In Pursuit of Happiness
- Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Americans staunchly stand by their rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"-although truthfully, we really care the most about the last one. After more than two and a quarter centuries of pursuing happiness, we should have found it by now. We ought to be the happiest people in the history of the world. Instead, we're perhaps the richest, most educated, most comfortable, unhappiest people on the planet.
That's because the pursuit of happiness can be like chasing a greased pig, which I've never actually done. I have, however, chased a Crisco-covered watermelon "pig" in the murky lake at Camp Fairwood in central Wisconsin. Catching the slippery impersonator was virtually impossible because as soon as a camper threw his arms around the watermelon, it'd pop out on the other side, bobbing in imagined laughter. Impossible as it was, though, the lure of victory kept us splashing around the lake in wild pursuit of an elusive object.
Of all the childish things I left behind when I became an adult, I have to confess that the game of greased pig hasn't always been one of them. I bet you can relate. Watermelons bob all around us, promising the end of the happiness pursuit. Television, picture of realism that it is, tells us that the right toothpaste, the right toilet paper, and the right spaghetti sauce are the end-all to happiness. Of course we're smarter than that and know that if we can just find the right person, the right job, and the right friends then we'll be happy.
But we won't. The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that the goal keeps moving. The new generation of American singles will discover this - if they haven't begun to suspect it already. They've got the pursuit all wrong. They're chasing happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction in places they will never be found. The pursuit God ordained for singles looks very different, and it has a fixed goal. Paul puts this goal in plain language in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35:
"He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord - how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world - how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world - how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction."
Paul is not suggesting, as some have, that singleness is a more spiritual state than marriage. He is, instead, highlighting the obvious - without the responsibilities of a spouse and family, singles are more free to give undistracted attention to the "things of the Lord." I don't think Paul is saying that every single should go to the mission field - although perhaps more of us ought to consider it. Neither is he saying that we should all work for churches or Christian organizations. The "things of the Lord" encompass those areas of the Christian life that specifically build us up in the faith - we often call them spiritual disciplines, and they include a variety of things from Bible study to church involvement to community service.
While the stages of life and the situations of singleness vary dramatically, singles need to take honest inventory of their time, energy, and money commitments to assess the wisdom of their investments. It is irrelevant whether we've "chosen" to be single or not - the reality is that we are: now what are we going to do with it? Many of us do have more discretionary time in our schedules because we don't have other people counting on us to take care of them or pay vast amounts of attention to them. Spouses and families consume a lot of time, energy, and money. The question we need to answer as singles is "what am I making of these potential 'extras' in my life?"
If singleness is primarily a means to acquire what I want out of life, I have missed the point of the gift. Likewise, if marriage becomes a means to acquire what I want out of life, I have missed the point. The purposes of both are essentially the same - we are being formed in the image of Christ. The difference is the means by which it happens.
The pursuit of happiness is a waste of time, not to mention unbiblical. Instead, says Paul in 1 Timothy 6:11, "Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness." Obedience to God ought to be the pursuit that defines my life. Conforming my actions and attitudes to that which makes Him happy is the only investment worth my energies.
The irony is what ultimately happens when I shift the pursuit from my happiness to His happiness. Paul continues in 1 Timothy, "Command those who are rich in this present world...to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." Hmmm, it sounds like happiness is possible after all. While it should never be the goal, genuine enjoyment of life - without bondage to that which can never satisfy - will be the result of a life lived in obedience to God.
Excerpted from A Match Made in Heaven: How Singles and the Church Can Live Happily Ever After, copyright 2003 Wendy Widder. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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