Did you ever hear someone say something so wrong you wanted to smack your face – or smack them?
Once I attended a corporate training luncheon that had to do with (among other things) how we who are caregivers can refresh, restore, & rejuvenate ourselves. The facilitator asked “What is your passion? What drives you? What gets you motivated to get out of bed in the morning?” No one responded at first, but eventually one attendee raised her hand. “Thank you!” he said, “Tell us, what is your passion in life?” “My happiness,” she replied.
I was too polite to facepalm right then and there, but I felt like doing it. How sad and shallow. How many others, though, are like her? Far too many – and that’s not just my opinion. In a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology, a team of researchers from three universities discovered that while Americans want a life that is simultaneously happy and meaningful, the two are distinctly different – so different that they are almost opposites. Happiness is essentially selfish, but meaning comes from transcending the self.
All these thoughts jumble in my head as I read another of Christ’s dying words:
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This remark was made to another dying man, a thief who had earlier along with his comrade jeered at Christ. But the physician Luke records the man confessing his guilt – and Christ’s sinlessness – then appealing to him for mercy. That mercy is granted not only to him but to all who reach out to the Savior in like manner.
Paradise is an interesting word. It is a Persian one, originally meaning a private enclosed park, well shaded and well watered, intended for rest, pleasure, and recreation. According to the early Church Fathers, the Bible’s use of this word (rather than the more commonly used “heaven”) is meant to recall the Garden of Eden. A happy place, indeed! But this kind of happiness comes only through obedience and suffering. Any other definition of happiness is unbiblical and, ultimately, destructive.
As the JPP authors put it in their article,
“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”
Which is how you know a person is completely off track when they say “God wants me to be happy.” A friend of mine said that very thing in an attempt to explain why she divorced her husband and married the man with whom she’d been carrying on an affair. Her first husband was a decent, devoted, hard-working man who loved her and their young son, but was, honestly, a bit boring. She lacked for nothing and could find no fault with him, other than he didn’t make her happy. She unilaterally ended a covenant she’d made with one man on a whim, blithely trusting God would keep His covenant with her. How foolish.
“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” wrote Viktor Frankl in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl, a Jewish holocaust survivor, knew there is no genuine happiness unless it is united with meaning and purpose. America’s Founders believed the pursuit of happiness was a God-given right – which it is – but that right cannot be properly exercised apart from a relationship with the God who gives it.
To return to the seminar facilitator’s question, let me ask you: What is YOUR driving passion in life – your self, or something which transcends yourself?
“Those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5.15