Those of us who are older and who were raised in the Evangelical church, remember the popular Ira Stanphill song, Happiness is the Lord.
Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord
Happiness is a new creation,
Jesus and me in close relation
Having a part in His salvation,
Happiness is the Lord
Real joy is mine,
no matter if teardrops start
I’ve found the secret
It’s Jesus in my heart
Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that’s worth the livin’
Taking a trip that leads to heaven,
Happiness is the Lord.
Did you sing a few bars of this song as you read the lyrics? I know I did. Over the years, I have sang Happiness is the Lord, hundreds of times. It was a popular song for Polly and I to sing as we traveled. I am sure our children remember Mom and Dad singing away as they prayed, Dear Lord, PLEASE lead them to turn on the radio.
For most of my life, happiness and knowing Jesus were the same thing. Only the Christian could truly be happy. Only the person with Jesus in their heart could experience true joy. (and peace and love) Yet, as many of us can testify, our Christian lives and the lives of Christian people we know personally, were not one long happy-fest. Even the Happy Goodman’s were not happy all the time. There were times when happiness, joy, love, and peace were nowhere to be found. No matter how much we prayed and begged God for deliverance, deliverance never came.
Some dear friends of ours are going through a tough time. In recent years they have lost their house and faced difficult health problems and financial reversals. Now their only daughter is fighting for her life, battling a bacterial infection that is doing its best to kill her. Their daughter has fought this infection for nine months and has had numerous surgeries to try and fix a problem with her pancreas. As their friend of forty plus years, I fear for her life.
I wish there was some God that I could pray to that would come and rescue their daughter, but there is none. Their daughter’s fate is in the hands of an atheist doctor, a skilled medical staff, and luck.
My friends are devout Christians. I was their pastor for a few years. I have watched their daughter grow up from a baby to the wonderful mother she is today. There is nothing in this story that can bring happiness or joy. I know my dear friends are hanging on to the promises of God and hoping that God will intervene. I am putting my faith in the doctor, antibiotics, and their daughter’s immune system. I hope these things are enough.
Years ago, I was pastor to a family that loved Jesus and were devoted workers in the church. One day the phone rang at the church and it was their son. He told his Mom that he just murdered his girlfriend. He is now serving a life sentence in an Ohio penitentiary. A few years later their only daughter came down with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In but a short while died, still in her twenties. And if that was not enough, several years ago the husband died of cancer. He was sixty-one.
I found myself screaming to an imaginary God, leave them alone. But I knew that my words were heard by no one. I knew, in a cruel twist of fate, that this dear family had been given a full cup of grief and suffering.
Both of these families, long time friends of my wife and I, have weathered these storms with their faith in God still intact. I can not fathom continuing to believe in a God who does nothing while those you love suffer and die.
And this is one of the reasons I am not a Christian. What kind of God is this who does nothing while his children are in pain and suffer and die? Why does he turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to their travails? I am sure they ask themselves these questions, but, somehow, some way, their faith remains.
For me, happiness is a God-free life. I hope to have a life filled with happiness, joy, peace, and love, but, as a man who has walked on the face of this earth for half a century, I know that pain, suffering, and death are always lurking in the shadows. I have felt its touch and watched those I love suffer and die.
My son had surgery last week to repair a bowel problem. While having this problem fixed they did a colonoscopy and found a golf-ball sized polyp. They removed the polyp and we are waiting to hear back from the lab. Could it be cancer? Yes. The doctor told my son that this polyp would have turned to cancer by the time he was forty if it had not been removed.
Did Providence smile on my son? Was God looking out for him? I am sure the Christian will say yes. I see things differently. My son was lucky. This polyp could have went undetected until it was too late. There is no one for me to praise or thank other than the doctor and luck.
In the natural order of things parents die before their children. But I also know, based on statistics, the larger the family, the greater likelihood that the natural order could be disrupted. I know that life isn’t fair and that tragedy doesn’t always happen to someone else. Instead of asking WHY ME, perhaps we should ask, WHY NOT ME?
I know my days on this earth are few. I am not blind to what is going on in my body. Like any sane person, I want to live as long as I can, but I know that most of my life is already in the rear-view mirror. Some day, maybe today, or maybe tomorrow, I will draw my last breath. I will leave behind a wonderful wife, and children and grandchildren I love dearly.
But until that day comes, I am going to do my best to cram into my life as much happiness as possible, I am not going to wait on God to open the windows of heaven and pour me out a blessing. Life is too short to wait on a happiness package that is lost in the mail. I know that happiness lies not in a life with Jesus, but in a life with Polly, Jason, Cristina, Nathan, Sarah, Jaime, Jamie, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Aaliyah, Victoria, Karah,Levi, Guin, Emma, Gabby, Morgan, Mamaw, and Papaw. These people and the few close friends and family I have are my happiness.
And they are enough.