I don’t really know why, but happiness is not exactly my favorite concept in life. I tend to consign happiness to the kind of superficial pleasure we’re constantly being sold on television, the radio, and through any and every media outlet in the world. We’re completely saturated with suggestions of what will make us happy. Sometimes all the happiness hype is rather exhausting, isn’t it?
As our grief slowly moves beyond the pain of loss and loneliness, often we ask ourselves, “Will I ever be happy again?” Usually we answer almost automatically because the reply seems so intuitive, “I might be happy again if only something would change so that everything would be better”.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5: 4 NRSV) is a rather counterintuitive promise that assures us that because we mourn, we will be blessed or happy. So how do we reconcile blessedness and mourning with comfort and happiness? Maybe we should look at it this way: because we mourn, we’re comforted and when we’re comforted, we’re blessed or happy. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
And because mourning is the expression of our inmost sorrow, grief insists that we mourn before we’re blessed with real comfort and happiness. Happiness, then, is the reward. It’s the result of something we’ve already done: we have mourned. Happiness comes to us by indirection, “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:4 MSG).
As we do the work of grief we come to understand that happiness is the by-product of our inner stability rather than a reflection of our outward security. For when we grieve, we necessarily explore and discover - perhaps for the first time in life - the depth of our inner stability. We see what we’re made of. We get acquainted with ourselves on a new, soul-searching level. And what we find when we plumb the depths of our inmost being is that happiness is really the triumph of our inner stability over our temporal, outward security. The truth is that happiness begins where we are, from within our heart. Authentic happiness is an inside story.
A few days ago I was sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon finishing up another week’s work by writing a few letters and some checks. It was quiet, the day was bright, the outside world seemed somehow peaceful and calm after the chaos of the holidays. As I enjoyed the sunlight on that brilliant winter day, I realized for the first time in a very long time that I felt happy. I was happy to be doing something as normal as ordinary work, I was happy to be in a pleasant office, I was happy to have some time to pause and reflect on the events of the past year. I felt a certain spiritual happiness which I knew had nothing to do with the transient peace of the moment.
One of the best lessons grief teaches us is the difference between momentary happiness and abiding joy. At this point in life I’m much more interested in deep, soul-satisfying joy than in here-today-gone-tomorrow happiness. So when I peeked under the edge of this rare experience of undiluted happiness, it gave me great pleasure to discover something much deeper – joy. Joy that I felt useful, joy that my life had meaning and purpose again, joy that my years of sadness and grief were at last at an end.
Really, joy has an indescribably quality all its own, doesn’t it? Joy is profound gratitude. Joy is the balance of peace and hope deep within our heart. Joy is the outcome of grief that’s ours forever because we love, even in the face of death. And at the end of the day, joy is the ultimate quest of our grief journey. Thanks be to God for soul-renewing happiness in the gift of great joy.
Happy are people who grieve, for they will be made glad.
Matthew 5:4 CEB
Keep me this day, O God, in the happiness of your joy. Amen.