I’m not sure I’m good enough to be happy.
This revelation has occasionally popped up like an untimely pimple. A frightening glance in the mirror reveals that the lion-share of the thieves of my contentment are due to deficits in me.
Not that God will make happiness envelope me like a warm, goose-down, winter parka if I can simply muster enough goodness, as if happiness is my reward for doing well on my report card--like free donuts from Krispy Kreme for all A’s.
I don’t mean that.
Our Inner-Lives Bully Happiness Away
I am suggesting that our capacity for happiness is diminished when our character is depleted, when our desires become ADHD, or when we are suffering from God-allergies.
Let’s explore this unoriginal hypothesis using the Seven Deadly Sins as a diagnostic tool.
7 Ancient Reasons We Stand in the Way of our Own Happiness:
1. We are too proud to be happy.
Pride is a “competitive vice” as CS Lewis has aptly described, a complete “anti-God” state of mind. When I am proud, I am in competition with everyone, all the time. I can only be happy, if I win (which requires someone else to lose).
So it isn’t enough for me to be stunningly handsome. Because as soon as I go to a meeting with other pastors I admire at a church where being a brilliant, athletic, former male-model is an apparent pre-requisite for pastoral staff, I am destroyed.
Those guys are double- dashing! Tan. Muscled. Properly tussled hair with just the perfect amount of product for that fresh, “just-hopped-out-of-the-shower” look, and high-cheek bones to boot! And spiritual, wise, winsome, and excelling in general pastoral awesomeness!
If pride is coursing through my life, then every compliment, every bit of acclaim, every advance in another’s life is going to diminish me. And I am going to be a defensive wreck, always needing to put others down, so I can be lifted up.
How does it feel when your peers are praised for their beauty, their intelligence, their business acumen? Pride is that little, imaginary finger tapping you on the shoulder, whispering, “But what about me…?” “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” But we all spend a lot of time right there.
2. We are too envious to be happy.
Envy can be described as “wanting everyone else to be just as miserable as you are.” (Buechner) Or as the opposite of the Scriptural adage “to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice.” It is “rejoicing with those who mourn” and “mourning with those who rejoice.”
Related to pride, the irritating rash of envy means that so long as good is happening to others, I am undone.
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is the modern version of this. My best friend’s glam shot on Instagram makes my life look extra-dreary and causes a depressive fog to choke out my joy. And of course, Cain wound up an exiled murderer, because he couldn’t stand the smile of God on his dear brother, Abel.
3. We are too angry to be happy.
“Anger” is the “juice that love bleeds when you cut it.” (CS Lewis) Often my self-love is injured, because others don’t consider me as much as I would like, or worse, may not even realize I exist. This makes me furious. I want what I want and now!
Furious people find happiness elusive. Walker Percy suggests that conservatives are disproportionately effected by anger, suffering as they typically do from “unseasonable rages, delusions of conspiracies, high blood pressure, and large-bowl complaints.” Fox News seems angry. Not very happy. So are a lot of Christians and “SJWs”.
4. We are too lustful to be happy.
A lustful prowler “wants it, not her.” Lust makes us “love” love, not actual people--dream of romance, not of caring for an actual Romeo or serving the Juliet beside us.
Dante’s Hell, like a bedroom community to the town center of eternal egotism and unruly appetite, pictures an adjacent Circle of Lust as “the squall which never rests, sweeps spirits in the headlong rush, tormenting, whirls and strikes them.”
Our lusts blow us around “like lawn chairs in a hurricane.” (Rod Dreher) Mighty hard to be happy when our cravings call all the shots in our lives.
And it’s plum near impossible to know contentment when your sexual life becomes the tyrannical dictator of all your other decisions. Of course, it doesn’t work out very well for one’s victims, uh, I mean, partners, whether real or imagined (doesn’t much matter to lust) either.
5. We are too gluttonous to be happy.
What if this food I’m feeding my toddler isn’t organic? What if they are out of “kale and quinoa dip” playfully prepared with “shallots, garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice?”
Whether the anxious fuss of delicacy or the volume-seeking ravenous “raiding of the refrigerator to cure a spiritual ill,” both leave us hungry for happy.
Again, our appetites get way too much sway making us “beasts with bellies” (Reggie Kidd), pre-occupied with food and drink, and not all that much else.
6. We are too greedy to be happy.
“Maybe,” opines Lee in East of Eden, “everyone is too rich. I have noticed that there is no dissatisfaction like that of the rich. Feed a man, clothe him, put him in a good house, and he will die of despair.”
Greed can dull us or drive us. It can lead some to their own personal episode of “Hoarders” and others to Trump Plaza. Whatever extreme it creates, it makes contentment impossible. There is always more to be had. And I always have too little.
It’s a money sickness easy to spot in the miser with too many cats at the end of your road, in the Wall Street fat-cat in New York, or even, in the over-indebted family next door with the new Sienna mini-van and the perfect lawn, but nearly impossible to detect in the mirror.
7. We are too slothful to be happy.
Sometimes nothing tastes. And we are inveterate blamers, not on our taste buds, but on the flavor of our circumstances. Pascal suggested “all of man’s unhappiness comes from his inability to sit alone in his own room.”
Boredom or the “self being stuffed with the self” (Percy) is a soul problem that lures us into a lot of franticness, trivial pursuits, and exhaustion. Anything to avoid an intolerable visit alone with ourselves (“the very self we inflict on others for all our waking hours!”).
Sloth can also suck every desire from us, leaving us numb and super-glued to the recliner, remote in one hand, IPA in the other, becoming one with Netflix while we binge watch “House of Cards.”
It’s awfully hard to be happy when nothing is worth bothering over and a lot of what’s worth bothering over comes from the interest, attentiveness, curiosity, affection, and esteem we bring to it. Sometimes we are just too “pancaked as a person,” flattened from a crippling lack of yeast-y virtues that would aid the rise of interest in our lives.
When “I” is Too Much in My Own Eyes
You’ll notice the common theme in all of these observations is “We” are occupying too great a space in our own lives.
Isn’t it then curious that when Jesus teaches prayer, He suggests that we pray against ourselves in a way?
For that’s what we seem to be doing when we earnestly petition, “Hallowed by YOUR name, YOUR kingdom come, YOUR will be done”---as if something about a catawampus universe might just be righted if God were wanted and adored more than anything...and we somehow got a restorative demotion in the process.
The surly and camel-sweater wearing John the Baptist appropriated this lesson well: “He must increase, I must decrease.” What if our grasshopper-chomping friend had a clue to contentment?
If so, then a good Lenten aspiration is for us to self-forgetfully seek Jesus, apart from whom we are stuck in ‘the gloomy little dungeon of ourselves.”
Who knows what might happen? We might just find all manner of happinesses added unto us as well.
And we may also be relieved to discover that though the grass is always greener on the other side, as soon as we get there, we no longer kill the grass.
Eric Youngblood is the senior pastor at Rock Creek Fellowship (PCA) on Lookout Mountain. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GEricYoungblood.