The Danger of Chasing Happiness

admin —  August 5, 2015 — 2 Comments

I went looking for happiness.

She’s hard to chase down.

I pursued her down many hidden corridors and back alleys, occasionally catching the faint gleams of her beautiful hair blowing in the early morning light.

To no avail.

She was there, and then she was gone. She was there, and then she was… 

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No wait! There she is! A faint silhouette! Her shadow dancing in the soft glow on the stone path ahead. Just over the hill, I see her now. Keep pushing on!

So we climbed. Up, up, up we pushed, the hem of her dress just beyond the reach of my straining fingertips. Feet grinding, stomping, pushing desperately for solid footing to propel me higher and closer to the object of my desire.

Almost there. Almost. There. Almost….

Gotcha!

She collapsed beneath the weight of her passionate suitor. I had finally caught her! All those years of manic pursuit had paid off.

I had happiness. I finally had happiness.

I grasped her delicately by the back of her shoulders and slowly spun her graceful figure. I couldn’t wait to stare deeply into those beautiful, fulfilling eyes.

But oh, the horror!

Her face was distorted and mangled, and her eyes glared with a fiery hatred that sent fear deep into the recesses of my soul. I pushed her away in disgust. What is this?!

I pursued happiness, but I caught misery.

As I slowly regained my bearings, I looked back down the path we’d been so manically climbing, There laid the crushed remnants of joy, and friendship, and intimacy, and peace, crumbled beneath my feet as I desperately clambered after the happiness imposter.

You see, happiness is not a pursuit. It’s a byproduct.

Chase her, and you’ll never find her. Chase her, and you’ll find nothing but sorrow.

On the journey toward love, and service, and sacrifice, and adding value to the world – toward walking the path that puts loving God and loving others ahead of loving ourselves – happiness just shows up. She’s cool like that. It’s true. She always comes to hang out when you least expect it.

When you weren’t looking for her at all.

So what are you chasing?

My 13 year old is a drama queen. Yes, in the typical way drama oozes from an adolescent girl, but also in the strictest sense of the term. She loves acting, singing, the stage, all things thespian.

This summer, she attended a week-long drama camp and won the lead role in the end-of-the-week mini-production of Willy Wonka. There’s nothing like seeing your baby girl dressed in a purple velvet suit singing The Candy Man as grade school Oompa Loompa’s dance around her with glee. It was a proud moment, and we watched her stand up a little straighter and walk with a bit more confidence as she received accolades from her camp directors, fellow students, and the audience full of camera-happy parents.

There’s nothing like that first awakening of “hey, I’m pretty good at this, and other people are noticing.” Those are powerful, identity-shaping moments that can change us forever.

In beautiful and in dangerous ways.

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It hit me watching everyone’s favorite summer-time TV show, “America’s Got Talent” last week with the fam. An unknown performer steps nervously to the stage and wows the celebrity judges with a jaw-dropping presentation. The crowd erupts in wild applause and (cue the emotional music) the overwhelmed performer breaks down weeping beneath the mass approval.

It’s great television.

I think part of the reason we love it so much is because we all long for it so much. The way we view ourselves is shaped by how we are viewed by others, by their approval of our talents and abilities. Our identity is in the accolades, and the accolades are in our performance. But performance is a vicious taskmaster.

The truth is, our identity has been secured by the performance of Another. All the standing o’s are already ours because Jesus Christ took the stage on our behalf. And he crushed it (I mean seriously, best performance in a historical drama of all time). And because of what Jesus did, God’s applause is already raining down on you today. The approval you long for you already have when you put your faith in Him. Let that ovation overwhelm you to tears.

Because of Christ, our life performance becomes an act of love, not a frantic search for identity. The stage is yours, but the performance is already done. Find your rest and your identity in His thunderous applause today. He’s ready to give it to you (free of charge).

This week, I was honored to share with my friends at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana. This century-old church has continued to be a force for the Gospel under the leadership of senior pastor, Steve Greene. I love every chance I get to be with these beautiful people.

Steve left the topic to me, so I talked about an issue that has been messing with me in recent months: HOW TO PRAY BETTER PRAYERS.

Prayer is this ethereal, out-there thing we know we’re supposed to do, but we don’t always know what to say or how to really embrace it. Let’s be honest, prayer kinda weirds us out – talking to the air, asking things of an unseen God, grappling for words to say – and then we read verses like “pray without ceasing” and think, “man, I got a good 3 or 4 minutes in me max. Are you crazy?”

And guilt ensues.

Perhaps the reason we struggle to pray is less about technique and more about re-learning what prayer is actually all about in the first place. Here’s a few thoughts from me (and more importantly, from Jesus):

My daughter officially hit the varsity roster on her high school basketball team this year. She’s made some huge strides for a girl who had very little playing experience until her freshman year. With summer league upon us, every Tuesday and Thursday night in June is full of “pre-season” type games, as the team knocks off the offseason rust, integrates a new crop of players, and learns to work as a team again.

