A computer graphics designer that my son works with brought a very pretty flowergirl dress to the office last week. Her daughter had outgrown it, and she suggested that Joel could give it to Raeme, my almost-five year old granddaughter who loves frilly, beautiful dresses.
When Raeme opened the bag that her Daddy handed to her that night and saw the dress, she was overcome with emotion. “It’s so beautiful…” she exclaimed, then hugging the dress, she dramatically said, “…This is the happiest day of my life!”
Considering the total span of her four years of life thus far, I suppose it possiby could have been the happiest day of her life. But I seriously doubt it. Raeme has had many, many moments in the last four years that were equally defined with such enthusiasm, and by tomorrow, some other special thing will happen that will leave her believing that that is “the happiest day of her life.” Yet it’s such a joy to me to see her so happy. How wonderful it would be if we could be assured that our children and grandchildren would always only know such pure happiness…
Yet we know that isn’t possible. Nor should it be. Some day, as much as we wish it could be otherwise, our children and grandchildren will be forced to confront disappointment, sadness, sorrow, pain– and as heartbreaking as it is, it will end up being a very good thing for them. We know that in reality, it would be destructive if they only knew happiness, and never disappointment. Here on earth, without disappointment, happiness itself would be meaningless– it would not even be defined.
My granddaughter was reacting the way we expect a five year old to react. By the time she is 20, she will understand, of course, that happiness is much deeper. We know all too well that happiness is not really found in a dress– or in a job, or in food, or in experiences, or in a million other places that people continue to look for it. Yet ironically, “happiness” continues to be a high priority for too many grown-ups.
Even the prayers for our children too often revolve largely around their happiness– prayers for them to succeed, prayers for them to be healed, prayers for them to do well in certain projects, or to be well liked, or for them to have a ‘good day…’ And when they are grown, our prayers continue the same way– prayers that they will get that great job, prayers that the purchase offer they put on the really great house will be accepted, prayers that they will get a raise, prayers that they will be healed, and that they will prosper. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve even caught myself praying that my son’s favorite team would win the ballgame!
When my oldest son was just five, he really wanted a tricycle. He and I had just prayed that God would help him to get a tricycle when, not five minutes after, we passed a neighbor who greeted us, then asked, “Do you know anybody who needs a tricycle? I have two and I want to get rid of one.” It was amazing. You would not have believed the happiness on that little boy’s face! And yet I remember wondering if that was really what I wanted my son to learn– that his happiness was God’s priority.
The Israelites of old weren’t any different. Psalm 106:15 (KJV) speaks of their constant cries for God to satisfy their wants and keep them in a state of happiness, whether it was for food, or fresh water, or for meat instead of manna, or onions and garlic, or a golden calf… And God did provide their desires. “He gave them their request– but sent leanness into their soul.” Is that what we want?
Ultimately, these aren’t the things that provide lasting happiness. Like the Israelites, God may satisfy our momentary desires, but it won’t be long before there’s something new that we want God to provide for us. If that’s where our happiness lies, we’re in trouble.
Like every parent, I had become distracted in my desire to provide my children with a happy childhood. And yet as they grew, inevitable sadnesses, adversities, and difficulties somehow very abruptly invaded life– unwelcome health issues, injuries, car accidents, broken friendships, even death… Try as we did to provide happiness, we lost control over outside circumstances that we simply did not want. At some points, I actually felt like we’d irretrievably lost the pure happiness I had wanted so passionately to give them. I felt like I’d somehow failed.
But eventually, reading Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, I was suddenly impacted that Jesus’ prayer for His disciples was a pattern for us to pray for our own children, those He has given to us to disciple. Our mission is not to fixate on their happiness, but to point them to Christ, to encourage them to persevere no matter what, to disciple them!
“I have given them the words that you gave me,” Jesus said.
… “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given to me, for they are yours…
…Holy Father, keep them in your name...
…I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one…
…Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth…”
Prayer for our children (and grandchildren) must be God-focused, not man-focused!
In a sermon series on the book of Ephesians, our Pastor Josh McPherson recently urged parents to dig deeper in their prayers for their children. Instead of focusing on the child’s happiness, he urged parents to make a habit of praying Ephesians 3:16-19:
We must pray for our children, that “…he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This, really, is the God-centered (“Theocentric”) desire that ought to consume us– the only true, lasting happiness.
When our oldest son Joel married, I found out– like a very incredible ‘revelation’– that regardless of life’s unwelcome adversities, we had not lost happiness in our years of raising him. In a slideshow during Joel and Rachel’s wedding ceremony, photos of their growing years moved gracefully across the screen, weaving together memories that created truly happy years of growing. After carrying a quiet, nagging fear that I had failed, I was absolutely incredulous to realize that looking back over their years growing in our home, our kids had chosen to remember the “good.” Persevering together through adversity as well as the good times, we had all come out much closer to God, and closer to each other. They were happy!
Happiness, as it turns out, becomes a much deeper, sweeter and more intense joy because of persevering through adversity. Watching that slideshow on my son’s wedding day was amazing. As I saw it, I felt an amazing sense that this was the happiest day of my life. I think it really was.
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