A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
- Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
- Matthew 25:19-21
The title is “We Want Happiness,” but is our desire alone enough to go get happiness?
Both of the scripture references equate happiness to a condition bestowed upon them by God, when God has been pleased by the person receiving happiness. In this manner, happiness is the proverbial snowball rolling down the mountain. Charles Kingsley wrote, “The people whom I have seen succeed best in life have always been cheerful and hopeful people who went about their business with a smile on their faces.” Someone smiles. The boss promotes them, because they make the boss feel good with their winning smile. They feel better in their lofty status, and they smile more. Thus, the snowball continues to gain in size and speed as it rolls along.
My parents used to love listening to J. I. Packer. He once wrote, “The popular idea of faith is a certain obstinate optimism: the hope, tenaciously held in the face of trouble, that the universe is fundamentally friendly and things may get better.” I believe in a fundamental optimism that things will definitely (not maybe) get better in the next life, a lot better. But I cannot support the idea that the universe is fundamentally friendly. No, the universe, the broken universe since the fall of mankind, is not friendly and they absolutely love eating naïve friendly people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or in the South – breakfast, dinner, and supper). But the eternal Hope in Christ gives us an optimism even in the face of trouble.
To illustrate this, I moved to Pennsylvania almost 22 years ago. After nine months with one boss, the company reorganized. I then worked for three years under a different kind of boss. He was a dictator that ruled with an iron fist. He was six feet something and used his height to intimidate. Every morning, he would show up a little later than all of us. We’d look at each other in fear to see who would enter his office to check whether he was in a good mood or not. Whenever it was my turn, I’d stand half in the doorway in order to hasten my escape if he had something to throw nearby. I’m just setting the stage here.
Whenever the boss had a difficult job, one that was rather nasty in one way or another, he gave it to the two old guys, to me and a guy a few years older than me. The nastiness could be physically nasty (a filthy steel mill with multiple safety issues), or it could be a project where the customer has asked for something that our company usually didn’t or couldn’t do (requiring us to think outside the box), or it could be something that required 3 hours of off-the-book work for every hour of billed work to get it done by an insane deadline. For example, we went to India to the filthiest steel mill that I’ve ever seen, while the young guys worked a tough (sarcasm?) project in Orlando that included free tickets to Walt Disney World. We also had a project just north of Cincinnati in a blizzard in January while the young guys were in Trinidad / Tobago, staying at a luxury five-star hotel.
Upon getting each assignment, my friend would turn to me and say, “It doesn’t get any better than this!” At first, I just rolled my eyes, but after the third or fourth ‘success-only-by-miracle’ project, I snarled back, “You don’t get out much, do you?” After about two seconds of eye contact, we both burst out laughing. Of course, the boss threw something and yelled that we didn’t have time to waste cracking jokes.
Did things get better? For my friend, he heard that another group needed a field engineer to manage a few projects. The problem was that the jobs were all in China. He became our China contact, moving from one project to the next. Once he learned how to get things done in their culture, he had a blast. It was much better. When he finally returned, he went into partial retirement and from there to full retirement. It got a lot better.
As for me, I’d have to say that it got better when I retired.
Back 25 years ago, I had been working at a NASA site that was shut down due to politics. We had a Resource Center that was provided by the government for the suddenly 200+ people who were laid off. The Resource Center provided computers, printers, resume-grade paper and envelopes, free postage, and newspapers from around the country (before the days of internet job searches). The only problem was that the one employee that ran the center got a permanent job a month after we were all laid off. Since I was the first to arrive to an empty building (She had not given notice.), I went down the hall to the mailroom and got the newspapers that had arrived the day before, thinking that the woman was simply late. As other guys showed up, they complained of printers running out of ink and paper running short. I seemed to be the only one that knew where those things were stored. Two days later, we were notified that the lady would not return, and ‘No, none of you are getting her job.” I went to the mailroom to see that all of the hundreds of resumes for those two days were piled into a corner. I asked the mailroom guy, who had not been laid off, to put stamps on them. He was too busy for that (looking for a job), but he taught me how to use the postage machine. I had become the resource center manager, a post for which I never received a day’s pay for the next eleven months.
After about six months of being laid off, one of the more cheerful job-hunters had a meltdown at the printer. I can’t remember if it was a paper jam or ink smudges on his resume, but he totally lost it. No one was hiring rocket scientists that year. Someone tried to calm him down and asked him what was bugging him. He said, “I just decided that today was my day to be irritable. I have to get the stress out of my system!”
I yelled over the cubicle wall, “When do I get a day like that?”
Everyone replied, “Never! Your cheerful face every day is the only thing keeping us sane.”
I didn’t think that I had been that cheerful, but you never know when God uses you. You never know who is watching. By that point, I’d sent out over one thousand resumes. I knew few people were noticing that part of the process.
During that time, I drove my sons to the high school each morning before going to the Resource Center to start my daily chores. When the boys got out of the car, I would say, “Learn and Enjoy!”
That stemmed from my mentor at a government nuclear facility about five years before. I had been tasked with developing a new, certified instructor qualification program for the facility. No one would become an instructor unless they had finished my initial course and the probationary requirements that followed. They assigned a Harvard-trained physicist, over twenty years older than me, as my assistant. He became my mentor in so many things.
At our very first class that we taught together, I introduced the class to the train-the-trainer curriculum. I explained that the more each of the trainees put into the class, the more they’d get out. I then said, “Let’s have fun!”
My mentor cleared his throat, arose and said, “May I correct you?” I agreed, but secretly I was shaking in my boots. I was thinking, ‘I’ve screwed up during my first course introduction?’ He continued, “Let’s not have fun. Let’s enjoy. Clams have fun.” He then crossed his eyes and screwed his face into the most hideous grin you’ve ever seen, the stuff of nightmares. The class roared with laughter. Then, he said, “We shall enjoy, yet our brains will remain in gear.”
Thus my parting words of encouragement were to learn and enjoy. Have a happy attitude, but keep your brain in gear.
That reminds me of all of the times that I have heard a “Joy versus Happiness” speech. The hour-long lecture (if you are lucky) boils down to ‘Joy is from God, while happiness is based on circumstances.’
Regardless, we still want happiness. But when the circumstances aren’t conducive for happiness, we can still be happy knowing that ‘God ain’t done with us yet.’
Rev. A. W. Tozer wrote in Of God and Men, “That we are born to be happy is scarcely questioned by anyone. No one bothers to prove that fallen men have any moral right to happiness, or that they are in the long run any better off happy… Now I submit that the whole hectic scramble after happiness is an evil as certainly as the scramble after money or fame or success… There [in the New Testament] the emphasis is not upon happiness but upon holiness. God is more concerned with the state of people’s hearts than with the state of their feelings. Undoubtedly the will of God brings final happiness to those who obey, but the most important matter is not how happy we are but how holy. The soldier does not seek to be happy in the field; he seeks rather to get the fighting over with, to win the war and get back home to his loved ones.”
We are sinners, yet God loves us. Jesus saved us, but Jesus said to follow Him, we must take up our cross. In this manner, we are all soldiers in God’s army. That means there will be times of suffering, but life in this world is such a short thing. Be happy at the slightest provocation. Make yourself mindful of what Christ endured and what wonderful blessings you have just being one of His own. In this way, you can make your own happiness circumstances.
You never know when the person suffering beside you is going to ask you, “What helps you get through all of this?”