The Search for Happiness

In my early years of ministry I came across a story about the search for happiness. I do not know when or where the story originated, only that it has been around since at least the 1980’s. As I read it back then, the tale was of an unhappy woman searching for happiness. Everything she had tried, had neither filled her spirit or her soul with any kind of joy. One day she consulted a woman known for her wisdom. She is told that she will find happiness if she will return to the wise woman with a mustard seed. This is not just any mustard seed. The mustard seed must come from a home that has never known sorrow. Desperate for answers the unhappy woman set out on her search. At every door she asked the same question. “Is this a home that has never known sorrow?” Through villages and towns, wherever she went, the answer was always the same, “No, you came to the wrong place.” A painful story almost always followed that statement. Some deep grief or loss, a tragedy or a dream that was never fulfilled was part of the history of that home.

Yet, the woman persisted in her search . . . Knocking on door after door in her yearning to find a home that had never known sorrow and the magic mustard seed which would bring her happiness. Along the way she heard of losses that brought tears to the teller and the listener. Becoming immersed in the stories of those she visited, she became skilled in offering comfort and encouragement.

One day she realized that the old heaviness of heart was gone. She now knew that she would never find the mythical mustard seed, nor would she need to. Happiness was hers, whenever she sought to comfort, to love and to care for others in their pain. In consoling hurting people, she found purpose and meaning in her life. Joy followed in her path.

One of the great truths of life is that it is in giving that we receive. Whenever we search for happiness, happiness eludes us. Happiness cannot be found as a force by itself. Instead, happiness comes as a by-product of a life well lived. George Bernard Shaw once commented in an analysis of John Buynan’s Pilgrims’s Progress, “This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a weighty one. . . instead of a feverish little clod of aliments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Jesus put it this way, “Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Jury Duty and the Question “Isn’t Christianity all about Forgiveness and Redemption”

“Isn’t Christianity all about forgiveness and redemption?” was the question I was asked last week, as I sat as a potential juror in a courtroom in Hennepin County’s Government Center. Hennepin is Minnesota’s most populated county. Criminal court would see a steady stream of trials that day. My trial would decide the guilt or innocence of a man who had been charged with conspiracy to receive stolen property, through a sting operation.

The prosecutor continued his questions by asking if I would be able to make a judgement about guilt. “How,” he asked, “would you feel if you had to make a judgement of guilty?” The man in front of us would face devastating consequences if he were found guilty. Not only the possibility of prison, but his immigration status would change. He could be sent back to West Africa where he would be separated from his family. From the prosecutors questions I knew what I had only suspected before, there would be no way that a clergy person would be serving on this jury. Our prosecutor was weeding out anyone he thought would tend towards leniency.

Until then, I was curious about our system of justice. My last experience of being contacted for jury service for a different court was during a very busy season in my life. I was relieved when my name wasn’t drawn for any actual case. But this time was different. Being retired has given me more time. My love of a good mystery fueled my interest in court proceedings in the actual world. I had not really asked myself how I would feel about finding a defendant guilty until that moment. What came to mind was a sense of heaviness – heaviness in my spirit, in my heart.

Not surprisingly, I was one of those who were sent back to the larger jury pool that day. The question asked of me, however has stayed with me. It’s not that I’ve never judged another person or made decisions that have impacted another’s life, through my judging. Jesus may have let us know that judging others put us in some shaky territory when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV) but it hasn’t kept me from being quick to judge way too often in my life.

I don’t know how it is possible to go through life without doing some judging. Being a mother of seven put me in the position of deciding who was guilty and who innocent on any number of occasions. Trying to be fair and just was difficult and challenging with competing stories. We make judgements when we decide who to trust and who not to. Throughout our lives we find ourselves in a position where it would seem the only response is to make an honest judgement, given the information in front of us.

I think that Jesus was getting at another type of judging . . . The way we too quickly blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick. We cast our stones at those we perceive have been bigger sinners that we are. We like to think of ourselves as superior to others. Casting our eyes about us on any given day, we are likely to size ourselves up as somewhat better human beings than others we are looking at. And when there is a scandal breaking in the neighborhood, office or on the political front, (especially on the other side of the political spectrum) we can quickly throw in our lot with those who criticize, while we secretly celebrate the downfall of another.

The problem is . . . We have this Jesus who called us to accountability. He asked then, as he asks now, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NRSV) God who knows us better than we know ourselves, is well aware of our faults and our failings. Marianne Williamson, in her book “Illuminated Prayers” writes these words. “Dear God, When they accuse me falsely, help them see the innocence in me. And when I judge, Lord, help me see the innocence in them.”

The prosecutor was onto something that day. Christianity “is all about forgiveness and redemption.” The forgiveness that allows us to live our lives washed from the stain of failure, mistakes and our own sins. And a Redemption which lifts us above yesterday’s mistakes, giving us the joy of a new and better life.