“Mom, don’t you want me to be happy?”
You might be thinking, “He’s doing another parenting episode? Doesn’t he realize he doesn’t have kids?” That’s true; I don’t. In some ways this question is even worse; it’s addressed to a mother, and, as far as I know, I haven’t recently started identifying as a woman, so I’m very out of my league here, but let me explain a few things. First, the reaction to last week’s episode was interesting. I had a lot of parents saying, “I was curious what you were going to say when you took on a parenting topic.”
One mother actually sent me this question today and wanted to know how I would answer it, and so that’s what I’m going to do for today’s podcast. We’re going to bat around the question, “Don’t you want me to be happy?”
I think there’s this interesting phenomena in culture today where it’s not seen as appropriate to talk about parenting if you’re not a parent, but this seems the same kind of logic, to me, as saying, “A pastor can’t speak about homosexuality if he’s not gay,” or “You can’t speak about what it’s like, or how people should act in poverty if you aren’t poor.” There is some truth to this. There is much that can’t be learned except for gaining experience in a certain area, but when we base our replies on biblical principles, I think we’re generally on safe grounds.
The pastor who speaks on homosexuality, or sexuality in general, doesn’t have to ever have had sex to say what the biblical standard is for sex. In the same way, you don’t need to be a parent to speak to what the biblical world view would say about, for instance, happiness and its place in our life, because the question, “Don’t you want me to be happy?” is actually not a parenting question exclusively. It is perhaps at the forefront of the sexual revolution today. It gets asked of all people, not just parents, and so the questions I’m trying to tackle on this podcast are ones that affect everyone, not just parent/child relationships.
I do think we should consider the fact that, just because someone doesn’t have children, or just because someone hasn’t been in a specific situation, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to offer. We should listen to everyone and evaluate the reasons they give and the sources they cite and their train of thought, to see if we agree or not or see if there’s benefit there. We shouldn’t just reject a source out of hand because of where it comes from.
So, the question today, “Mom, don’t you want me to just be happy?” Often this has been expressed in the context of jobs or friends, like, “I want a specific job” or “I want to take on a specific career path,” perhaps, or “Why don’t you want me to be around these people, these friends? They make me happy.”
“I can’t have sex before I’m married? Mom, don’t you want me to be happy? Everyone’s doing it,” or “Why do I have to go to church?” or “Why can’t I do drugs?” Fill in the blank; those are a lot of examples.
Broadly, these examples fall into two categories, I think. You have ones that are just a wise or a not wise choice. For instance, most of the time the job someone chooses isn’t going to have a moral qualifier to it. It’s not going to be an immoral job or a moral job. Obviously, there are immoral jobs, but it comes down to, maybe the person is not wanting to apply themselves at school, and they don’t have the prospects of getting a certain job or that type of thing.
There’s a wisdom here: apply yourself early on, put in the time, sow some good seed so later on you can reap a more stable career. That’s the wisdom side of these examples.
However there’s another side, and it’s the moral side, and this has to do with, obviously, the sex and the church and the drugs. Happiness is certainly seen as perhaps the most important ideal for one’s life. When we think about ourselves, we want to think about ourselves as happy or successful, but whenever this question comes up or any objection is raised and we hear it, we need to filter through what scripture has to say, and so the question in reply should be, “Well what does scripture say about happiness?”
There are a lot of verses that could speak to this, but there are a couple I want to point out. The first would be 2 Corinthians 4:17 where Paul says this: “For our momentary light suffering,” or your translation might say “affliction,” “is producing for us an eternal weight of Glory, far beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen, for what can be seen, it’s temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” That is the first thing we need to point out, that this life is but a blip on the radar of eternity, and it is preparing us for eternity. It’s preparing our soul in a certain way.
I think that those who have lived life longer will appreciate Heaven all the more when they’re there, because they will have all the more reason to see the distinction between earth and the frailty and the sin and the depravity of man and in their own selves, and the glorious purity of what God is in perfect, peaceful Heaven. That’s the first thing, is, we need to point out that we are not guaranteed happiness on this earth. You’re never going to find a verse in the Bible or a passage correctly understood in its context, that says that the aim of life, or even the Christian life, is happiness. That’s very much not the case, but there is a passage that tells us what we’re called to and what God is doing in us as Christians, and this would be the famous Romans 8:28 passage.
Most people know this verse, and you’ll recognize it when I read it; however, we don’t often read the following verses which actually flesh out what that first verse, verse 28, actually means. Here’s what that paragraph says: “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose, because those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters, and those who He predestined, He also called, and those He called, He also justified, and those He justified, He also glorified.” This has been called the “Golden Chain of Redemption.”
None are lost throughout this passage, from the starting with the calling all the way to the end of the glorifying, which is past tense, actually, and an interesting topic for another day. What I want to point out here is that all these things working together in our life, they’re for good, assuming that we are in Christ, that we are Christians. Even though they don’t feel good, they are ultimately for good, so that momentary light affliction that Paul mentions, somewhat sarcastically, because as we look at Paul’s life and understand it, his suffering wasn’t very light in the way we would characterize it. From an eternal perspective, from a spiritual perspective, it was light, and it was momentary.
