Before there were books, we were simply two heart-sisters who had a lot in common. We loved words and Jesus. And we were both farm wives married to men who raised crops and pigs. I once grabbed Jennifer Dukes Lee’s hand and told her I believed in God’s gifts in her, and I prayed for His words through her to keep coming. She’s a pure-hearted, soul-encouraging woman after God’s own heart, and reading her always makes me read more of Christ everywhere. Her newest book, The Happiness Dare, is maybe what we all need in this busted-up world, heaving from sadness. It’s a humbling grace to have Jennifer step off her farm porch and straight onto ours . . .
It rained hard last night, and part of me wondered if that tired old sky was crying right along with all of us down here on earth.
This world has been one weary, grief-saturated place, hasn’t it?
Most mornings lately, before my feet hit the floor, I assume that the sky is doing more than crying. I wonder if it has already fallen.
I don’t know about you, but all the pain has challenged all that is good within me.
It has challenged my hope, my sense of security, my peace. I can’t fly in an airplane anymore without a foreboding sense that the worst is about to happen. If I’m in a crowd, I am edgy. When I tuck in my daughters, I wonder how to equip them to function in this broken world.
This is not who I am, or who I was created to be.
For most of my life, I considered myself a happy person—not the kind of woman who claps with giddy delight over her breakfast waffles, but the kind of woman who makes regular use of her grin. I have a bend toward optimism.
But lately, cynicism has been an enticing option.
In times like these, even an optimist can feel like happiness is irretrievable. In times like these, it can seem—quite frankly—that happiness doesn’t matter anyway. It can seem like God doesn’t care about happiness.
But then I re-remember what I re-forgot.
I remember what I learned way back when I took a God-made dare to find true happiness. I remember what I discovered, and how it made me feel warm and bright on the inside, like I’d swallowed a star. This is what I found out:
- When you desire happiness, you are not a pleasure-seeking heretic. You are responding to something built into your soul.
- Your desire to live happy is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.
- Your happiness is a formidable weapon in a world wracked with pain.
Before I took the dare, I never would have spoken this sentence aloud:
“I want to be happy.”
I would have thought it, and secretly, I would have wanted happiness. But I would have been scared to admit it.
I would have told you that I wanted only joy instead. I would have told you that God cared more about my holiness than my happiness. And I would have believed that happiness was selfish.
But it turns out, I was wrong.
God actually does care about our happiness—not only for our sakes, but supremely for His. Turns out, this world needs my happiness. And it needs yours too, for such a time as this.
Here’s the truth: Happiness isn’t apart from our holiness; it’s a part of it. Happiness isn’t the opposite of joy; it’s hemmed in.
Happiness is a gift from a happy God. It’s permissible by God, and achievable through Him.
John Piper said it like this: “Our mistake lies not in the intensity of our desire for happiness, but in the weakness of it.”
Maybe you think that the pursuit of happiness will take you a mile-step away from Jesus. But what if happiness actually makes you more like Jesus?
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples to abide in Him and hold fast to His teachings. He told them to remain in His love . . . even when life got hard.
“I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am,” Jesus said (John 15:11, CEV).
I totally get how happiness can feel so . . . impossible . . . especially in hard times. But happiness is actually what propels us to take the next step forward, the step that might lead us into the light.
Happiness is why—in the midst of the sky-crying days—we reach out for someone to tell us there is still good in this shattered world.
Happiness is why, as Mr. Rogers once said, we “look for the helpers” when bad things happen. We still want to believe there’s good down here on earth, so we choose to go looking for it.
I am certain this is why, when one funny mama donned a Chewbacca mask, millions of people shared it on Facebook. We shared it because somewhere deep inside of us, we wanted to believe that happiness matters. We wanted to believe that it changes things, that it’s a weapon against all the awful in the world.
It’s why, when someone we love dies, we gather around kitchen tables to tell their funny stories. It’s why—research shows—a smile can make your brain feel like you received 16,000 in cash—or ate 2,000 chocolate bars.
Happiness isn’t for wimps. Happiness is a potent force.
Many of you are reading this today not because you know me, but because you trust and love Ann. She’s dear to me, too. Ann penned profound words in One Thousand Gifts that I return to when the pain of this world overwhelms:
“Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small . . . and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”
When we engage in a holy pursuit of happiness, we aren’t ignoring the pain of the world. We are refusing to give in to it.
Yeah, happiness is a feeling. But quite often, it’s a decision.
And when we decide to fight for happiness—fists to the sky—we are beating down the enemy. We are healing the wound in the world. And we are, in the end, making a public case for the One who is the Source of all our happiness.
Tomorrow, it may rain again. It may seem that the sky offers only tears.
But because of Jesus, we will be the ones who wait for the sun, who point to the sky, who tell the others, “Look! Look! The light is coming!”
And we will be the ones who fight for happiness as if it matters. Because it does.
Your happiness will make them wonder.
“How,” the onlookers will ask you, as you lift your face toward the sky, “how do you have such a light in this present darkness?”
And that’s when you’ll be able to tell them:
It is all because of Jesus.
Would you like to be happier? No matter who you are or how you feel, chances are you would answer yes. For years, Jennifer wrestled with a constant nagging sense that she wasn’t as happy as she could be. At the same time, she felt guilty for wanting something so “shallow.” After all, doesn’t God only care that we find joy in our circumstances? Or is it possible that God really does want us to be happy? She embarked on a dare to find out whether happiness matters to God and, if so, how to pursue it in a way that pleases Him. Out of that quest was born a book I’m highly recommending: The Happiness Dare: Pursuing Your Heart’s Deepest, Holiest, and Most Vulnerable Desire.
Take Jennifer’s Happiness Style Assessment and find out in five minutes or less what truly makes you happy.
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale Publishers for their partnership in today’s devotion ]