Happiness Is Not An Entitlement: Work For Joy

The “disease model” of mental health asserts that good feelings come effortlessly to “normal” people, so bad feelings are evidence of a disease…Here is an alternative: Happiness is a skill that must be learned…

Refuse to see happiness as an entitlement.

Loretta G. Breuning, “The Therapy-Industrial Complex,” THE EPOCH TIMES, 8/25-8/31/2021

Work For Your Joy

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

2 Corinthians 1:24

Did you catch that? We work, Paul wrote, with you for your your joy.

Which means, we’re not entitled to joy and happiness is not a right. I don’t want the point to get lost in my words: You’ve got to work for joy.

And I mean that as 100% encouragement. Because too many of us have bought into the lie that says if we’re normal and healthy we’ll never feel flat, lonely or blue. And, while we might not say it this way, that we have a right to be happy.

But that’s wrong.

Happiness Is Not A Right

Pursue it, as our Founding Fathers said. Work for it with all your might. Fight for it. But please don’t say it’s your right.

You’re not entitled to it. Joy is a gift. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, meaning it’s given by God. Joy happens. We can’t command it. But we can work for. We can work to place ourselves where joy is more likely to be found. I can’t command a splendid sunset, but I can get out of this hickory woods in the evening and face west toward an open field.

I’m more likely to enjoy a drop-dead sunset there that facing east in my forest. But if I do get to savor that sun, I didn’t earn it. I worked to get where it’s found. But I don’t deserve it. Sun like that is sheer gift.

Count It All Joy

James wrote, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

I’m not an accountant by trade, but my work this Labor Day and every other day is to count it all joy.

The Greek word for translated as count is an accounting sort of word. It means to evaluate our trials somehow not on the debit but on the blessing side.

Learning to retrain my brain to reframe pain, and to count trials as joy is a mighty work. It takes effort to learn to count that way. Yes, happiness is a skill to be learned.

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

(Maybe) Abraham Lincoln

Fighters For Joy

These three have helped teach me not to take unhappiness sitting down. They teach me to work for joy.

Flannery O’Connor

A decade ago I read a quote about stalking joy. I think of it today.

Flannery O’Connor wrote,

Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: “The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”

I love this image. I live this image. My ground teeth and furrowed brow, out I stalk joy. I dare the joy-stealing dragon to breathe his fire as I pass—my eyes set on the city that is to come.

Because I know there is full joy in the presence of my Father, I press on.

George Mueller

George Mueller ran orphanages in England in the 1800’s. He was a joy crusader. You may have read this quote before. I return to it again and again,

The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. 

My primary business each morning is the same. And I assure you, many days it takes a fight. It takes a prayer and verse and another prayer and a verse and forcing myself to give thanks for five things before I roll out of bed to, many days, tasks I dread.

Happy making is a great business.

John Piper

John Piper is all about finding joy in Jesus. And all about fighting for it relentlessly. In fact, “Every Morning There’s War in the Piper Household,”

The fight of faith is the fight for joy. I wake up every morning and fight that fight. Am I wanting to look at Twitter before I look at Jesus? It sounds stupid. That’s how stupid sin is. Every morning there’s war in the Piper household, and it’s not against my family; it’s against me.

Every day, Piper does what David did (Psalm 101:8), Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land.

We stalk joy to get our souls happy in Jesus every single day. When we feel blue, we neither fear we are diseased, nor give up the fight. We grind our teeth and stalk our way past the ancient serpent that would forever steal our joy.

Because we know joy is not a given and happiness is not our right. Joy is a gift of God and a Spirit-fruit that grows as we fight the good fight of faith. We labor to be happy in Jesus until the day we die.

But then again, like Lewis wrote, Joy is the serious business of heaven.

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

Afterward: But what about?

When asked about the disconnect between “steady state joy” and the fight for it, John Piper offered three reasons for the disconnect:

  1. Personality. Cheerfulness comes more naturally to some. It’s not the same thing as joy, but it’s a head start.
  2. Sin in in our lives. Indwelling sin precludes joy in the Christ follower. God intended that.
  3. Life in a broken world. Pain, weeping people, and perishing people stifle joy. We are sorrowful and rejoicing.

This wasn’t a how-to post. I wrote this JoyPrO to persuade you that happiness isn’t your right, so you’re not discouraged when it’s absent and you go after it with a fight. But if you want “15 Tactics For Joy,” look here. For one described in detail look here.

Nevertheless, Laugh: An Unlikely Lesson From The Shirts of Dad

Dad wearing funny shirt
My bagpiping dad in his kilt-skirt-shirt.

Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Gravitas is not an issue for Dad and me. Actually, having a tad too much of it—as my deeply etched brow lines betray—might be, at least for me. Dad has a serious bent and this daughter does too. He taught me how to think and showed me how faith works in love.

