Matthieu Ricard has been dubbed ‘the happiest man in the world.’ I heard him this morning on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. He’s written a couple of books, and of course people buy them. We all want happiness, don’t we? Here’s a quote from Ricard:
“May every moment of my life and of the lives of others be one of wisdom, flourishing and inner peace!”
I expect we can all mumble an “Amen” to that! And if we’re parents, our priority might have changed from our own happiness to the happiness of our children. After all, what could make me happier than my child’s happiness?
I don’t know about you, but I think all of this happiness talk makes us Christians a bit nervous. Life isn’t about making myself happy: it’s about serving the Lord. And thus begins the dilemma: Do I make my child’s happiness, or his godliness, the priority? I feel sure it’s his godliness, but that goes against my maternal instinct. After all, doesn’t loving them mean doing my best to make them happy?
But what is happiness, anyway?
This week I heard a sermon on happiness. No offence to Matthieu Ricard, but given the choice I think I’ll listen to Scripture on the topic before I read his book.*
“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever they do prospers.’ (Psalm 1:1-3)
Blessed means happy, but not in a clap your hands, superficial way. This is a deep-seated, contented happiness, like finally finding what you were designed for and doing just that, every single day.
Sometimes it feels like being a Christian mum is defined by saying ‘No’ to lots of things that the crowd says ‘yes’ to. ‘No’ to watching certain films, playing football on a Sunday, blaspheming, avoiding unpopular people (we invite them for lunch), maybe going on amazing holidays because we’ll be on a Christian camp etc. Some of these things are different for different families, but you know what I mean. I find it interesting that Psalm 1, verse 1, the beginning of the whole book of Psalms, is about the negative – what the blessed one does not do. Sometimes we will be defined by what we don’t do, and according to Psalm 1, that’s OK.
But we have an alternative (v2) – the law of the Lord. Our children get the privilege of listening to brilliant Christian songs (as well as, you know, Queen and Coldplay), they get to learn about Jesus and spend time with church family on a Sunday, they learn memory verses, they’re learning to live out Jesus’ teaching, they’re delighting in God’s word. And God’s word bears fruit. When people notice that my child is kind, or grateful, or gracious, or patient, I know that the Lord is to thank for that. It’s certainly not genetic.
I found out on Sunday, but had never noticed before (despite meditating on this Psalm for years – just shows how dull I am), is that (v3) the tree is planted by streams of water. Someone (the Lord) has deliberately planted the ‘happy person’ in the best place possible. They have plenty to drink, so that they can flourish and prosper.
So as a mum, while I’m bringing my children to ‘the law of the Lord,’ I am planting them (or allowing them to be planted) by streams of water. I’m making them lie down in green pasture. I’m giving them living water to drink. I’m giving them happiness.
This sounds very impressive, but it relies completely on the Lord. He’s the one who blesses, but I can bring my children to him.
And it sounds impressive, but of course it doesn’t look it. It looks like ‘family devotion’ which i.e. trying to explain one bible verse to a 4 year old while the baby screams and throws fromage frais across the room.
Or it looks like standing your ground while your child has a tantrum over trainers you won’t buy them to please the crowd.**
Or it might look like living somewhere a bit grotty without even a balcony while all of your peers have bought detached houses in the country.**
But Psalm 1 says it is impressive. While magazine articles tell me that happiness is private school, ballet camp, designer clothes and drama classes, God’s word tells me that happiness comes through delighting in the law of the Lord. And it makes sense, because all of those other things will fade, but God’s kingdom will last forever.
With special thanks to Andy Mason for his talk on Psalm 1. My blog mostly consists of me listening carefully to what Andy says, writing it down and chucking in some illustrations about kids and mess.
*Several other things (involving cats ice skating in hot places) will happen before I read it too. I’m a busy woman.
** Of course, Christians can live in big houses and wear expensive trainers. I’m more thinking about the principles of living for the Lord and not for this world.