If you happen to turn on your television or computer (or even open your newspaper or advertising mailer), you’re likely to see advertisements of people who are happy because they purchased the latest Thing – a new car, a new truck, new prescription medicine, a new streaming service, a dating app, even a hamburger and a Coke.
What’s missing from most of those advertisements is a disclaimer that buying that thing won’t necessarily make you happy. The car or truck will get you from point A to point B, the streaming service will entertain you, the dating app might find you a romantic partner, and the food will give you the calories you need. You might even enjoy those things. But given a little time, the happiness boost you get from buying whatever is listed for sale will wear off.
This is where I’m supposed to tell you that the spiritual high you get from finding Jesus won’t wear off… but it will.
Growing up, my wife and I were both taught if you are a Christian, you’re supposed to be happy all the time. We were taught that your smile is a witness. You’re supposed to smile so that other people will know that Jesus is who’s making you happy and, hopefully, ask you why you’re happy so you can tell them the reason is Jesus.
There’s just one problem with that: When you follow that advice, much of the time, you’re telling a lie.
When you smile to try to win over unbelievers with your smile, you’re not actually smiling because Jesus is making you happy. You’re smiling because you’re trying to convince someone else that Jesus is making you happy – whether Jesus is actually making you happy or not.
This is especially problematic when the love of Jesus isn’t making you exceedingly happy, which happens a lot more often than some Christians might be willing to admit.
A former therapist of mine once told me our emotions are all linked together. We can’t turn one off without turning off all of them. So ironically, if we put on a happy face regardless of how we actually feel, and refuse to feel anything other than happiness, this can actually lead to us being unable to feel any emotion – including happiness!
Besides all that, Jesus does not tell us we have to be happy all the time. In fact, Jesus himself frequently experienced emotions other than happiness. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it’s not the only place Jesus is said to have felt something other than utter bliss. If being in a relationship with Jesus is supposed to make you happy all the time, I suspect that would be news to Jesus, who also felt the full range of human emotions.
So maybe a better witness to Jesus would not be to fake happiness, but rather to live your life and feel your emotions, whatever they are, knowing Jesus is with you through all of it.
This column by Rev. David Schell appeared in The Herald-Palladium on August 20, 2022.