But I’m light years behind Dad in this: my dad knows how to laugh.

So while others wax poetic this Father’s Day about how their dads taught them about the sacrificial and abiding love of Father God—and I’ve done that too— this time I’ll share something else Dad taught me.

Don’t Take Yourself (Or Your Shirts) So Seriously

Funny T-Shirt

What did I learn—who am I kidding? What am I still learning—from my dad?

Don’t take yourself so seriously. That people who laugh at themselves are refreshing. That a cheerful heart is good medicine. And that sometimes the medicine takes the form of a T-shirt.

For the record, this seems to be a choice prescription from the Good Physician for me. I have some shirt stories of my own. One involved a chocolate spot I sported for a night of parent-teacher conferences and the other about a breezy new blouse that wasn’t actually a blouse.

They both reinforce Dad’s lesson. God teaches me, and heals me, through shirts. Maybe we could even call them “garments of praise.”

Lighten Up & Laugh

Laughing Jesus
THE LAUGHING JESUS, Willis Wheatley

Oh sure, Proverbs 14:13 is true, “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” But, Jesus said, laughter is a sign of well-being and blessing in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

Which reminds me of another proverb Dad quotes: “The cheerful heart has a continual feast.”

For years, he had a picture of the Laughing Jesus posted on the fridge.

Our words are the fruit of our hearts. Kind hearts speak kind words, grateful hearts speak thankful words, hearts at rest give words of peace. And humble hearts simply laugh.

But they might cover up with funny shirts.

Nevertheless

Just because Dad wears a Wiley Coyote T-shirt and laughs so loud at Laurel and Hardy or What About Bob? that you can hear him a mile away doesn’t mean he’s carefree and never provoked or pricked in heart. Not at all.

What it does mean that Dad is able to add the “nevertheless” like the Psalmist Asaph did. After he recounted in bitter detail the envy-inducing prosperity of the wicked, Asaph got to this near the end of Psalm 73.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory

Dad holding funny shirt Wiley Coyote

Nevertheless. In other words, all that bad stuff is still true. Asaph didn’t retract all the all the ways the bad guys were winning. For now, the wicked might get away with murder.

But Asaph shifted his focus.

I studied those verses with my girlfriends today and I love what English pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about them. He didn’t say that Asaph wore funny tunics and laughed a lot. He has an entire chapter titled, “Nevertheless” in his book Faith Tried & Triumphant he writes (p. 168),

“A very good way of testing whether we are truly Christian or not is just to ask ourselves whether we can say this ‘nevertheless.’ Do we know this blessed ‘but’? Do we go on, or do we stop where we were…?”

I’ve told you before about the wicked-mean chrome dome comment that mortified this sensitive seventh grader and how Dad just laughed.

Not a mean laugh, a nevertheless laugh. A good-medicine laugh. A “But God’s got this, Ab,” laugh.

So lighten up.

Life Is Good Again

Dad can laugh. To be sure, like Sarah the mother of Laughter, Dad recognizes the “wild incongruity of life.” Dad knows that things are not always what they seem.

A few days ago, I plodded up the sidewalk to Mom and Dad’s, heavy-hearted for hefty conflict at home compounded by, say, the weight of the wicked world, myself soundly included in it.

Then I lift my eyes and see Dad rinsing lettuce and not in any old T-shirt, but in his “WHO SAID SKIRT?” T-shirt.

Suddenly life was good. Nevertheless. A cheerful heart is good medicine.

And one of Dad’s choice drugs is a funny shirt.

A [humble] man must sacrifice himself to the God of Laughter, who has stricken him with a sacred madness. As a woman can make a fool of a man, so a joke makes a fool of  a man. And a man must love a joke more than himself, or he will not surrender his pride for it. A man must take what is called a leap in the dark, as he does when he is married or when he dies, or when he is born, or when he does almost anything else that is important. 

-G.K. Chesterton, in “W.W. Jacobs”, an article which appeared in The Tribune in 1906
Collected in A Handful of Authors  (1953)

Be Merry: The Tide Has Turned

Galaxy sky star with trees sillouette

In 1948, C.S. Lewis published a poem called, “The Turn of the Tide.” In it, he imagines the cosmic significance of Christ’s birth.

Rest assured, the tide has turned. It might not feel like it, but feelings lie. Oh sure, we’re still in these long last days and I’m still one of the poor orn’ry people—but about 2020 years ago the tide turned.

Because what happened in Bethlehem did not stay in Bethlehem.

It was never intended to stay there. In fact, it reached the highest heavens. Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. When the Virgin gave birth to a son the galaxies tingled and rocked.

But it also reached the lowest shepherds keeping watch over their flocks that night and it penetrates into our little house in some big Wisconsin woods in these Covid-19 days.

The Turn of the Tide

I read the poem aloud to three teenage boys in that little house this afternoon. At least two out of three at half-listened. I hope you enjoy it at least twice as much as one of three did.

