bouncing back

IMG_2342I was visiting a church recently where someone said ‘Be happy! God wants us to be happy’.

I think I know what the person meant but I guess that statement felt a little bit artificial to me, like putting on a fake smile for a camera or spraying around some furniture polish so that the house will seem to be cleaner than it is.  (Of course I would never do anything like that.)  Surely God just wants me to be me.  God likes it when I’m happy but is fine with me feeling a little tired or angry or blue too.

I want my own children to be happy, but, even if I could, I wouldn’t wish unconditional happiness on them, unrelated to the circumstances of their lives.   I want them to feel a little bit sad if they are saying goodbye to a good friend.  I want them to feel angry about the injustices of the world (but not about losing electronic football matches). I want them to be bouncing up and down with true joy as often as possible.  But if they were always happy, they wouldn’t really be living or, for that matter, really loving.

I was privileged to get to sit in on a Year 11 end of year assembly recently.  (American friends, this is a bit like a graduation but just for the students and much less formal, without gowns or pointless hats.)  Part of the presentation was a slide show of that group of students’ history in the school.  Not surprisingly, they found this hilarious.  Every photo, showing slightly shorter and more innocent-looking versions of themselves made them laugh their heads off.

To an outside observer, however, they didn’t look all that different.  I know an awful lot happens between the ages of 11 and 16, but they were recognizably themselves.

God has loved us and rejoiced in our happiness throughout all of the stages of our lives and has also been there when we’ve been struggling or sad.  This is my favourite phrase from the baptism service used at our church: ‘ …all this for you, before you could know anything of it’.

Although it might sound strange, wishing someone always to be happy might not be the most loving thing.  Happy is good, but if you’re happy during an earthquake, you’re not very clever.  If you’re happy when a friend is crying, you’re a bit calloused.

Instead, maybe what we really want is the underlying joy and the confidence that we are truly loved, that will take us through life’s highs and lows and will keep us bouncing back. Yes, God wants us to be happy, but also to love.  And God knows that costs.