Maybe not happiness

There are two reasons I try not to be dismissive of Joel Osteen: 1. I’m really trying to train my heart to assume people are well-intentioned (with a healthy dose of my trademark skepticism, of course). 2. We seem to be equally vain about our teeth and hair. I’m afraid it is a general conflation of all things religious, rather than that our similar vanity, that causes people to assume he and I share a Christian theology, and causes Twitter to suggests I might want to follow him. With all due respect, I’m not interested. I’m looking for something that promises more than happiness.

It’s not that I don’t like happiness, or prosperity, but that I refuse to make them idols. It’s not that I don’t enjoy happy-clappy, feel-good worship, but that I want to also worship in grueling, bitter times. it’s not that I don’t believe in blessings, but that I don’t believe they always take the forms we want or expect.

So Joel, and all you other prosperity Gospel types, I’m glad for you, with your perfect houses and spouses and ministries. I probably wouldn’t turn those things down either. But if I look critically at my own life, I have to recognize that prosperity might come at a cost, because there are things that I want more than wealth.

I want to give until I’m exhausted, then push myself to give more, training like a marathoner for acts of generosity. I want to be with those who suffer and be able to see that it is injustice or bad choices or just bad luck that has them down, not an absence of wishful thinking.

My faith has grown more in tear-soaked sorrow than in toothy-grinned happiness. I have cultivated hope – a conviction that even if things are bad, even if they could get worse, faith is worthwhile,;that God is present, broken, with us; and that God’s ends ultimately prevail even if they are far out of our sight. I don’t see how any truly hopeful person, anyone who has hard-won faith, could fail to be enraged by optimism disguised as hope.

Today’s Gospel speaks of God’s favorite ‘little ones’. Jesus repeatedly took the side o the powerless and promised rest from burdens – not to bless with material prosperity or an easy life. I will keep working not to begrudge people their happiness or their optimism. I might even go in search of them myself. But if life presents me with a choice between contentment and discipleship, I pray I won’t choose happiness. I’ll choose salvation.

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6 Responses to Maybe not happiness

  1. Great post! It is really true that we learn more from the experiences of Paschal Mystery – the suffering in our lives – than from the happy times. We learn the depths of Jesus’ sacrifice and how persevering in the face of adversity is only possible because of what he did on the Cross. Prosperity Gospel proponents will never be able to give a satisfactory answer to why bad things happen to good people. It isn’t because they aren’t praying enough or for the right things. Thanks for putting Joel Osteen and his fellows in perspective. More people need to say this.

  2. Joyce Alper says:

    “My faith has grown more in tear-soaked sorrow than in toothy-grinned happiness.” Love it! Wonderful post, Meg.

  3. Emilia says:

    What drives me nuts about that and some other strains of Evangelicalism is the way it makes God one’s personal genie. Those theologies seem to suggest that if we say the right words in the right way, or if we follow the right rules, all our heart’s desires will be granted, because we will have succeeded in breaking God’s “code” or something. I really think that God is much too big and much too mysterious for me ever to be able to punch in the right code and unleash blessings upon myself. They come freely, unexpectedly, and often in unrecognizable forms.

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  5. Pingback: By the Grace of God I am who I am | Felice mi fa

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