Life, liberty & the pursuit of joy

Daily I am saturated with messages from many sources, supposedly supporting me with solutions to all of my problems.

Sometimes, solutions are presented for problems of which I was previously unaware! Whether I like it or not, some of these messages become part of my daily processing. For better or for worse, they seek to marry thoughts and ideas into my worldview that do not compliment a Heavenward perspective. I believe that these things can creep into me so easily because I often like to believe the lie of happiness.

Yes, the lie of happiness. Let me explain. I don’t think we, as human beings, are meant to be happy. I don’t think that it is the pursuit of happiness which drives us, although that might be something that we fool ourselves into believing. It might even be easier to tell ourselves that we are seeking happiness. No, I think that we aim for something much bigger, much deeper and harder to comprehend. I think that we all pursue joy and sometimes get lost along the way without truly ever reaching our mark. While happiness is wonderful – like feeling the sunshine on your shoulders on the first day of Spring – joy is more fulfilling than that. Joy is like knowing that the sun is always shining – it has always been, is now, and will be again. You can feel the presence of the sun and whatever the weather outside, you know that it will shine through the clouds again to brighten the world, bring Spring life back into nature and warm your shoulders. It is like the difference between the pursuit of a temporary high or striving towards that place of peace, contentment, and long-lasting satisfaction.

Here I turn to Solomon, who wrote his musings about this very thing in the Ecclesiastes. “I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (Ecc. 1:12-14). As he continues writing, the toils of man, the search for wisdom, wealth an honor, power and pleasure, from birth until death, Solomon outlines the futility of things that people do. Yet, says Solomon, in all of this there is joy, which is found when men and women continue toiling and enjoying life while fearing the Lord and obeying his commandments. “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart” (Ecc. 5:18-20).  (I encourage you to read Ecclesiastes in its entirety in order to grasp his full meaning on this subject.)

In my life, there have been many happy moments as well as moments when happiness is fleeting. Yet, the times when I feel the closest to the prize of joy, of peace and contentment, are those when I am focused on the Lord and what he has said is good. Philippians 4 helps me to keep these things in perspective. In verse 8, Paul writes “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Every day it’s a task to keep my mind centered on these things, yet some days it seems nearly impossible. At those times, it is a relief to remember that joy – unlike fleeting happiness – is a fully attainable gift of the Holy Spirit! We are pursuing that which we can actually grasp and know because it has already been given to us! (Galatians 5:22)

As my life persists through big and small things, happy and sad times, easy strolls and rough stumbling trails, it becomes ever more clear to me that God’s plan – though quite unknown or remotely understood to me – is the one in which good will come and in which I can be filled with true joy. Although there are many differences, I liken this truth to the situation which occurs when my infant son looks to me with questioning, confused and anxious eyes as if to say, “Mama, I don’t understand. I’m scared. Why are you doing this?” And, because I know what is good for him and understand what I am doing for the good of us both, look back into his eyes, take his hand and say, “It’s a good thing.”

This life we are asked to go through is difficult. No doubt it is painful to traverse on this earth with evil working against us and sin and sickness and pitfalls and curveballs hitting us at every turn. Yet, when we are pursuing joy in the fear of the Lord, He says to us, “It’s a good thing,” and if we hold on to that, if we truly seek after the good that he has given us already, we will be filled with the fullness of joy.

“You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

My Son at 9months
My oldest at 9 months

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