Breathless was the air over Bethlehem. Black and bare
Were the fields; hard as granite the clods;
Hedges stiff with ice; the sedge in the vice
Of the pool, like pointed iron rods.
And the deathly stillness spread from Bethlehem. It was shed
Wider each moment on the land;
Through rampart and wall into camp and into hall
Stole the hush; all tongues were at a stand.
At the Procurator’s feast the jocular freedman ceased
His story, and gaped. All were glum
Travellers at their beer in a tavern turned to hear
The landlord; their oracle was dumb.
But the silence flowed forth to the islands and the North
And smoothed the unquiet river bars
And levelled out the waves from their revelling and paved
The sea with cold reflected stars.

Where the Caesar on Palatine sat at ease to sign,
Without anger, signatures of death,
There stole into his room and on his soul a gloom,
And his pen faltered, and his breath.
Then to Carthage and the Gauls, past Parthia and the Falls
Of Nile and Mount Amara it crept;
The romp and war of beast in swamp and jungle ceased,
The forest grew still as though it slept.
So it ran about the girth of the planet. From the Earth
A signal, a warning, went out
And away behind the air. Her neighbours were aware
Of change. They were troubled with a doubt.

Salamanders in the Sun that brandish as they run
Tails like the Americas in size
Were stunned by it and dazed; wondering, they gazed
Up at Earth, misgiving in their eyes.
In Houses and Signs Ousiarchs* divine
Grew pale and questioned what it meant;
Great Galactal lords stood back to back with swords
Half-drawn, awaiting the event,
And a whisper among them passed, ‘Is this perhaps the last
Of our story and the glories of our crown?
–The entropy worked out?–The central redoubt
Abandoned? The world-spring running down?
Then they could speak no more. Weakness overbore
Even them. They were as flies in a web,
In their lethargy stone-dumb. The death had almost come;
The tide lay motionless at ebb.

Like a stab at that moment, over Crab and Bowman,
Over Maiden and Lion, came the shock
Of returning life, the start and burning pang at heart,
Setting Galaxies to tingle and rock;
And the Lords dared to breathe, and swords were sheathed
And a rustling, a relaxing began,
With a rumour and noise of the resuming of joys,
On the nerves of the universe it ran.
Then pulsing into space with delicate, dulcet pace
Came a music, infinitely small
And clear. But it swelled and drew nearer and held
All worlds in the sharpness of its call.
And now divinely deep, and louder, with the sweep
and quiver of inebriating sound,
The vibrant dithyramb** shook Libra and the Ram,
The brains of Aquarius spun round;
Such a note as neither Throne nor Potentate had known
Since the Word first founded the abyss,
But this time it was changed in a mystery, estranged,
A paradox, an ambiguous bliss.

Heaven danced to it and burned. Such answer was returned
To the hush, the Favete, the fear
That Earth had sent out; revel, mirth and shout
Descended to her, sphere below sphere.
Saturn laughed and lost his latter age’s frost,
His beard, Niagara-like, unfroze;
Monsters in the Sun rejoiced; the Inconstant One,
The unwedded Moon, forgot her woes.
A shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth
went gliding. Her bonds were released.
Into broken light a breeze rippled and woke the seas,
In the forest it startled every beast.
Capripods fell to dance from Taproban to France,
Leprechauns from Down to Labrador,
In his green Asian dell the Phoenix from his shell
Burst forth and was the Phoenix once more.

So death lay in arrest. But at Bethlehem the bless’d
Nothing greater could be heard
Than a dry wind in the thorn, the cry of the One new-born,
And cattle in stall as they stirred.

C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper, 1992, pp. 49-51.

The After Effects

I’ve never imagined how it would feel to be a galaxy—Bowman or Crab, Libra or Ram— or even a planet of moon. But I’m glad Lewis did.

Because there must have been a ripple effect—a pulsing sound into space and even into forest and seas—when One babe was born. Maybe a shiver of re-birth and deliverance on the Earth.

It’s easier for me to imagine that- the after effects on earth. Because a shiver sounds a lot like a thrill of hope and a weary world rejoicing though, doesn’t it?

And because every single day I feel the after-effects of the Babe born, the Son given. I live and love, I confess and forgive, and whenever I joyfully press on, it’s because of the coming of the One. It’s all because of the birth that arrested death.

Oh, yes. All these pulses and ripples and shivers and thrills and all this joyful music must mean the tide has turned.

The Tide Has Turned

A few years later, another famous Inkling, was also writing about the turn of the tide.  

‘Gandalf,’ the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. ‘Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf.’ He stepped down from the rock, and picking up his grey cloak wrapped it about him: it seemed as if the sun had been shining, but now was hid in a cloud again. ‘Yes, you may still call me Gandalf,’ he said, and the voice was the voice of their old friend and guide. ‘Get up, my good Gimli! No blame to you, and no harm done to me. Indeed my friends, none of you have any weapon that could hurt me. Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned.’

