Monday, February 24, 2014

Happy Heart, Happy Home -- Part 3 The Value of a Cheerful Attitude

Relaxing at Key Largo

The Value of a Cheerful Attitude

There is a time for everything...a time to weep and a time to laugh.  Ecclesiastes 3

All people that on earth do dwell, 
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell
Come ye before him and rejoice.
Scottish hymn based on Psalm 100

Proverbs 17:22 says that a cheerful heart is good medicine.  Haven't you found that to be true?  I know that I feel better when I have a positive, hopeful attitude.  Not only that, but the joy of others energizes me, too.  

J. R. Miller wrote, "One of the divinest secrets of a happy life is the art of extracting comfort and sweetness from every circumstance.  We must develop the habit of looking on the bright side...Those who take cheerful views find happiness everywhere; and yet how rare is the habit.  The multitude prefer to walk on the dark side of the paths of life." 

To see the dreary side of things seems to come easily to our fallen nature, especially if we are of a melancholy disposition.  Complaining is common in this world, and, if we don't make a conscious decision to do otherwise, we may find ourselves participating in gripe sessions at work, at home, or on the Internet. 

Miller wrote the following description in 1880, but we've all been around someone who fits the 21st century version.  "There are those who take to gloom as a bat to darkness...They would rather nurse a misery than to cherish a joy....They appear to be conscientious grumblers, as if it were their duty to extract some essence of misery from every circumstance...They never find anything to their taste...They find fault with the food on the table, with the bed in which they lie, with the railroad-train or steamboat on which they travel, with the government and its officials, with merchant and workman, in a word, with the world at large and in detail."  

On the other hand, we've all known people who radiate joy.  As Miller writes, "There are rare people who always take cheerful views of life...They find some joy and beauty everywhere.  If they sky is covered with clouds, they will point out to you the splendor of some great cloud-bank piled up like mountains of glory.  When the storm rages, instead of ears and complaints, they find an exquisite picture in contemplating its grandeur and majesty.  In the most faulty picture, they see some bit of beauty which charms them.  In the most disagreeable person, they discover some kindly trait or some bud of promise.  In the most disheartening circumstances, they find something for which to be thankful, some gleam of cheer breaking in through the thick gloom. 

"When a ray of sunlight streamed through a crack in the shutter, and made a bright patch on the floor in the darkened room, the little dog rose from his dark corner and went and lay down in the one sunny spot, and these cheerful people live in the same philosophical way...Even in sorrow, their faces are illumined and songs come from the chambers where they weep.  Such people have a wondrous ministry in this world. They are like apple trees which when covered with blossoms, pouring a sweet fragrance all around them."  

God, through the apostle Paul, tells us, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life." Phil. 2:14-16

Cheerful people do shine like stars, and they have a strong influence in the world.  Christians who hold to the word of life with joy testify that the gospel really is good news.  Their happy faith is good medicine for their spouses, for their children, for their extended families, for their brothers and sisters in Christ, and, most of all, for a dark and hurting world.       

Sometimes, people who are of a gloomy, critical mindset are keenly sensitive. They feel their own and others' pain easily. They see life how it should be and have trouble making peace with anything that mars the good. It is only when sensitivity is combined with self-focus and a lack of faith that it becomes troublesome.. When focused on cheerfully helping others, this responsive nature can be a great gift.

Christian cheerfulness doesn't pretend that there are no problems in life, but it is based on a real and solid hope.  Jesus said in John  16:33, I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world."  It is Christ in us that gives us the power to embrace the cheerfulness that heals.   


Friday, February 21, 2014

Happy Heart, Happy Home -- Part 2 

Happiness principle number 1:  True happiness is found only in the Lord. 

Chasing happiness for happiness sake can lead us into some pretty depressing places.  Solomon discovered this about a thousand years before Christ came into the world.  Writing in Ecclesiastes, he describes his pursuit of pleasure, of human wisdom, of education, of creating beautiful dwellings and gardens, of wine, of sex, of laughter, and of comedy.  He looked to human governments for fairness and found only corruption.  He knew that he was the greatest, wisest, wealthiest, and most powerful king around, yet he saw that he would perish and that along with him, his greatness would die, too.  He would heartily agree with the saying, "You can't take it with you when you go."  After studying life from a purely human viewpoint, he sums it all up as meaningless*, empty, and unsatisfying.  

