There are very few times I could actually say I have been ecstatically happy, except perhaps when I was a child. As most of my life has been spent as an adult, that leaves a lot of my life in the unhappy category. Even the happier moments lacked something, usually tinged with some anxiety or sorrow.
Then of course, there are those circumstances where nothing we do or say is going to make it better. How can we be joyful when loved ones suffer? How can we be happy when we aren't sure whether we can feed, clothe or shelter our families?
Jesus had moments of grief. He wept over Jerusalem. He was saddened when his disciples rejected Him and He certainly wept while in the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt greater despair on the Cross than any of us can comprehend. Yet scripture doesn't describe His life as one on going story of despair and hopelessness. I know I am missing something, but I can't quite grasp what it is.
My devotions gave me one answer, and it came from the mind of a child. In Living Faith, Aileen O'Donnoghue recounts the story of a friend's grandson. After a string of several disappointments, his grandmother asked him what she could do to help make him feel better. He replied, "Well, I could change my mind."
Change my mind? Could it really be that simple? What about all the situations I mentioned above? Perhaps those may not be included, but certainly other less devastating circumstances, which actually make up most of my life, could be. Maybe I could change my mind and stop thinking I would be happy except for: insert whatever. Instead, I could say I am happy because of: insert any number of things.
It is just a little twist of thought, but what a tremendous impact it could have on my day to day life. Change my mind. What a thought. Change my mind about what it is I really want from this life, what would truly make me happy, and voila! I could be happy in most circumstances, which equals the greater portion of my life. That adds up to a whole lot of happy. But, what is it that would truly make me happy? So much of our joy is fleeting, gone within minutes, hours or just a few days. Nothing lasts, nothing stays.
Wayne Jacobsen emphasizes in his book, He Loves Me!, that being loved, especially by God, transforms life from the unhappy to the happy. He uses the story of the Prodigal son to illustrate his point. Neither son realized how much their father loved them, and their actions reflected this perception. The younger one tried to run away, believing if he could only pursue his selfish desires he would be truly happy. The older brother stayed, but did so out of duty, not out of love, and resented every chore and task his father asked of him - and both sons missed the point: real happiness stemmed from a loving relationship with their father, and each other.
After nearly starving to death, the Prodigal Son returned. The moment his father met him on the road, this son understood the true depth of his father's love. The only thing that had changed was the son's mind. He realized being a servant in his father's house was better than starving at the hands of a stranger. In other words, he changed his priorities, and was surprised to find he was instantly restored to his status of beloved son.
The eldest son was not happy with his brother's return. The story leaves him standing outside pouting over what he perceives as an unfair, unjust action by his father. His brother squandered all of his inheritance after wrongly asking for it. He, the older, more responsible son was never met on the road with such jubilation. He worked hard without so much as a "Why thank you, son. Here have a party with your friends." Of course he could have done that, but he never asked. Instead he drudged along, building resentment. What if he changed his mind? What if he changed his priorities - his point of view - and looked at things from a different perspective? Would the story have a different ending?
Would changing our minds, our priorities, lead to a more balanced perspective, and consequently more joy? Not much to lose in trying, except unhappiness.
So, I think I'll change my mind about a few things. Do a little prioritizing. A wise man once said that most crises have a very short shelf life. If it won't matter in a couple of weeks, then it probably isn't that important.
At first I'll need to focus on one moment, one hour, one day at a time until I get the hang of it, and I'll stumble, I'll fail, and I'll revert to old habits often, but with practice it will become easier. However, I do have one very important advantage - God. With Him all things are possible. If I align my desires with His will, well then, I will be happy, truly happy, without any of the except-for nonsense because I will no longer be looking for that perfect moment. There never will be one on this earth, but there certainly will be joy, if I change my mind about a few things and decide to find contentment when and where I can. How about you? Are you happy?