I don’t think there is anything that rules our lives more than a moment by moment attempt to be happy. We will try just about anything to stabilize our moods and maximize our personality. Why? Because we know what it is like to be sad.
When I was in my early twenties, I was not good at following the Lord. I knew him, trusted in him, and I vowed to get back to him…at some point in the near future. But then, I was committed to making myself smile and laugh. Without fail, this smile always came by way of hanging out with my friends looking for girls to “conquer,” with lots of alcohol involved. Don’t get me wrong: I was never addicted to the alcohol, but I was addicted to the fun, laughter, and escape that came by way of being with my friends.
My mother, who brought me up in the Lord, did not know what she did wrong. She would vacillate between her anger (which often led to me being kicked out of the house) to some sort of tactful compromise in an attempt to make me think she was a “cool” mom. She was unstable and unhappy. Her life, at the time, was filled with sorrow for reasons I will leave unsaid. Though she was a strong believer, she never could find footing for her daily smile.
One summer night, I was at a bar where I hooked up with this girl. That night, on a whim, I decided to move to Arizona with her and some of my friends. Why not? We had nothing better to do.
I left my mother with hurt feelings wondering where she went so wrong with her son.
I “lived the life” in Arizona. My friends and I became masters of video games, drinking, pot, and girls. We would wake up each day, laughing to the point of tears about the stupid things we had done the night before, or the fights we got into for no reason at all. It was the life! The smile would not leave my face, and I was really happy. However, deep down inside I knew that these exploits could not last, and were wrong. I just kept telling Christ: “I will be back soon. I promise.”
I remember one time when my mother called me to pick a fight. It was one of those times when she was not the “cool” mom, but the one who wanted me to evaluate my life and see the direction in which I was headed. In tears, she told me how disappointed she was with me and asked me how I turned out to be like this.
I felt sorry for my mother. I really did. You see, she was not happy. She was crying. She was always sad about something. She was always trying to push herself or someone she loved in the most difficult direction: toward the good. In hopes of helping her, I decided to present to her the wisdom I had accumulated over the past twenty years.
“Mom,” I said, “Why are you acting like this? Look at you. You are always unhappy. You never seem to have a smile on your face. You don’t have fun. . . And look at me. I am happy. I love life. I laugh and have fun all the time. I look forward to each day and the exciting things it might bring. Now . . . why do you want me (the happy one) to be more like you (the unhappy one)?”
Deep breath and silence. I had finally set my mother straight, and said what needed to be said. Now, maybe she would leave me alone. I was happy. She was not.
“Michael,” she said after a long pause. “Sometimes life is not about being happy. It’s about doing what is right.”
I don’t remember what I said after that, but I know that these words hit me. Hard. Could it be that her wisdom was greater than mine? Could it be that it is better to do the right thing when it is hard, exhausting, and, frankly, no fun? Could it be that God wants us to do what is right, even when it comes at the expense of laughter and smiles?
But for how long? How long do I have to be downcast? How long do I have to live without having fun? To where am I supposed to escape in order to get relief from a world full of sorrow and pain?
Nowhere? Doing what is right is better than happiness?
But doing good is so tiring, and it is lonely. It brings more tears than anything else. Why does the Lord put us in such a position? Why doesn’t doing what is right make us the happiest?
The Lord will remove all my pain, sadness, and frowns one day. But not today. Sometimes life is not about being happy. It’s about doing what is right.
I put down my white flag that day and got back into the battle. I still have the temptation to check out, but her words will never leave me.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]