“Here’s a little song I wrote. You might want to sing it note for note. Don’t worry! Be happy!” Yep, I loved that song, for about a day, and then it was being played so often I got sick of it rather quickly! But still, Bobby McFerrin captured in his “little song” a notion we Christians should explore today.
And it is this: Happiness is a choice, just like love is a choice! While there are emotions attached to these choices, happiness, and love are not emotions; they are choices we make every day. You see, if your mood or your devotion is governed by outside circumstances then you are a slave to powers beyond your control and you will always be at the mercy of outside forces. And you weren’t made to be a slave to anyone or anything but the God Who loves you more than you, yourself, know how to love! If happiness and love are always dependent on events or others then they will be as unstable as the shifting sand and your life will be a series of efforts to try to control everything outside you so that you will be happy. How’s that working out for you?
Look at St. Paul’s wisdom to the Church at Philippi today in Philippians 2:16-23:
BRETHREN, I do not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrifical offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare. They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me.
St. Paul writes the Philippian Church from jail! That’s right, St. Paul has been arrested and placed in custody and he writes to Philippi after they had sent their priest, St.Epaphroditus, to St. Paul to bring him some assistance. So St. Paul’s circumstances weren’t very accommodating to a “happy” existence and yet he tells the believers “I am glad and I rejoice with you all.”
And what is the source of this gladness and rejoicing? St. Paul declares “I do not run in vain or labor in vain.” Paul’s gladness and rejoicing rested in his purpose, not his circumstances. In fact, if St. Paul depended on his circumstances, he’d be depressed most of the time! But his happiness is his choice to see beyond the temporary, even life-threatening, immediate situation to the ultimate purpose and destiny of his work! His love for the parish at Philippi and his confidence in their faith is all the proof he needs to rest in his faith and not in his surroundings! And what freedom this creates for St. Paul! He is free to be at peace in the middle of the conflict. He is free to be content in any situation. He is free to love even those who don’t love him without worrying. In short, because St. Paul sees his happiness as his choice, he is free!
St. Nektarios said, “How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which all have a bitter end.” (“Path To Happiness”) So very wise. Every time we wait and depend on external circumstances to “make” us happy, we experience the disappointment of false expectations. And it seems we humans can’t learn this lesson often enough to break the back of this false notion in our lives. Until we come to see happiness as an internal choice based on our intimate relationship with Christ, we will continue “waiting” on the whole world to “make” us happy, and still be bitter when the world lets us down again!
Today, are you free? Do you recognize the genius of the Faith to orient you toward freedom and joy? Do you see the wisdom in the Faith to give you a lifestyle of purposeful practice that is all designed to accomplish your freedom and your peace? This is a perfect moment to allow the wisdom of the Faith to reorient you to happiness based on your purpose and not your circumstances. This is the day to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, You, and You alone are meant to be my “master.” And You’re mastery is unique because You only desire to serve me and give me all You have. I confess, Lord, I allow too many lesser things, circumstances, and expectations to master me and then experience over and over again the bitter disappointment of expecting someone else to make me happy. No created thing or person is meant to bear that expectation. You alone are able to be trusted to master me and lead me. Grant me the wisdom and humility to lean only on You for my life and peace. Amen