I’m one of those people that evolve into an irrational three-headed monster on less than eight hours of solid sleep. Needless to say, being woken in the wee-smalls is not the easiest, however one of the silver linings of midnight feedies is the luxury of watching whatever I want on Netflix. This time around I have fallen head-over-heals with BBC’s ‘Father Brown’ (go the Beeb!!). Based on GK Chesterton’s character, Father Brown is a down-to-earth, non-judgmental, mischievous, and strongly principled priest with a penchant for solving crime. In one of the episodes he stumbles across a group of hedonists, and during a conversation with one of them he says, “…there’s the paradox…happiness is an unexpected gift. It is evasive. If we pursue it, we will never achieve it.”
As a culture, we are majorly preoccupied with the pursuit of feeling good; and far from being the exception, much of the church is right up there leading the charge! Naturally, we want to feel good. Pain is unpleasant. Suffering is gross. And aside from the grottiness of experiencing these things, I think one of the things that makes it so much worse is the misplaced belief that we should be happy all the time. Somewhere along the way we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that being continuously, unstoppably happy is an option, and if we feel anything other than that, we’re somehow to blame. So we end up on a fruitless treadmill, trying really hard to reach a destination that will always be just out of reach; the proverbial dangling carrot.
We spent much of last year saving for what we knew was going to be a massive hospital bill for the birth of our little Mason. We had to say no to a number of things that we wanted/needed in order to make sure we’d be able to pay the bill when it arrived. And then something totally magic happened; they have this thing at the hospital called the Financial Assistance Program, where you apply with a bunch of your personal info to see if they will help you out with your bill. It turned out they forgave our bill…100%! It was so amazing! We were so grateful, and set about purchasing a number of big ticket items that we had been holding off on. It was kind of a crazy, fun, calculated shopping spree. And it didn’t increase my happiness one iota. Now, I know that stuff doesn’t make you happy, but I was genuinely surprised to find my inner state not altered even a bit. I even felt a bit flat. And maybe it was because of this: I cannot manufacture happiness. It’s a gift.
I remember playing bubbles with Judah one summer when he was a tiny tot. I was a wee bit disappointed that he wasn’t that into it, but that’s okay, because I was. I blew a bunch of bubbles and chased them around the yard trying to pop them. I always felt like a bit of an egg taking big swipes at the bubbles only to have them fly further away by the draft created by my hand (cue embarrassed laughter and side-eyes to make sure no-one else is watching). That’s what happiness is like. It’s like a lovely magical bubble that sometimes floats your way and lands on you for a bit. You can’t force it to come your way, and it always pops in the end, but how lovely when it does arrive.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s about a million different things that can assist us in a journey of freedom; and such a journey is, I believe, very much what Christ has in mind for us. But freedom, contentment and peace are things that can be ours in crappy situations, not hot air balloons to lift us away from the reality of life.
The cool thing about thinking this way is that it has helped me enjoy happiness so much more! When the lovely happy feeling visits, I am no longer suspicious of it (because I know it’s gonna leave me at some point). I also am less tempted to try and trap the feeling in a cage to make it stay. I am free to just enjoy for as long as it chooses to be there and appreciate its beauty.
So here’s to just being normal; to feeling deliriously happy, to feeling totally grotty, and everything in-between. Here’s to being human.
Love you friends,