I’ve been keeping the stats book for most of the games, so I get to sit close to the bench and check players in and out of the lineup. I looked up from my pencil-scratches last night to see my daughter kneeling next to me at the scoring bench.

“I’m going in for #5,” she said.

Ignoring my official duties for a few seconds of fatherly advice, I leaned into her ear and waxed some parental eloquence.

“You belong here. Go out there and act like it.”

You see, a portion of our performance isn’t talent, it’s mindset. It’s being at rest with yourself so your actions are focused outward, and aren’t all about hedging your fears and internal insecurities.

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Photo Credit: ColorBlind Images

Today, I found myself in a meeting with giants. Not literal beanstalk kind of giants. Spiritual giants. Men who have accomplished incredible feats over decades of faithful work. On my way to the meeting venue, I was feeling small. Extremely small.

What do I have to offer? What will they think of my perspectives? I don’t have the experience, the skill, or the resume. Maybe I’ll just stay quiet, nod my head, and morph my opinion to match their proposals.

I was quickly shrinking into myself, and it was no different than my daughter posting up against that six footer in the lane the night before.

That’s when I remembered my own paternal pep talk.

You belong here. Go out there and act like it.

Let’s be honest, no one likes an overconfident hack. A big mouth. A pompous blowhard. But I find that extreme timidity and fear-filled reservation are really fueled by the exact same thing:

Self-obsession.

When my focus is on me, I’m either overconfident in my ability to perform or terrified of my potential embarrassment. Either way, I am at the center. It’s like filling your camera roll with “spiritual selfies.” Life doesn’t work well when I’m constantly obsessing over who I am.

For believers in Jesus Christ, our identity was settled at “it is finished.” That’s freedom my friends. Freedom from the tyranny of me. Freedom to walk into any room at complete rest and peace with who you are. If everything I need in Christ I already have, then I can engage anyone – from the Pope to the homeless guy on the street – with a boldness birthed in love. The gospel is the only source of this kind of confidence.

“All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong…”
–Romans 16:25

You belong here. Go out there and act like it.

If my 9 year old studied Math and English the way he studies SpongeBob Squarepants, we would already be entertaining scholarship offers from Ivy League schools. So it was no surprise when we pulled into the CVS parking lot last Sunday that his eyes fixed immediately to the SpongeBob Movie promo plastered boldly on the RedBox machine just outside the front door.

“Dad, dad, dad, dad, DAD, DAAAAAD!!!!! Can we rent it? Can we get it?

I’ve been waiting for this day!!! Come on dad, give me a dollar.

Seriously, dad, can I just have a dollar? We can watch it together tonight!

Dad, dad, DAAAAAD! Please dad!”

As my hand reached reluctantly for some cash, I caught my daughter’s glance in the rear view mirror. Without saying a word, she was screaming at me with her eyes, “please don’t, dad….please don’t.”

You see, my son’s birthday is in less than two weeks, and his middle sister had already purchased the BlueRay of this cinematic masterpiece as his gift. It was sitting at home on her dresser, wrapped not only in festive paper and bows, but with all the love a big sis can muster for her annoying little brother. Letting him rent it now would ruin her heartfelt plans.

So I told him no.

And all  Chum Bucket broke loose.

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Photo Credit: artpipi

He begged. He pleaded. He negotiated. He called on the name of Great Neptune’s Ghost. He stood emphatically next to the RedBox machine. Stomped his feet. Asked his mom, his sister, and random people leaving the CVS for a couple of spare singles. He manipulated. He refused to get back in the car.

(If it’s not clear yet, he doesn’t easily take no for an answer – a characteristic I love about him, unless he’s using it on me).

“But why dad? It’s my favorite movie!”

“Because I’ve chosen not to let you right now.”

“But that’s not a good enough answer,” (yes, he said this). “I need to know why!”

“The answer is no, not today.”

“But daaaaaad, why not today? I want to watch it now!”

I glanced quietly over my shoulder at his sister, still wondering how all this would play out from the back seat.

“Listen, I know things you don’t know. And that’s going to have to be good enough for you right now. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

I was instantly shattered by my own words, and immediately recalled Tim Keller’s mind-blowing quote from his book on prayer:

“We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows.”

If Austin knew what I knew, my answer would’ve made complete sense to him (well, accounting for the fact that he’s still a 9 year old boy). But he didn’t have the whole picture. He couldn’t have the whole picture. Not yet. From his context, my hesitancy and delay was completely illogical. It’s summer break. We had no plans that evening. The movie was a perfect family activity that night, at least in the way his world was ordered.

But our world isn’t just about him. While I have his joy in mind, while I WANT to give him GOOD GIFTS, I know things he doesn’t know. And that means “no” is the best gift I can give him right now.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” 
—Matthew 7:11

Is God saying NO to you? Remember, there’s a greater story being told, the characters, theme, setting, and plot of which you can’t completely comprehend or understand right now. But rest assured, He gives good gifts. Do you trust Him?