Half-Truth Series: God Wants My Child to Be Happy

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My daughters and I recently saw the remake of Disney’s Aladdin. With “Friend Like Me” playing in the car, my youngest let out a sigh and said, “If only I had a genie in a bottle.” I asked her what she would do with three wishes, and she responded emphatically, “Well, first I would wish for a different dinner than what you’re making tonight because that dinner is not going to make me happy.”

Naturally.

But the truth is, there’s something dreamy about a genie who will give us our immediate wish at the snap of a finger. We all want to feel happy, and that means putting at bay what might infringe on our contentment, including broccoli-and-meatloaf dinners. And the state of happiness is not a bad place to be! Sometimes as Christians we shy away from the idea, thinking happiness to be only a “worldly” emotion. But believer in Christ, God delights in you and because this is true, He delights when you are happy in Him and in the creation He has made.

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” He exults over you with loud singing! Have you ever been in such a state of happiness and contentment that you just want to belt out in song? The emotions felt in this verse include that kind of happiness and delight. Jesus loves you so much that He can’t contain his robust singing over you.

But as Christ followers, God wants so much more for us than simply to be happy, and if we don’t understand the full picture of His intent for the life of a believer, it’s easy to become resentful in the seasons void of happiness. As parents, we need to do our best to help our children understand that the common mantra, “God wants me to be happy,” is only a half truth. There is much more that God desires for His children.

The World’s Definition of Happiness

First, while happiness is good and even Biblical, it’s important to distinguish between the world’s definition of happiness and the happiness that the Lord seeks for His followers. If we’re honest, our attitude toward being happy isn’t too different from my daughter’s: I want what will give me immediate satisfaction, and if meatloaf isn’t gonna do it, I want it gone. The problem is when our happiness is tied only to our immediate circumstances. While God has provided us with pleasures on this earth to delight in, He never intended for us to find ultimate satisfaction from our direct surroundings, which will inevitably change.

When our children begin to find meaning in life from momentary satisfaction, they are headed down a slippery slope. As a pastor, my husband has counseled with couples who have carried the world’s definition of happiness into their young marriages, only to be disappointed by the reality that even earthly love cannot provide happiness all the time. It’s amazing how many young couples become unfulfilled in marriage because their partner, “no longer makes me happy.” The world says, “Only be satisfied with what brings you happiness.” Jesus says be happy in me, the only true source of contentment.

God’s Definition of Happiness

When we believe that God wants us to be happy, we’re often envisioning him like the genie in the bottle who is supposed to immediately give us what we think will satisfy. But God’s concern is not momentary pleasure but eternal joy.

How does this translate in seasons of difficulty? Romans 8:31-39 reminds us that God has not failed us when we aren’t happy. If we expect God to bring us the kind of happiness the world says we deserve, there is no other response to hardship than bitterness and resentment. Jesus never promised that the life of the believer would be easy and happy all the time. What He did promise is that nothing will separate us from His love, and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Jesus offers happiness that transcends the world’s definition. It’s a joy deep down in our heart that produces a smile of gratitude when our surroundings are enjoyable and trust in our Savior when times are hard.

David praises God in the Psalms with singing and dancing even though his life was far from easy. As parents, we may need to consider showing our kids what it looks like to celebrate God not only in happy circumstances but to sing His praises through our tears because God is good always and forever.

God’s Ultimate Purpose for His Children Is Not Happiness

This can be hard for pleasure seekers to swallow. It’s difficult for us as parents to adjust to when we watch our children begin to face adversities like gossip, bullying, and lies. But the truth is, God’s primary concern is not our happiness and it’s not the happiness of our children.

What God wants is holiness. He delights when we are happy, yes, but ultimately God wants us to be holy.

1 Peter 1:16 says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” John Piper defines holiness in this succinct way: “Holiness is the newness of the human heart that no longer finds sin and self more desirable than God and goodness” (John Piper, Desiring God). The pursuit of holiness is lifelong.

The challenge for us as parents is to trust in the Lord when our kids face hardship rather than trying to control their surroundings in order to avoid it. Often times, as hard as it is, growth happens in the trenches. Our relationship with Jesus deepens when the waters feel as though they are going to overcome us, because it’s then that we learn who controls the storm and whose hand is strong enough to pull us out of the mud and mire.

We need God’s wisdom as parents to help our kids turn away from world’s idea of Jesus as a genie who snaps us into a place of fleeting happiness. And we need God’s strength to point them to the God of the Bible whose love is deep and wide, and who wants for us not what will bring momentary pleasure, but what will bring His children eternal joy.

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Zephaniah 3:17. What in this passage brings God so much happiness that He sings loudly? What else do you think makes God happy?
  1. Think of the one thing or person in your life that makes you happy right now. If that person or thing were no longer present, how would your happiness be restored?
  1. Sometimes it feels as though God doesn’t love us if something happens in our life that brings sadness or disappointment. How does Romans 8:31-39 show us that this is not true of God?
  1. What God wants more than anything is for you to love Him with your whole heart. How does love produce happiness even when circumstances might not feel pleasurable?
  1. The Bible talks about happiness, but it addresses many more emotions. In what situations might God actually want us to be sad or even angry?
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