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 1956

The Child was born and the Son was given—unto us. The tide turned when the majestic glory of the King of the Universe was revealed in a Babe laying in a manger in Bethlehem.

And I’d be surprised if the galaxies didn’t dance.

So feel free. Be merry!

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

We await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Titus 2:13

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
    and turns deep darkness into the morning
    and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name…

Amos 5:8

 *metaphysical ruler

**a wild choral hymn of ancient Greece

You Can’t Ride 2 Horses With 1 Heinie (AKA: Give Thanks)

It’s my thing: the annual Thanksgiving post.

Mayflower’s Daughter came first. Then came Why Pilgrims Don’t Grumble and smitten by William Bradford, A Poem For Pilgrims. Next was It Really is Good to Give Thanks, and last year I asked Do You Leak? (For the record, it was about roots of grumbling not moms on trampolines.)

This year, it’s one heinie on one horse. Because, choose this day who you will serve and no one can serve two masters. Because, give thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us.

And God’s will for us is always good

The Silver Bullet To Joy: Thanks

Because I know- not just in my head but in my heart- that giving thanks is as close to a silver bullet to joy as there possibly could be. While we cannot force thankfulness, the feeling; we can coerce the action. Even if we don’t feel thankful, we can give thanks.

And if we do, if we force ourselves to be thanks-givers, I say this from experience, the thankful, joyful feeling follows. It works like this: I wake up and feel the discontent not gratitude oozing out of me. But if I make myself thank God for five things before I roll out of bed, I hit the ground happier, and more thankful. Because I forced the issue. I talked to myself instead of listening to myself. I grabbed the reins and took myself in hand.

It works. Every. Single. Time. When I feel discontent because of what my husband didn’t do, I can thank him for what he did do. When I feel envious about a girlfriend’s gift, I can thank God that she is my friend. And when I’m grumpy about a sink full of dirty dishes, I can thank God for mouths to feed. One or the other: grumble or give thanks.

Because you can’t ride two horses with one heinie. 

You Can’t Ride Two Horses 

You simply can’t feel thankful and entitled at once. You can’t ride the I-Deserve and the All-Grace thoroughbreds together. You just can’t. I can’t. And believe me, I’ve tried.

I’ve tried to ride the Thankful bay and the Self-pitying paint together and it never works. But sometimes I still try to saddle up the Envy pony right alongside the Gratitude gray and climb up.

But no matter how hard I try I cannot ride both. Because I’ve only got one heinie.

Ride The Thankful Horse

How it went down yesterday: I started saddling up my Envy pony after hearing opportunities for friendship and ministry that some friends of mine have because they don’t work outside the home. I had one foot in the stirrup before I came to my senses and climbed on Gratitude Gray. God’s got me at this job for his good reasons and I’m thankful- YES THANKFUL!- for the ways He’s using it to grow and shape me. 

That was yesterday. Today when I was tempted to mount the Comparison mare and let it gallop off again with my old dreams for a quiver full of kids- the Spirit counseled me off her back and onto the strong Thankful stallion. The Father promised He’d provide all your needs. So if you don’t have it, you don’t need it. No good thing does he withhold. 

Those were Spirit-wrought victories. Other days I ride too long on the wrong horse’s saddle. I climbed on the I-Didn’t-Choose-This chestnut and let him get the best of me. He charged off to You-Deserve-Better Land. And if I spend any time at all there, I return quarrelsome and harsh with my family.

All because I got on the wrong horse and let it take me for a ride. 

Defeat The Dark Horse: Give Thanks

The best way to drive out my self-focused, self-pitying, envious grumps is to be a thanks-giver. Gratitude, John Piper explains, is the song that defeats the enemy. Suppose, he says, that you discover that there is a song which the enemy and their sympathizers cannot tolerate or approach. Whenever they hear it, they pull back and run the other direction.

Isn’t it certain that you would want to learn this song? And after you learned it, you would sing it when you went to bed at night and when you got up in the morning. You would sing it on the way to work, and among strangers… Others would see and hear and learn the song from you. And in the end you would conquer the enemy.

The enemy rides a dark horse. He steals our joy and deceives us with lies. We play right into his hand when we compare and complain. One of his most convincing, joy stealing lies starts like this, But you deserve.

And the song that drives the dark horse and his lying rider away is thanksgiving.

Sing the Song of Thanks

You can give thanks or you can grumble. One will drive out the other.

Because I deserve and by grace cannot peaceably coexist in one heart. We cannot have two masters; Jesus isn’t looking for 60-40 split. We can’t serve ourselves with I deserve and Woe is me and  give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne. You can’t ride two horses with one heinie. 

So ride the right horse. Be a thanks-giver.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:1