However, what Romans 8 puts into context from 2 Corinthians is that the suffering was working together for Paul’s good. What does that “good” look like? It looks like conformity to the image of God’s Son; it looks like conformity to Christ. What is the end goal of the Christian life? To bring Glory to God and also to be conformed to the image of His Son, of Jesus. There’s not a lick of happiness described in here. I would say that if this is our perspective, we are much more likely to be happy, or joyous at least, in the times of trials and testing and suffering, than we are if our perspective is always on what feels good in the here and now.
If our perspective is not eternal, if it’s not spiritual, if instead it’s earthly and immediate, we are not going to have the same level of happiness or joy. When we give up this idea and stop clinging to what is physical and momentary for the right now, and we look at the eternal and the immaterial, we actually gain that which we were trying to hold on to before. We gain the happiness and the joy now by letting go of trying to achieve it now, because we understand that everything that is important, that will ultimately bring us joy in an eternal sense, is gained in Christ.
How would I respond to the child who says, “Mom, Dad, don’t you want me to be happy?” “Well, I do, but I don’t want that happiness at the expense of your holiness. I don’t want you to have happiness at the expense of conformity to Christ; I want you to have happiness in what God delights in.” Paul says in Colossians that Everything that exists and has even been created, was created by, through, and for Christ, and that includes us. Our job, our place in this universe and in reality is to give God glory and honor, so that will result in our prime, utmost joy and happiness. As John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Son, or Daughter, whoever is asking the question, “I want you to be most satisfied in Christ. I don’t want your happiness to be momentary and light; I want it to be eternal and weighty, because of the Glory that is accruing for you as a result of pursuing spiritual things.” That’s the same thing I would say to any other Christian who is struggling with happiness versus holiness.
I briefly want to address the non-Christian who would say, “Well, why are you opposing … ” let’s say, “same-sex marriage? Don’t you want there to be happiness?” Rob Bell’s actually said, We need same-sex marriage so more people can come to love each other, because love is a good thing. I won’t even begin to touch the absurdity of that statement at this point. I actually have addressed it, I think, in Episode 2, briefly.
Here’s what I would say, is that happiness is not going to come via a behavior that God calls destructive, via a behavior in an orientation that is disordered, that is outside of how God designed it. That will never create lasting happiness. It might feel good in the moment, but it is ultimately destructive. I do want you to be happy, non-Christian person, whoever we’re talking to, but I disagree that this is the path to that happiness. In fact, no earthly thing will bring you lasting happiness. The only thing that will bring you happiness is Christ.
That’s a pivot, right? “Yes, I want you to be happy,” and they’re not expecting you to say that, but the difference comes in when we, and how we, define what happiness really is.
I hope this has been helpful. I don’t know if this is going to turn into a longer series if people keep sending in questions, but I think these are beneficial to look at, because I remember asking my own mother, “Don’t you want me to be happy?”
I think this is a question every parent has been asked at least once, and probably several more times, but it’s not a question only asked to parents; it is a question asked to us as Christians as we become more and more separate and distinct from the world … not that we’re moving, but the culture is moving away from the ideals that we continue to cling to, and this creates questions. If you’re an aunt or an uncle, “Don’t you care about me? Don’t you want me to be happy? I really love her, that’s why I’m living with her, and that’s why we’re having sex before we’re getting married. We’re just trying this thing out. Don’t you want me to be happy?” We need to be able to respond to that claim from a biblical perspective.
I hope this episode has been helpful and you’re more equipped to address the happiness question, but quickly, before we end today, I want to share with you an update on my book. The book is tentatively going to be called “Unapologetic: A Guide for Defending Your Christian Convictions,” and it is a book for the everyday Christian. In fact, initially I considered calling it “Apologetics for People like my Mom,” not that my mom is somehow ignorant or anything like that; she’s a very educated, devout Christian woman, and she was actually my English teacher in tenth grade.
This book is for people who haven’t been to seminary, who aren’t theologians, who aren’t scholars, but they want to be able to stand up for Christianity and the Gospel in conversations with their family, with their co-workers, and maybe with their students in school in some type of way. This book will help you accomplish that.
Like I said, it’ll be available for pre-order in the fall. I hope you will look forward to that. What it’s going to help you do is build the cohesive framework for the Christian view of the world, so that we can defend these things that we hold on to, like the fact that there’s actual right and wrong in the world and that Jesus rose from the dead, and that the gospels are reliable history that we can believe and hence form conclusions on about who God is and who Christ is. That’s extremely important today, so if you’ve appreciated the types of topics we’ve approached on this podcast, I think you will very much appreciate the book. That’s coming out for pre-order later this fall.
As always, if this podcast has been beneficial to you, consider sharing it with your friends on Facebook or Twitter, and I look forward to spending this time next week with you on “Unapologetic.”