I’m prone to what used to be called melancholia.
According to Hippocrates, melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile. A person with a preponderance of black bile was said to have a melancholic disposition, characterized by low energy, a lack of interest in activity, sadness, restlessness and hypochondria.
I’m a real picnic, aren’t I?
Today melancholia is better known as depression. Frankly, I'd prefer to be described as suffering from a preponderance of black bile – it sounds medieval and appealingly gross. Suffering from “depression,” on the other hand, just sounds depressing.
I don’t like having depression. I don’t like having to take medication every day to stave off feelings of hopelessness and ennui. It makes me feel weak and pathetic and dependent, like I should simply be able to “buck up,” as I frequently tell my kids, or “snap out of it.”
I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.
Most days Cymbalta does the trick. It keeps the anxiety at bay and helps me feel optimistic, positive and energetic. On some days I’m downright cheerful.
Despite the 25 milligrams I swallow with my morning coffee, though, the melancholia occasionally rears its biley head. And on those days, as I try fruitlessly to resurrect happiness and contentedness, I instead sink further and further into wallowing self-pity, frustration, anger and sullenness. On those days I expect that I should be happy, even that I deserve to be happy…yet I’m not.
And this irritates me.
“God did not create us to be happy,” said Pastor Greg in this morning’s sermon, after reading the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12.
Say what? God didn’t create me to be happy? This is big news, people!
Maybe this proclamation shouldn’t come as a big surprise to me. But it does.
Up until today, I think I’ve always assumed quite the opposite: I think I’ve always assumed that God did, in fact, create me to be happy. Turns out, I’ve been wrong.
It’s not that God doesn’t desire our happiness or rejoice along with us when we experience it, but he did not create us for the sole purpose of being happy on this Earth. God has more important work for us to do, and if happiness is a by-product of that, terrific. And if it’s not, well then that’s to be expected.
My problem is that I’ve always felt entitled to happiness. I want it, therefore I expect it and feel that I deserve it. But then I read this, which turns the notion of happiness as an entitlement on its head:
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.
Those are the Beatitudes.
Do you see any mention of happiness in there?
If you look closely at those familiar verses, you'll notice that nowhere in the Beatitudes does Jesus promise happiness. In fact, you'll see that he suggests just the opposite: that the blessed are those who are poor, grieving, persecuted, merciful, pure, humble and just. Not exactly conditions ripe for happiness.
What I’m beginning to realize as I mull over the Beatitudes and today’s sermon is that happiness isn’t an entitlement at all, but simply a gift. Happiness is grace: unearned and undeserved...and perhaps a lovely foretaste of what's to come.
What do you think about Pastor Greg's statement that God did not create us to be happy? Do you think happiness is something we are entitled to?
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Oh, and let me add...even though I do my best to read and comment on each of your posts, it *may* happen that I don't make it by to every one each week. Two boys, summer days, lots of clamoring to play Uno...you know how it goes! And so I thank you in advance for your grace!