The (Elusive) Pursuit of Happiness

11:36 AMHeather

Let me ask you a question.

Are you happy? If you aren't, then what would make you happy? What are the things that are beyond your grasp right now that are causing you to feel unhappy? Why is it everyone else seems happy except for you? From all the movies, magazines, commercials and social media... there definitely seems to be an abundance of happiness.

For everyone else but you. 

Right? That's how it can seem.

Yet, my pastor said something this past Sunday that keeps rolling around in my brain.

"Our culture is obsessed with an 'I will be happy when' existence."
JR Vassar

An "I will be happy when" existence. 

Yes, that so accurately sums it up. I will be happy when my hair is fuller and bouncier. I will be happy when my house looks like that one on HGTV. I will be happy when my marriage is as fun and exciting and romantic as that movie portrays. I will be happy when my kids are feeding starving children in Africa as they pull a 4.0 grade point average like that friend on Facebook. I will be happy when I get the accolades due me. I will be happy when these toddlers quit sucking all my energy. I will be happy when I earn more, have more, and can do more.


Listen, I agree. Our culture is obsessed with this mentality. Fed by a constant connection of information via modern technology.

And I admit it here.

I've been as sucked into it as the next person. 

Oh, yes. I've sat on that church pew my whole life, claiming to follow Jesus. And secretly (or maybe not so secretly) worshiping at the altar of "I will be happy when."

There has been much unraveling for me personally during our church's current sermon series on idols. 

It's not a pretty picture when the mirror of God's word is held up to you--or maybe it's more like a microscope of God's word--and startling and humbling revelations come forth.

It's best described with my favorite new adjective -- it's brutiful.

It's part of the beautiful and brutal journey of peeling back the layers of distractions and idols and unbelief and self to get to the incredible core of walking in freedom through Jesus Christ.

And one of the many things that has to go in my life is my "I will be happy when" mentality.  Because it's had me chasing my tail my whole entire life. 

I will be happy when I'm finally a teenager and can drive. I will be happy when I'm a grown up and can make my own decisions. I will be happy when I finish college. I will be happy when I find a good job. I will be happy when I finally get to marry my college sweetheart. (Side note--my husband is a rock star, so it's not that I'm in any way disappointed in my spouse or my marriage!)

Then, it became I will be happy when we can finally have a baby. I will be happy when my baby sleeps through the night. I will be happy when my baby doesn't require diapers. I will be happy when I have another baby.

Then, that whole wishing for the next baby phase thing starts all over. On repeat, through three babies total.

I will be happy when my babies can feed themselves.  

Yet, as I've said here this summer a few times, my babies are so big that I actually find myself in a wistful and nostalgic frame of mind about all those baby and toddler and preschool stages that I was so wishing would hurry and pass.

Indeed, the "I will be happy when" existence falls incredibly short in actually bringing any deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

The truth is we've all been duped.

Lest we beat ourselves up, this elusive pursuit of happiness is nothing new. True, our culture is obsessed with it. But so were the people of ancient times. The Israelites thought they'd be happy if they could be freed from captivity. Then, they thought they'd be happy if they could go BACK to it instead of wandering in the desert. They thought they'd be happy with some food provisions. Then, they complained about the manna and quail diet. 

And they, too, were caught in the vicious and unsatisfying pursuit of a happiness that felt just out of reach. 

My pastor spoke on Ecclesiastes this past Sunday, showing how even the wise, rich and admirable King Solomon, who had all the status, possessions and power of his day, found that none of it satisfied. He boldly proclaimed that all of it was meaningless. 

Because "only God can bear the burden of being our refuge, salvation and comfort." (JR Vassar)

Only God.

Only God can fill the gaps in our souls that feel empty in our constant pursuit of happiness. 

Oh, yes indeed, we were made for something more. We were created for more than we currently have within our possession.

But the "more" that we were made for is not more money, more status, more power, more beauty, more vacations, more loving relationships, more acceptance, or more fame.

None of it. If we obtained all that we are wishing for at this very moment, it would still not be enough. It would not be the happiness we relentlessly pursue.

Because the "more" we were made for is Christ alone. 

God has planted eternity in the hearts of men.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

We are wired for eternity. We are made and created with eternity in our hearts. We were made to be residents of a beautiful never ending that is beyond all that this world can offer.

Yet, we chase down all manners of substitutes instead and then become disillusioned and disenchanted when nothing else fills that space.

We tail spin into discontentment and frustration and envy and depression, taking on a victim mentality or fits of anger, when all our efforts and all our time and all our energy does not bring us the happiness we think we deserve.

So we run after it harder. We pursue happiness as our ultimate goal.

But God says he planted eternity in our hearts. Not temporal happiness.

And until we recognize the idol of "I'll be happy when", then we will never get off the hamster wheel of fruitless pursuits. We will always be one step away from what we think will bring us the lasting warm fuzzy we are chasing.

That we might call it out for what it is. An elusive pursuit. That we might instead use up all of that effort to pursue the God of all eternity. Learning to pause long enough to soak in his presence. Lingering over his Words. Praying honest and authentic prayers about our deepest struggles. Singing sacrifices of praise even when we don't feel it. Asking Him to be the satisfaction and fulfillment of all of our yearnings.

For he promises this.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

There it is. In the quiet moments of stilling ourselves to perceive his presence, we find joy. We hear the birds sing and know our Father rejoices over us with singing. We see the sunset and know our God paints the skies with his glory. We hold our spouse's hand and remember all we've walked through together. We watch our children learn and grow, and we thank the Lord who entrusted them to us. In all these moments, we experience all the gifts we've been given and know that our God is good.

When we choose to see the here and now as merely a foreshadowing of something More.

Those are the happy places where we embrace why we were made and acknowledge the One who made us.

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