When someone asks you if you’re happy, what is your normal response? I usually say something like, “yes, I’m good”, or I may make a more sardonic approach and respond, “what is happiness?”. Though, happiness is more a reflection of our general feelings or perception of our contextual situation than a matter of our disposition. Disposition is a matter of our qualities as a character trait or just in general how we perceive our situations. So, a person who is more content with life, as they perceive it, will tend to be happier which should be a derivative of their joyous nature. I think many times, we are happy, but it become a fleeting moment, because what we choose to be happy about is more a matter of material desired fulfilled, but just like anything, a material desire will always loose its potency or luster based on what it is we seek in its intrinsic nature. Now, I’m not suggesting we’re all a group of selfish creatures walking around trying to get what we want, I directly saying it. We are, we are selfish by nature, we are looking to fill our needs. We seek to fill our own needs by filling our life with food, entertainment, adulation, pursuits other than pure love, and we seek sin because sin has promised us a life of happiness if we would just push ourselves further from God.
So, why are we pushing ourselves further from God, isn’t God the truth, the light, pure love? Yes, but we are selfish, and we want what we want now. We want comfort and happiness at whatever cost seems appropriate with our moods. If we’re lazy today, then we will only pursue what we can get from little or no effort. If we are challenged tomorrow and we can measure anything less than the full truth of our situation, we will choose it. If we want to see a superficial example of this in action, look to our children, they are not nearly so complex as us, but still seemingly exhibit the same tendencies. We, just like our kids, do what we shouldn’t because, in the words of my son “I just wanted to”. We just want to do whatever we want, and we don’t like anyone, especially God to tell us, “no”. Though in the context of my words as you read them, I hope you can realize the arrogance, my actions, your actions, actions in our general culture are to the way of love. Love isn’t a feeling, more than it is a truth of pure goodness, a truth which will draw joy in to our lives, and may as a result create pain as we burn away the sin which crept into our hearts and hardened our very ability to accept and give love to God. Though, the pain with which we go through, we gladly accept as a matter of growth and a matter of need, much like the plant who stretches its stem to reach the light, so to do we stretch ourselves for the joy which may fill our hearts.
How many people have you ever known, who were seemingly miserable within their lives? No matter what was said or done, they found argument or complaint in the very details they were dealing with. Their inclination towards the negative, created an environment which lauded criticism and judgement which in turn degraded their ability to feel love much less give it. Well, this was me, I’ve been so critical in my life, I’ve pushed away everyone at one point. I even push away God, through my actions of discontented behavior, leading to sin, whereby I wallowed in my own misery. I wanted to make everyone around me miserable, to the extent they would agree with me, and we could commiserate on topics of similarity. We could chastise those people who didn’t meet our hidden expectations, and in the process, we could look down on those individuals who we considered to be lesser. I was awful, the vitriol I would spew at anyone who didn’t agree with my point of view, was painful to take, and although it has been years later, when I think back on my words, it’s painful to relive. I feel so much shame for my behavior, it is like a wave of inexcusable shame washes over me, and at once, I can barely breath because I can only imagine what those people I hurt must think of me now. Though, my ability to view my behaviors has a two-fold purpose. The first is a matter of the Devil trying to insist on my acknowledgement of pain, and in doing so, create a never-ending cycle of bad decisions and bad behaviors. The second part of this self-reflection I feel, is God telling me, in my shameful silence, “I love you, let this go, I forgive you and I want you with me”.
This ability to really understand what God wants from me in my life, is where I end up after walking in the murky swamps of my historical sin. The swamp is laden with pitfalls and snares of imperceptible pain, but just like anything we see as ugly in our mind, our mind has a way of overarching the ugliness, and at the same time undercutting the significance of our actions. We must look towards the light of God, God will handle what is around us, in one way or another. Though, to let our past control our now, is to allow sin a permanent place in us, and keep us forever mired in our sin. The sin must be burned away, dried up, and an ability for a clean heart.
Here is where we find our joy! Joy doesn’t mean we won’t be unhappy or have rough times within our lives, but joy is the consistent acceptance of God in our now. Not tomorrow, and not yesterday, although we do perceive God’s place in our time as it matters to all existence including our own. We must be concerned with the here and now, a homeless woman in need of food, isn’t concerned with her meal a week from now, neither should we when it comes to being concerned with the food of joy we receive from God. Telling ourselves, we will focus on prayer and God when we have more time, is equivalent to finding a dry place in the swamp of sin, and relegating ourselves to this space, till we must move. We all must go through the swamp, and on the other side is our mountain of faith we must climb. And yes, I mean a mountain, it is tall and it is treacherous at times, and yes, we have a good chance of backsliding with every step we take. However, God, is there with us, and in our silence, he never leaves us. He needs us to ascend this mountain, for when we ascend it, we find our joy, our love, our goodness in Him.