How did Solomon get to such a dreary place? He started life well. In I Kings 3, we read that God offered Solomon anything he wanted.  Rather than choosing selfishly, Solomon asked for wisdom and discernment so that he could rule his people well. This pleased the Lord, and he not only gave Solomon the godly wisdom he desired, but many other blessings, as well. Not only that, but the honor of building the Lord's temple fell to Solomon, for his hands were innocent of the bloodshed committed by his father, David. He enjoyed a wonderful relationship with God and the love of his people.  If happy circumstances alone can make a happy heart, surely Solomon would have been the most joyful of men.

However, Solomon went against God's wisdom and substituted his own earthly thinking.  Rather than marrying a God-fearing woman of his own people, as God commanded, he made a political match with the Egyptian pharaoh's daughter.  This alone showed his weakening faith in the Lord.  Rather than depending on the Lord to preserve Israel from any enemy, he chose to nullify the Egyptian threat through an unhealthy alliance.      

After that, Solomon kept on marrying foreign women.  He acquired a total of 700 wives and 300 concubines, most of whom worshiped idols rather than the true God. As God had warned, these wives turned Solomon's heart away from the Lord and into the worship of their idols.  

Nehemiah 13:26 says, Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.

Without trust in the Lord to order his priorities, Solomon could no longer enjoy the blessings that the Lord had showered on him.  He pursued these things for their own sakes, and he found them burdensome.  The things that were meant to equip him and to bring him joy became empty.  He pondered why it is that a simple laborer found satisfaction in his marriage, his labors,and his sleep, while he -- the king who had it all -- found no peace and no joy.  

Yet, while the laborer is happy, he, too, will die one day.  What, then, will come of all that the laborer toiled for? Those who die and pass on are hardly remembered on the earth.  Their wealth is given to others who might not even know them. Solomon ponders the fate of the righteous and the unrighteous, of the just and the unjust, and he concludes that we are all powerless in the face of death.  Not only that, but we are all subject to the suffering that has become part of a fallen world.  Sometimes, this suffering is the direct result of our own folly; sometimes, it is through no fault of our own.  Most of all, we are powerless in the face of judgement.  This all points to our universal need for a Savior and to our universal need for grace. There is happiness in obedience, but we must never think our obedience is complete enough to save us. True righteousness brings satisfaction; self-righteousness is as empty, if not emptier, than hedonism.      

Happily, Solomon came to his senses and returned to the Lord.  After completing his investigation of life under the sun**, he came to the conclusion that it is the Lord who provides the meaning of life.  Wisdom and intelligence, properly applied, are blessings.  However, we don't have to have it all figured out to enjoy life, for God will make things clear.  

Solomon writes: The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,whether it is good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Fortunately for us, Solomon's study of life does provide us with some jewels of happiness.  Just a few I've found are 

1)  There is a time for everything.  Understanding this helps us cope with life's changes and also to choose actions and thoughts that are appropriate.  Ecclesiastes 3:1
2)  What if you commit a great error and someone of influence in your life becomes angry with you.  Stay calm!  Do your job.  Ecclesiastes 10:4 
3)  Live with the end in mind -- you will die and face the judgement of God (unless the Lord returns first).  Remember the Lord in all that you do, and, when you reach old age, you will look back on a life well lived.  Ecclesiastes Chapters 11 and 12
4) Don't waste your youth in worry.  There are many wholesome pleasures in life provided that you remember the Lord in all that you do. Ecclesiastes 11 and 12   
5)  Youth can be a time of intense desires for various things.  Don't just give way to your desires. Begin early to live the kind of life that will bring you peace in your old age.  Remember the Lord.  Ecclesiastes 11 and 12. 

* You probably know that the Hebrew word for this emptiness is translated as Vanity in the King James Version.  Thackery borrowed this word when he wrote Vanity Fair, a book in which many characters pursue courses in life that lead to disappointment.  
**  Solomon uses the phrase under the sun repetitively in Ecclesiastes.  Some think that this means life as viewed from a purely physical or earthly perspective and without a heavenly perspective.  Others think it simply means life on earth or life in the realm that God created and over which God rules.    


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy Heart, Happy Home -- Part I

Happiness is a baby granddaughter -- little Rose!

A cheerful heart is good medicine.  Proverbs 17:22a
Who is happier today -- are men or are women?  Are women happier today than they were in 1970?  A 2008 research paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania offers surprising answers to these questions.  Here's a quote from the abstract:
By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the
past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well‐being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.  The paradox of women’s declining relative well‐being is found across various data sets, measures of subjective well‐being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries.  Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well‐being than did men. 
There are many theories why this is true.  Most center around the fact that women face increased expectations, so much so that they never feel as if they are succeeding in any one area.

It's a no brainer that women who try to balance career and home might feel that they can never measure up. Researchers have found, however, that this feeling begins in the teens, before women enter the work force. Not only that, it can strike women at home, as well.

