A pastor I know recounted a story of how he went to a parents meeting at his kid’s school and when the teacher asked the parents what they wanted for their children he and his wife were they only ones who didn’t simply say they wanted them to be happy. It’s not that he and his wife don’t want their kids to be happy but that they want so much more than that for them! A life devoted to mere happiness is a life that is missing something very important.
Love fills life with meaning
I simply love scrapbooking and preserving memories! If I do something amazing but cannot take photos of it I feel like a crucial part of the experience has been missed – I love experiencing it but at least half my joy comes from capturing that experience, getting to relive it through my scrapbooking or a framed photo and being able to share it with others.
Likewise it is not the same to simply have a great experience if you have no one you can share it with, show it too, or even tell about it. Happiness gives you a good experience but love means you are connected to others who you can share it with! Our best and most important occasions are always shared with friends and family – sure eating cake makes us happy but eating cake alone on our birthday would not make many of us happy I think!
Love brings other people into our lives and us into other people’s lives – being involved with other people has been shown time and again to have huge benefits for our emotional, psychological, social, and physical well-being but it does not always make us happy – it is deeper than that. As Proverbs chapter 27 verse 9 says, “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”
Love is outward facing
Happiness can be just about us but love always requires another person. Happiness is about what we want but love is about our needs and wants as well as other people’s needs and wants. The funny thing is, even though when we love we have to stop just thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others, it actually brings us greater joy and satisfaction than we would get from simply being happy and doing things for ourselves. God’s Math is different to our Math – in our system if one chocolate bar makes us happy then two chocolate bars should make us twice as happy but actually it is often the case that hoarding good things makes us unhappy and miserly whereas sharing what we have enables us to not only enjoy what we have more but also to be able to enjoy the other person’s enjoyment of our gift!
As it says in Proverbs chapter 11 verses 24-25, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
Love brings the greatest joy but requires sacrifice
The most profound way in which love is better than happiness is that everything that brings the greatest joy in life is done through love and sacrifice. The things that people value the highest – a marriage, raising children, achieving excellence in their field of passion, and especially being a Christian are the most fulfilling, joy-bringing, satisfying, worthwhile things to do.
Yet, if you evaluated them simply on the basis of do they make you happy then you would have to say no: no I do not want to look after my sick spouse, no I do not want to put up with my whining children, no I do not want to get up at 4am every morning to train for the Olympics, and especially – no I do not want to be criticised by people for my faith, to resist my worldly desires, to face danger and persecution for professing to believe in the one true God!
We are people who have been fed the lie that happiness is all that matters – if your spouse does not make you happy – have an affair! If looking after your elderly parents does not make you happy – dump them in a rest home or bully them into requesting euthanasia, if having a baby does not make you happy – just make an appointment to have them killed. This is a dangerous and toxic lie that is wrapped up in such a nice pretty package – who can say that happiness is wrong?
Thanks be to God that he did not choose his happiness over his self-sacrificing love for us – 1 John chapter 3 verses 16-18, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Jessica McPherson lives with her best friend and husband, Eoin and their family of rescue animals in Christchurch. She loves reading, writing, photography and scrapbooking but most of all sharing God’s love and truth with a hurting world. Jessica is particularly passionate about encouraging children and building them up in gospel truth.