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#97 Love and Happiness

Summary:

Many of us seek wealth, or stuff, or other temporary pleasures. Yet God wants us to seek something more. Christ chose the Cross. What do you choose?

Questions:

1) How can we choose to show love over choosing what makes us happy?  

2) How can we tell the difference between love and happiness?

Links:

Orthodox Way of Life, What is a Spiritual Life?

Mystagogy, Scandalized By the Happiness of the Impious and Faithless

Ancient Faith Radio, "iSermons, Thoughts from a Local Parish," Happiness or Joy?

Script:

Hey everybody this is Steve and being a Christian was never meant to be easy. Earlier this month, we had our latest BeeTreat in Brooklyn, NY.  So my buddy Christian, the host of The Trench, was here to lead workshops for youth workers and other adults. While he was in town, we got to talk about the thesis he's working on for his Master Degree: it's about how we're teaching people to seek happiness above all else, and what that's doing to ministry. Christian has a really interesting take on the question, and I'll leave it to him to make a video about it one day.  Yet it also got me thinking about happiness and what we expect from the Church. It seems like one of the biggest things that prevents us from living as seek happiness above all else, and what that's doing to ministry. Christian has a really interesting take on the question, and I'll leave it to him to make a video about it one day. But it really got me thinking about happiness and what we expect from the Church.

It seems like one of the biggest things that prevents us from living as Christians, from doing the hard work of the Church, is our reluctance to do hard things. Fasting seems difficult, so we don't do it as often as we should.  Praying seems boring, so we don't do it as often as we should. But it’s not just that these things are hard. It’s more that they just don’t seem like fun. That they don’t seem like they'll make us happy. So we set aside the hard work of the Church, the hard work of taking up the Cross and following Christ, and do other things.

Things that we think will make us happy. There are even entire congregations that gather around what's sometimes called the "prosperity Gospel," the belief that faith in God will lead to blessings like wealth and happiness. The idea is that God somehow owes us good things for our good actions, as if we're parties to a contract; so we give God our faith,  and He gives us the stuff we want. The trouble with this belief is that it's not the Gospel. It makes stuff, rather than God, the object of our love. Of course, as Christ reminds us again and again, the trouble with stuff is that it doesn't last.  Cars and money and clothes are all temporary goods, temporary pleasures that can't even begin to compare with the true blessing of being in God's eternal Kingdom with God Himself.

Yet even if we don't explicitly accept the prosperity Gospel in its strongest form, many of us, myself included, seem to buy into a weaker version of this belief. We may not choose to believe in God because we think He'll reward us with fancy cars and houses, but we do choose to believe in Him because we think it will bring us happiness as long as we don’t do anything too wrong. It’s a Christianity that's more focused on getting into heaven than encountering God, and more concerned with personal fulfillment than communion.

We need to be careful that we're not turning the revelation of God's salvation into just another self-help philosophy; that we're not turning Christ into just another life coach. Because Christianity doesn't promise happiness or contentment. It promises something much greater: true, unending life and union with God. In fact, for the first few centuries, becoming a Christian was almost certain to bring an end to one’s earthly happiness. It was an almost guaranteed death sentence. 11 of the 12 Apostles gave their lives as martyrs. And over the past two thousand years, millions upon millions of people have given their lives for Christ, with other untold millions upon millions living lives of patient and humble struggle.

Christ doesn't invite us to kick up our feet and live comfortably. And He doesn't promise us that our lives will be easy and contented. Instead, He invites us to love others as He loved us. By going to the cross. By sacrificing ourselves. By giving up our lives that we might have His life. True life. And true life is difficult because it’s difficult to reorient ourselves towards this cross-shaped love of God and neighbor; towards this true love that gives without expecting anything in return. God knows that we will only be at peace and experience His lasting joy, which is so much deeper than the happiness we normally seek, when we let go of the temporary pleasures of this world and unite ourselves to Him and to each other by laying down our lives in sacrificial love.

He knows that when we spend all our time on our own happiness and fulfilling our own desires, we end up cutting ourselves off from each other, focusing on how hungry we are. How old our closet is. And how lonely we feel. This is why Christ invites us to give our food to the hungry, to give our clothes to the naked, to give our times to those who are lonely. He invites us to look outside of ourselves and to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, to love even those that seem impossible to love. In His great wisdom, our Lord asks us to do what is difficult because He knows it is in struggle and sacrifice, and sometimes even suffering that we will stop being taunted by the unattainable goal of finding happiness in stuff and pleasures and sinful desires.

Because, if our goal is happiness, then we'll constantly find ourselves disappointed. If we make friends because of what we can get out of people, we’ll find ourselves lonely in our popularity. We’ll never know the depth of love that is developed by a lifetime of support, when we stick with someone through good and bad no matter what. If we only seek what pleases us regardless of the needs of others, we'll never know the deep relationships that are developed by a lifetime of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love. And we should be grateful that Christ's goal wasn't happiness. 

Because if it was, He would have never chosen the Cross. He would have never chosen to accept all the weakness of humanity: suffering cold, hunger, pain, betrayal, and death.  And of course, if Christ had never chosen to taste death, we would never been able to taste life. As Great Lent winds down, as we make our way through Holy Week, these periods of challenge and struggle are a reminder that we're called to seek something greater than stuff, something even greater than simple feelings. We're called to seek the living God, to know Him and be united with Him.

To pursue Him as the object of our desire, the very source and center of our lives. We're called to serve our neighbors, of doing the hard work of patiently and humbly putting aside our prideful and selfish desires, of choosing patience and forgiveness and mercy. We're called to set aside the misleading and distracting temptations of easy answers and shallow pleasures, to pursue something so much more profound than the false happiness that normally tempts us. To pursue the true and unending joy that only comes from our relationship with God. We're called to choose love. So let's be the bee, and pursue that which is eternal over that which is fleeting.

Be the Bee, and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe, and share. I'll see you all next week. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon who helped make this episode possible. To support the creation of more Orthodox Christian content, please visit patreon.com/y2am.

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