A friend of mine was listening to her daughters and daughters-in-law talk about what I call Pinterest syndrome.  They believe that if they throw a children's birthday party or invite people over for dinner or decorate their house that it must be Pinterest worthy.  These young women, who are a mix of women in the workplace and at-home mothers, all feel that they can't live up to Pinterest style.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love, love, love Pinterest.  To me, it's the ultimate magazine, one in which you get to pick the subjects you want to view and read about.  I find it relaxing to look at lovely homes and gardens, fashion picks, interesting books and art, sewing ideas, recipes, and the like.  However, I know it's time to step away from the computer when I start to compare my life negatively to the beautiful images that I see.  I no more expect to achieve total Pinterest style than I do to step out of the pages of Town and Country magazine.

I agree that one factor in women's feelings of unhappiness is today's increased expectations.  I think there's another issue, as well.  Happiness is both a gift from the Lord and a skill.  Sometimes, our parents, churches, and educational institutions foster the art of joy.  Other times, we learn happy, healthy ways of thinking along the way.  However, in our busy world and our increasingly cynical culture, not as many of us are nurtured in cheerfulness as some previous generations were.  There's no need to look back on those good old days with nostalgia; as Stephenson and Wolfers say in the abstract of their paper, there are many ways that our lives have improved in recent centuries.  Not only that, but suffering and frustration have been a part of human life since the fall of mankind, and we are naive to think that ours is the only generation that has suffered a lack of happiness.  Yet, mastering our bodies and our emotions in wholesome, joyful ways isn't a huge part of our modern outlook.   This is true despite advances in medicine and counseling that are designed to improve our moods.

So, what's a  modern woman to do?  If she finds herself less than satisfied with her life, are there things she can do to find contentment?   That's a topic that I want to explore in this blog series, "Happy Heart, Happy Home."  I hope you'll read along with me and add your thoughts in the comments box, as well.




Friday, February 07, 2014

Keeping your relationship to the Lord fresh and deep...

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:29-33
In the above verses, Paul uses the relationship between Christ and the church to teach us some important truths about marriage.  In reading this passage, we can also think about marriage in a way that helps us connect with our Heavenly Father on a deeper level.  Here are three things on which we can reflect:

1)  What are qualities we love about our earthly marriages or, if these things are lacking, we long for?  When we were single, what dreams did we have for marriage?

Some answers might be companionship, joy, fun and laughter, and intimacy.  We might long for someone who understands and listens to us.  We might deeply respect our husband or future husband, and we might also have a great desire to work with him towards various goals in life.  We might have or desire to have children with our husband. We might long to have adventures together. We might desire unity and peace in our relationship and in our home. I know that one thing I deeply appreciate about my husband is an undefinable something that has to do with home, belonging, security, and the shared memories of over three decades.

2) How might this relate to our relationship with the Lord?  In God is the fullness of all of these good things that we possess and long for.  Of course, the marriage analogy that Paul uses in Ephesians is only meant to go so far.  Since God is our Creator, Savior, and Lord, there are elements in our relationship with him that transcend a human marriage.  We do not worship our husbands, for instance.  Yet, many of the things we enjoy in marriage are found in more perfect form in Christ.

My husband knows me and "gets me" more than anyone else on earth does, yet he can never know me as well as Christ knows me.  My husband and I share a deeply committed love, but only Christ's love is perfect, eternal, and never failing.  God is the one who grants us joy and peace, which are characteristics of his nature.  My husband and I have physical children; God uses Christians to help others become new creations in Christ.

One of my favorite parts of the day is when my husband comes home from work and gives me a hug and a kiss.  I love to hear his footsteps, and his cheerful voice and whistle warm up our house.  Think how much more spending time with the Lord can be so encouraging.  Rather than letting my love for Christ become stale, I want to pursue my relationship with all of my heart.

3)  What are hindrances to a fulfilling relationship with our spouse?  Sin, of course, is the underlying cause of most issues.  When we allow selfishness, laziness, and distractions to eclipse our love for our husbands, our marriages become dull.  Doubt and a lack of trust can spark many a problem between a husband and wife.  Wives suffer when the spouse puts work, hobbies, hanging out with buddies, or -- perish the thought -- another woman -- ahead of the marriage.  Husbands, too, are devastated when wives puts her pursuits or another man ahead the marriage.  In the same way, the Lord asks us to love him above all other pursuits and to put away any idols in our hearts.

What is the cure for these ills?  Repentance.  Repentance can keep our earthly marriages fresh, and, even more so, it can refresh our relationship with the Lord.  Acts  reminds us that repentance brings times of refreshing.