There are three approaches to the stereotypical idea of Christian happiness. The first is to fake it, because it’s the way we’re supposed to be. Thence cometh the Peppy Christians. If you’re a Peppy Christian who isn’t faking happiness through secrecy and denial, none of the following discussion applies to you. I commend you for your sincere and encompassing faith in God, am thankful for your example in the world, and hope someday to join you. So far I have never met you.
The second is to renounce it, because Christians are supposed to be reeeal, said with sagacious emphasis, probably around a cigarette. Thence cometh the Edgy Christians. If you’re an Edgy Christian who isn’t a product of moral laziness and poetic affectation, none of the following discussion applies to you. I commend you for your willingness to embrace a reality different from everything you’ve known, am thankful that you will bring your experience into glory, and am sorry if I’ve ever rejected you because I’ve mistaken you for one of the far more common poseurs, or because I am myself a snob.
The third approach is to admit both that Christians ought to be happy and that they frequently aren’t. I admit to being biased toward this camp, and so I’ll simply call them Actual Christians. If you know that you ought to have faith sufficient to trust God about everything, but you spend a lot of your time frustrated, stressed, sad, angry, hurting, and other such, and if you have the wisdom to recognize that ultimately those things are failures on your part, all of this is intended for you, because, in the words of a generation far too many after my own, “You’re my peeps.”
Don’t go thinking that I have anything particularly insightful or helpful to say to you, though. I’m in the same boat, and just as dependent on grace and hope to believe that someday I’ll be out of it. It’s hard to work contentment and joy into my busy schedule of screaming children, competing responsibilities, overflowing schedules, and sleep deprivation.
Clearly I need to receive better the offers of Christ. When I’m inclined to be frustrated and overwhelmed by my children, I should embrace the grace and forgiveness I’ve been offered, so as to be forgiving of misbehavior but consistent in the teaching of righteousness, then patient with immaturity and amused by a vivacity and energy which I no longer share. I should remember the faithfulness and love I’ve been offered, so as to be content in my tasks and efforts, entrusting both my success and my future to God’s efforts rather than my own. And I should embrace the promise of salvation, so as to have always before me the thankfulness of one who has escaped something dreadful, thankful enough to stop supposing that maybe my life is better with sin.
Sure, I’ll get right on that.
But this is not in any way to belittle those offers. My perennial grumpiness is a failure not of Christ but of me–the news is actually so good as to warrant the behaviors I can’t or won’t emulate–and for my grumpiness also I will one day be called to account. But trying harder to be happy is clearly not going to help.
I can’t work harder at being content or joyful. Those are products. I can work at letting go of the things that get in the way of contentment and joy, like greed and insecurity. When I’m grumpy I can try to figure out the cause of it, like resentment and fear, and try to eliminate those too. And most importantly, I can stubbornly accept the fact that I’m a work in progress, and that the progressive work is enabled and directed by one greater than I. So long as I’m not actively refusing to cooperate with that progress–if I’m trying my best to be amenable to it and to pursue it as the Spirit instructs–then I should also let go of the things that make me discontent with myself.
I may not have reached perfection yet–and I may be daily reminded of how far I have to go–but I’m on the way and my guide is faithful. I will not presume to criticize the route he chooses or the speed we travel because I dislike how I find myself; I’ll just be careful to follow where he leads.