So, knowing full well that I will probably have to forego some of the "things" that I really want, and I will be denied many of the things that society will tell me I cannot live without, I will continue towards a deeper and more rich understanding of my faith and God's plan for me.
I will trade in safety and happiness for goodness and true joy.
In the end, I may not get what I "deserve" but I am pretty certain that what I do get, will be so much more.