Ok, so why isn’t happiness the same as joy, aren’t they basically the same thing? Well, no! Happiness is a feeling and emotive response to an external event. Joy is a matter of an internal awareness which creates denotes and understanding of what we believe based upon our perceptions and acceptance of those perceptions. Take for example, we are not happy when we have an abscessed tooth, but joyfully we are glad to have it removed for relief of pain and negative symptoms like fever and in extreme cases death. Joy doesn’t always exempt us from pain, and I am not sure about anyone else, but I’m not happy to deal with pain, although as a necessary, I will joyfully accept it because I realize what it ultimately means to me. This should inevitably be our perception of God and the joy which God’s love will bring into our lives. One of the great atheist questions is why, if there is an infinitely good God, is there pain and evil in life. If God is truly good, then how can evil exist. The only question I think worthy of merit from a non-believing standpoint, but one which was asked and answered over 800 years ago in the thirteenth century by St. Thomas Aquinas. Since, I don’t want to bore anyone with the wordy answer to the question of evil, the paraphrase is such. Evil is a derivative, since primarily speaking good is the highest principal, evil is less than this value, it can never be a fully contained supremacy, without good, evil would destroy itself since its overall principle subject is goodness. In other words, God is not evil, although it can exist, because within the evil decisions of humankind, there are the good decisions which always carry a supremacy of outcome. Good always wins, and in the darkness which seeks to hide the light of good, we find dark will always exist because there is light, for a shadow is the lingering reminder of our sin and follows us as a reminder to seek the light in everything we do.
I cannot stress this enough, we must seek God to find true joy, without the recognition of the objective truth, love, and our understanding of our place in this universe, we have no hope for joy. My perspective is just this, God is there for us, God loves us, God wills our good and the good of all. We are all His creation, and in this, we are all beloved. Even those of us who’ve chosen to push themselves from God, either by willful attempt, or by ignorant bliss, we are all given his compassion and graces to fill our lives with. If we choose to fill our lives with anything less than the joy, God provides, then we find we are never quite full and continuously searching for something. I was there in my life, and when I fully answered this question, everything became clear to me. Where do you think you go when you die? Some people will answer, “a hole in the ground!”, some might say, “I don’t know”, others might even answer, “I’m afraid to know”. My answer after years of avoiding this question and answer was, “I want to be in the loving presence of my creator, I want to be with God!”. Once I answered this question, there was no turning back (not that I ever want to), but this was a full committal on my part. This was my life changing course and figuring out, I want what I’ve always been looking for, and in this process. I pray, I can be a beacon to others who are asking themselves the same question. I felt the question was fundamental, but important for me to wade through the swamp of sin, and begin my journey up the mountain of faith. I fully believe, the mountain for it to be moved, means we must have the seed of faith, essentially speaking the courage to climb our mountain. We must have the faith to believe God is there with us the entire way, and we must be willing to accept, this will be the hardest journey of our lives, which will not end until we close our eyes for the final time.
This is a tough road, I will speak from experience, I fail more than I succeed at times and I am constantly frustrated by my lack of perceived lack of faith. Though, in my conversations with other men who are on their journeys, we are all walking this perilous road up the mountain of faith, and although it seems impossible at times, and feels like we could fall at any second, just remember God holds us up, and bears our burdens if we just allow him. For all he men and fathers out there, does it feel like everything is resting upon your shoulders? Do you feel like you must work in a job you hate, or submit yourself to those who constantly undermine or underappreciate your contributions? Me too, but if you try and go it alone, you will be destroyed by the very notion of a never-ending onslaught of degrading paradigms. So, what can we do? Embrace our wives, let them know of our struggles, pray together, find your faith together, you are one. Within our covenant with God, we must embrace our struggles together and meet the challenge of life head on, this is what men do. Being stoic about any problem and failing to truly solve it, or bring about a loving answer is something the movies have fed to us for over a century. Men crumble, and men are failures, and men can’t do everything alone, when we create a pedestal of glory, only one thing can ever happen, it will eventually fall. So, don’t! Let God in, let him guide you through the briars of childhood, know your kids will test you at every turn, but your love will keep the light in their hearts, your compassion will show them a strength which can’t be synthesized from any other means than the love of Christ. Sacrifice for them in ways which astound and yet be willing to continue, unconditionally, your pursuit of their hearts as God does for us.
I would challenge everyone to stop, slow down, and realize just what is important. This weekend alone, we had discussions in my home about the importance of God and family as it pertains to our lives and the lives of the people around us. Though to truly appreciate the mire of the swamp which sin exists in, we must be willing to seek joy. We cannot appreciate the joy God brings in our lives without the existence of sin, and our willingness to push sin away for the pure joy love will bring to each and every one.
As men, we must walk that mile in another’s shoes and recognize they need us, and much as we need them, but we must also be encouraged to be unafraid and bear all which may come in our path. Do not run from your fears as they exist in sin, but stand firm knowing they Love of God stands behind you always. Seek your joy. Find your joy in hard work, in being a husband who is willing to show his spouse a better version of himself, and be willing to accept your role as father. Sacrifice your time, efforts, energies so they can also find their joy. Joy will get us through those times when all our heart yearns to do is weep, because we continue to look to God. God’s presence mitigates all pain. If you failed, keep trying, I would love to be a failure with you, and know we are always seeking the light of truth.
As I’ve stated in the past, our ability to love, should eclipse every ounce of embarrassment we might endure, every point of pain which we will feel, and every moment of doubt seeking to disturb us in our silence. Listen for God, listen to his voice, it will come to you in the silence of your heart, if you’re willing to listen. I pray the Love of God will rest firmly in your heart, and your love will become a transcendent ray of light for your spouse and your family. Do something wonderful with your life, glorify God in every way possible, when you do this you will most certainly find joy. Your sacrifices in life will be a constant source of joy if you allow them to be. God is the greater glory of our existence, never forget this. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!