This particular rant is brought to you by my good friend Jerry, who asked an intriguing question on his Facebook wall: “Do you think Jesus was happy during his ministry?” I left the thought alone for a while, knowing that I owned neither the time nor the focus to handle such a quandary. However, the post kept popping up as more and more theologians and professional Jesus followers loaned their thoughts.
I had to respond. I concluded, “I’ve been wondering this lately, as well. Because ministry is f-ing hard, and I wonder if I should be happier sometimes. But, perhaps, happiness isn’t always the best way to be happy.”
Let’s be honest, I stole that last line from Judith, who is a wild thing in my favorite movie, Where the Wild Things Are. But amidst her wild, incomprehensible, and insensible jawing, I think Judith might have been on to something.
I’ve really been slopping happiness around in my mind lately. I wonder if I should be happier. Yes, there are times of intense euphoria when all I can do is shout melodies to the angels and wonder if God really meant to impart such blessings on my little life. And yes, there are times of simple contentment when I sit back and smile and jiggle and breathe deeply. But, unfailingly, there are many times of pain and frustration, loneliness and almost debilitating sorrow.
Because, well, following Jesus is f-ing hard. And encouraging, supporting and challenging others on the journey may even be harder. If following Jesus were easy, I suppose everyone would do it, even those sure-in-my-faith-as-the-Pope-is-Catholic Christian folk. Getting out of bed every morning and attempting to convince others (and myself) that it’s worthwhile to stop chasing status and financial security and control and assurance and comfort (and maybe happiness) and some well-laid-out-plan-of-a-shiny-predictable-life-of-blessing-and-an-even-better-afterlife and instead encouraging them (and myself) to follow a radical, dirty, homeless, overthrower of systems, challenger of religion, who was killed for causing too much ruckus and defying the status quo, well, that’s ridiculous.
And it isn’t necessarily making me happy. Most of the time I feel anger; anger at injustice and cruelty and apathy, both within the church and the greater creation. And I most definitely feel anger and sorrow when I observe the ways we kidnap religion as a power play. So I inundate myself with theology and dreams for change and practical solutions for the perils of the world, and, usually, I just end up feeling sad; sad and sort of hopeless.
I often consider if I would be happier if I watched more football or ate more ice cream or took more naps or owned more boots or got more compliments or just gave up the dream and let the world be. Perhaps I would be happier. But I imagine this happiness would slowly, nonchalantly, penetrate my outermost parts until my innermost yearnings and foolish desires to follow a radical Rabbi were encased in a hard shell of comfort and cut-off from the madness that is God’s unconventional dream.
And well, that happiness looks hollow to me. Enticing, but hollow.
So I plan to keep my anger and my sorrow and my seeming hopelessness. Because what is hope if it can’t stare straight at hopelessness and shout, “I beg to differ!”? What is faith if it can’t stare in the eyes of sorrow and doubt and mangled reality and claim, “This is not the end!”? Perhaps hope is only hope when hope seems least possible. Perhaps faith is only faith when we don’t have any answers or assurance or control. And perhaps happiness isn’t the best way to be happy.