What do you want for your children?
The first thing that comes to mind is, “I want them to be happy.” (Of course if I am honest, I want them to be resilient, kind, respectful, hardworking, and giving too but sometimes that list seems a little unrealistic for an 8 and 5 year old, no?) A few years ago I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and a light bulb that went off… THIS is what I need in my life. I underlined whole paragraphs, wrote lists, and convinced myself that this was the answer. I’ve heard Shawn Achor present his work, The Happiness Advantage, at three separate business meetings. Harvard University’s most popular course is Positive Psychology… better known as the happiness class. I've downloaded mindfulness apps, gratitude journals and worked my way through Cross Fit workouts and whole food revolutions (endorphins! serotonin!). But despite all those things am I always happy? Is anyone? Is the "happiness revolution" happening all around us just meant to sugar coat the pain or stress present in our lives or even help us cope with mounting tragedies around our world.
Don’t get me wrong I would describe myself as a generally happy person. I draw happiness from my family and friends, my work, the small moments and the big ones. However, happiness is a thing derived at its most basic in pleasure and its best in gratitude, but in contrast joy – well now – that is another thing altogether. Every morning when I walk the dog and I look at the sunrise I am reminded of the words of Psalm 30, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Pain and sorrow is a reality of being human, but to know that there is a light in the darkness, no matter how dim, is how we experience joy. God does not expect a life without suffering for us (I’m looking at you Lamentations) but He does give us what we need to endure sorrow and the knowledge that joy that comes again.
Like you, I would love to shield my children from every moment of pain so I suppose it makes sense that our wish is for them to be happy. But that is not possible all the time. Even God did not shield His own son from pain and death. Perhaps upon further reflection when you ask me what I want for my children I would tell you that I want them to know joy, and to be able to comfortably lament the sorrow that will inevitably come in the certain hope that joy comes in the morning.
So simple. Right?
For all the teachable moments we get as parents, this is one I can't do alone. First of all, let’s just say I don’t have this perfected yet and I could use all the help I can get. Also, we are fighting an uphill battle against everything in our society that tells us and our kids that we are in control of joy, happiness and sorrow and these are inextricably linked to a can-do attitude, achievement and material things. At church, my kids get the constant reinforcement of a community of adults, teachers, youth and pastors who remind them that they are welcome and loved—no exceptions. They get to grapple with the hard questions and test and stretch their faith in ways they could never do alone or with me as their sole teacher. It is place for them to learn the fundamentals of faith and deep down I believe the example of faith set by the teachers is infinitely more valuable and will last them a lifetime.
Parents, sitting through worship with young kids can be grueling but I assure you that more than once, when I thought my kids were too busy begging me for a snack or playing with toys to glean anything of value, they’ve come up with a surprising question or an insightful nugget. There are so many things that vie for our time and attention 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They sell happiness, fulfillment, fun – trust me, my family is richly overscheduled like yours – I get it. But… in this community, our families learn how to live in and through sorrow and know the hope and depth of true joy. And that my friends is so much more meaningful than happiness.
Our Lord and our God, grant us grace as we parent. Give us all that we need for this great task. Bless those around us who support us in our efforts and who show our children your love. May the roots of faith grow deep in all of our hearts.
Special thanks to our guest blogger, Meredith Moore. Meredith serves as the Councilor for Witness and has been a part of Saint Luke since 2010.