“I just want to be happy” may well be the most commonly expressed desire of North Americans. What few people tell us though is that grasping for happiness is like one of our boys as an infant trying to grab the stream of water from the tap during his bath. He’d get wet but obviously never got a hold of it. We try everything we can to make ourselves happy, and while the effect of some things lasts a little longer than others, ultimately we’re disappointed.
It reminds me of the story I recently heard of a father’s potty training experience with his two year old daughter. She had been doing quite well but this particular afternoon while she was supposed to be napping he detected a foul smell. After tracking the smell to her bedroom he opened the door to find what had been a full diaper on the bed and what had been the contents spread in streaks on the bedding and the walls and the dresser. There were tiny brown footprints wandering around the carpet but no girl in sight.
Then he heard a whimpering, and hiding behind the door was his darling little girl, smudged and smeared and matted and tears making streaks down her face. His heart melted at the look of shame on her face. She had tried to clean it up but every move just made more of a mess. Her daddy picked her up and took her to the bath and cleaned her and then wrapped her in a fluffy towel and held her close, quieting her and assuring her he loved her and that he would clean up the mess. “I love you honey, it’s all right,” he said to her over and over as he rocked her in his arms.
The more we make happiness our goal in life, the more of a mess we are going to make of it. God never promised our lives would be happy but he did promise joy, and a peaceful heart and purpose in life regardless of what circumstances come. Had Jesus’ goal been happiness he never would have died for us. But his goal was to do the will of the Father and so he laid down his life. Counter intuitively, much of what we were hoping happiness would bring us we find when we give up our desperate grasping for happiness and instead make Jesus our focus and primary desire.