In Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” this is her admission, her announcement, her proclamation. Life is loss… when, what, who will you lose? It’s not a matter of will I lose, but solely when will I lose.
We use this term loosely in ministry, usually followed by a stay at an all-inclusive resort or a trip to some exotic place no one would consider “suffering” at all. But, despite our quips, suffering is a part of ministry; it is a part of relationship with God, in taking on His work in the Kingdom. No one knows that better than those that have been there, and yet we use comments like “Jesus isn’t suffering, broken, ill, or misused so neither are we.” Where does that asinine train of thought come from? True. Healing is in the name of Jesus, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone from everything. So if we suffer it isn’t because we do not believe on the name of Jesus.
In fact, if you think about sovereign saints that believed whole-heartedly and passionately in the healing work of God and the manifestation of His grace, don’t you think of all people, the disciples would have been spared from suffering? And you cannot speak of suffering without bringing up Jesus Christ, a man who suffered and died a cruel death in a state of innocence so that we would forever be cleansed from the cancerous cruelty of guilt and shame. Therein you will find freedom, but we are never guaranteed freedom from suffering. If that were the case, what do we make of the words of Jesus that say, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” He didn’t say “might” or “may have” but a definite “WILL.”
The words that got John and Peter and countless other martyrs through weren’t based on the denial of their pain, but the Truth that got them through was the understanding that no matter what, God had not forsaken them, and any sacrifice or suffering was worth the love of Christ. It is the same Truth that gets the countless Christians persecuted daily for their faith through to the next day even as they bury their children, spouses, and friends.
We have to stop pointing at suffering as punishment and pain as an act of disobedience. The truth is, we are all going to suffer in one way or another in the flesh as long as we are earth bound. We have a choice in how we react to that suffering, in bitterness or in joy. Let me explain, joy is not happiness. No one is happy to suffer, no one laughs through chemo or transplants, but at the end of the day, they walk through it knowing they are led by Hands that know suffering and unfair pain. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid or they do not have moments of hopelessness, but in the end, they rest in the knowledge that He sees, He knows, and He promises that there is more on the other side.
We cannot be afraid to suffer, and we cannot condemn those that do, questioning their faith, and challenging their obedience. If you do not suffer, praise God! It isn’t because of anything you have or have not done, and if you suffer, praise God, because He has seen fit to send a message through you. Some of the bravest souls I know, didn’t deny their pain or their suffering or their illness, they acknowledged it, embraced it, and made it a part of a lasting testimony of faith.
I should be editing my book, but since I’m still theoretically pouting over the pulling of the word “epic” from our American vocabulary and because I happen to be seriously elated by the amazing lavishing love of Daddy God, I decided to write a blog (and start it with a seriously long, possibly run-on sentence).
The Happiness Project. Okay, let me be honest and admit that I have yet to read the book…I’m simply stating my opinion based on what I’ve seen in the margins and what I have heard from the author which in actuality probably isn’t fair to the her but it is what it is. So, basically this lady had an epiphany on a bus that she wasn’t focusing enough on happiness and being happy, so she endeavored to begin what she calls “the happiness project” where she tests the adages of others and relates them to life. Okay…what sources does she use? Well, I am not gonna sit here and list them all but a few would be – the Dali Lama and a few Saints and Benjamin Franklin and a few other names you may or may not recognize, oh yeah, and Oprah. I mean, its the twenty first century, Oprah is BIG…(that refers to her personality, her body is of no consequence.)
And what has she found: We need to be happier, think more of ourselves, and focus on more positive things. Okay. And? The happiness that we find, this would be relative, right? I mean, if someone gave me a bowl of rice, I would be touched and smile, but if I were a starving child in a third world country that bowl would mean more than happiness, that bowl would mean life! A clean bill of health at the doctors office would be nice, but for a recent cancer survivor, that would bring elation! The birth of a child is a happy thing, but in the case of a woman that has tried and lost several, that child is a miracle! In that happiness is relative, then basically it isn’t stringent or absolute. And if it isn’t, then it’s entirely possible that what makes me happy might make someone else unhappy…and if my happiness comes at the cost of someone else’s then that doesn’t make me very happy at all.
Webster defines HAPPINESS as such: a state of well-being and contentment, or a pleasurable or satisfying experience. Okay…so if something makes me content, brings me pleasure, or satisfies me then I am happy? Then, happiness by definition is selfish. Let me say, I am a happy person most of the time. I revel in finding joy in the little things; like treasures masked in randomness, I look for meaning and happiness where others might not see it. Of course, I’m also a loving person so when finding such, I immediately long to share it with another because my contentment, my satisfaction, my pleasure requires others feel the same…but when they don’t…ahh…there in lies the rub.
Happiness is a dependent variable. It is not absolute. It shifts and changes. That which makes you happy today may not make you happy tomorrow, and that which satisfies you today might not do the same next year. So when you begin a project to live a life for your own happiness and expecting that your happiness will in turn bring about happiness in others, don’t be disappointed when your theory doesn’t meet up with your hypothesis.
I have another project worthy of reflection…I’m going to call it “The Joy Project,” and I promise I’m not gonna write a book about it using obscure and tempered sayings to prove it. My theory is this: “Joy isn’t limited to our happiness.” First of all, if you were to look up the word “happiness” in a concordance you will find but a few references. In fact, Solomon considers it a chasing after the wind… (not to be confused with the answers that are believed to be blowing in the wind). However, JOY, and I used capital letters because it is a more important word, is all over the place…It is often tied to happiness but it isn’t dependent on it. (Okay I lied, I actually am about to insert a saying or two from the Bible.) “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters..” Why? Because you won the lottery? Because you shared in the laugh of a little child? Because you ate some amazing food and traveled the country? “When you face trials and tribulation of any kind…” Wait. What? That’s not cool. Trials and tribulations do NOT make me happy. David admits “Though I was anxious and depressed, you brought me joy.” In the midst of anxiety and stress, joy? Numerous other times in so many other ways the Bible talks of joy and there is one static nature and one stable source, care to guess? I know you want to? Yes. God. Paul continues that “Count it all joy” statement with…because Jesus suffered just like this. David confesses that God is his joy in the depth of pain and uncertainty. And the Word admonishes the people time and time again to bring joy to the One that is joy, for as David calls Him, “My God, my joy and my delight.” The angels told Mary that Jesus would be the joy that they were looking for. Jesus tells us that “In me your joy will be made complete.”
Happiness can be had without a saviour. Happiness is but a passing fancy that glimpses hope but doesn’t fully claim it. Happiness is shallow and consumable. Joy is deep and strong. Joy can be seen in the eyes of a starving child without a bowl of rice when he understands the Love of his Father. Joy can be experienced in the heart of a young mother even as she watches her child slip through her fingers, because she knows those terrifying beeps and racing monitors will soon be replaced with the Father’s embrace. Joy can be cried in the tears of a cancer patient that has been told that after 5 years the disease is back, because he or she realizes that there was life lived in fullness between. Joy is abiding and rich. Joy finds us when happiness isn’t even a thought. Happiness is what feels good to me…joy contains that which IS good.
I end my project with this blessing: “May your JOY be complete” and happiness… well, by all means, enjoy it when it comes, but don’t be obsessed or depressed when it is fleeting.