My grandson Nicholas, a new 3 year old, has recently finished potty training and is now enjoying the perks of no more nappy changes, along with the delight of wearing picture underwear.
Katy and Hans motivated him by using a reward chart with happy-face stickers for each success. Taped above the toilet, those lengthening lines of stickers gave Nick encouragement each time he successfully used the toilet.
When we were 3, a happy-face sticker was all we needed to make us happy. As we grew older, we needed bigger rewards like trips to the ice cream store, allowances, a day at the beach, or sleep-overs. Eventually we needed paychecks, new cars, vacation getaways.
Is it ok to seek happiness?
Scripture is dotted with quite a few happy faces. Ecclesiastes says, “I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (3:12-13)
We see that it’s ok to be happy, as long as we recognize it as God’s gift. When we begin feeling entitled to it, God will surely withdraw it. Our being happy isn’t his undercard. He’d rather see us obeying his instructions, studying his Word, drawing closer to him, submitting to his will.
But most of us just want to be happy. Sometimes it comes to us briefly but then disappears, making us angry. So what should we do? Are we supposed to find contentment in un-happiness?
Another Ecclesiastes passage provides the answer: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.” (7:14) God wants us to connect happiness and sadness to him, knowing there are important purposes in both.
This morning I struggled in prayer for more than 90 minutes over some exceptionally difficult issues, pouring out my longings one after another. I ended by expressing frustration to God for his lack of action on my requests after so many years of praying. And I was quite unhappy!
He quickly chided me, reminding me (in my thoughts) that happiness without end isn’t scheduled till heaven. Claiming it now is getting the cart before the horse.
Later, in my Scripture reading, he said the same thing in a different way: “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13) In other words, even when he gives a bit of happiness, the point of it isn’t to please us but to motivate us to praise him. When happiness comes, we’re not to hold onto it but are to give it right back to him.
And when we do that, we get something far better than our own happy faces: the happy face of our Lord.
“May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” (Psalm 68:3)