Originally posted April 6, 2013
“It’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly- that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about- the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies-is suffering, affliction.”- Malcolm Muggeridge
Something inside me cringes when I hear someone say “Well, I just want my kids to be happy. Isn’t that what we all want?” I do not want my kids to be happy. Or to put it another way, I do not want my kids simply to be happy. Simply hoping for their happiness seems to be aiming way to low. In fact, I think aiming for their happiness misses the mark entirely.
Think about it. When a child is 2, it might make him happy to take toys away from his baby sister. Or it might make a 4 year old happy to treat a parking lot like a playground, running around freely, blissfully unaware of dangers. A teenager may feel happy playing video games and ignoring the looming project that is due. Or it might feel really good to gossip about that girl that has been mean to her at school. In these cases, every parenting instinct kicks in and says lovingly but firmly “no.” We know in those cases it’s not OK to pursue what feels like happiness when it could harm our children or others.
But what about when it doesn’t appear harmful? What about the happiness that comes with a new toy or a trip to the mall? We want to provide our children with happy moments, right?
Well, yes, and no. It’s fun to see smiles on Christmas morning, or with a spontaneous treat just to brighten a day, but I think we actually rob our children when we try to bring them from moment to moment of fun and pleasure. We buy into the lie that life is about grabbing for every shiny object, every new experience, every fleeting pleasure. It’s a lie because each of these things, or at least the feelings of happiness they bring, are so painfully temporary. When we indulge in this behavior, it teaches our children to flit from experience to experience, never landing, never feeling satisfied, always looking for the next thing, always looking for…joy.
What is the difference, then, between happiness and joy? “Happiness is tied to circumstances and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.”– Brene Brown. Joy is that deep sense of well being that is not so easily shaken by status, belongings, weather, money, etc. Somehow, we need to instill in our children that there is something so much more satisfying then the next thing.
So, in not limiting our goal to happiness, there is a protective measure, and there is a desire for our children to have deeper joy. But there is something else. There is that desire for our children to learn and to grow. And this, in all honesty, does not come through trips to Disneyland and new bright shiny objects. It comes through struggle, through failure, through heartbreaks and disappointments. And that is a really hard place to come to as a parent. We don’t want our kids to suffer. I love how Sara Groves wrestles with this very idea in her son “Prayers for This Child” : I do not know how to pray for this child. I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild. But in the trial…I learned how to hold on to the heart of God.”
Which brings me to the quote I used to start this entry. We learn the most significant lessons from hardships and suffering. So if we know this to be true, why would we simply want our kids to be happy? Happiness is fleeting and superficial, and teaches them only to seek endlessly after what ultimately will not satisfy them or build their character. So what do I want for my children? I want them to know love and show love, I want them to act justly and to love mercy. I want them to walk humbly with their God. I want to instill into my children a sense of purpose and deep joy and peace that cannot be shaken, regardless of their circumstances. This is what I want for my children.