Ronald explores how to actually be happy. States of desolation may have to come but they still aren't any fun. How can we work towards real happiness? How can we ask the Lord to experience joy along the journey?
Are you happy? I mean actually happy? Many of us are not happy and at times there is no apparent cause. For whatever reason, walking the spiritual path can be difficult and at the end of a day we may find ourselves wondering why we endeavored to walk such a path in the first place. Maybe it’s just a flash of a moment, but many of us in a moment of desperation wonder if satisfaction lies in other places. It happens to even the best of us.
At times we may feel tempted to be bitter or maybe we are bitter. This state can be compared to a barren wasteland where nothing is growing. If you look from this place, you may feel empathy for the state of a barren woman who is waiting for a child that never comes. There are many similarities between being barren and not finding joy in spiritual life. Maybe you also can find empathy for the barren women of the Bible who wanted nothing more than children of their own, but could not conceive. Even when living a life of obedience to the Lord, they could not always conceive. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was not a bad person; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was not evil either, but both were barren. We too may feel joyless, even while walking a path that is spiritual.
On a natural level, being barren can be devastating. Opportunities to adopt can fill that hole in a wonderful way, but that doesn’t take away the pain of not being able to give birth. On a spiritual level we all can find ourselves in a barren state, as well. Like a rocky and dry ground with no signs of life, our spiritual self can feel empty of joy and love.
Listen, we have a choice. We can cling to the rocky ground of going through the motions and wander the deserts of our own self-pity, or we can pray to the Lord for joy. We may have every excuse to be bitter, but we are also free to choose joy. I would like to read to you the words of Hannah, a barren woman whose story begins the book of Samuel, as she prayed before the Lord’s altar.
O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life. (1 Samuel 1:11-12)
Hannah’s words here are the heartfelt prayer that a wonderful use might come into her life and make her happy. As children I am willing to bet that most of us knew religion was created to help us become happy. It might not have been what we were taught or shown by example, but something in most children’s hearts tells them there is something higher, something that wants them to be happy. For whatever reason, this feeling tends to disappear to a degree when we reach adulthood. We may find ourselves believing that order alone was God’s goal for us, and that the joyful life is a fairytale. Although order is the door through which happiness walks, on its own it can leave us feeling a “servant’s misery” or just plain barren.
If you could only see how much the Lord loves you, how much he wants your cup to be overflowing with joy and peace, it would be easy to find spiritual joy. Joy is right here, right now, waiting for all of us, if we can only open the door. Through prayer, hope, and trust, the barren life can receive seed and become a garden full of wonderful variety, bearing fruits and beautiful flowers.
So how do we get there?
There are three steps to finding joy in our lives and they are represented by three feasts found in the Old Testament. The first, the Feast of the Passover, represents how each of us needs to have our lives purified from false ideas. This is a state of truth. The second, the Feast of First Fruits, represents the state in our lives during which we consciously use the things we learn in the daily choices we make. This is a state of good. The third feast, the Feast of Booths or Ingathering, represents the state in a our lives when we come to love and enjoy what is good. This is a state of joy from good. We are told:
When truths have been planted in good a person is no longer led by the Lord by means of truths but by means of good. This comes about when he wills good and does good from love and affection, that is, from charity. This state of regeneration or deliverance from damnation is meant by the third feast, which is called the feast of ingathering. (Arcana Coelestia 9294:3)
Pray for joy. Look within and find your happiness, because it is waiting patiently for you. If you can’t feel it there, ask for hope and trust that the Lord can bring happiness back to you, and you will be on the way. Believe that the path you are walking will take you to heaven. The Lord’s burden is light, even though hell would have us believe it is impossible, that we could never do enough to receive heaven. All that the Lord asks of us is to take the first step. Pick one thing to work on in yourself and commit to that path. This is enough to get the process going. (See for example True Christian Religion 530.)
Most of us are already doing all that the Lord would ask of us, and all we need to do is ask for His joy. The truth is that some of us would rather cling to the barren soil of a joyless order because we are comfortable there. We know what to expect in that barren order and don’t dare dream of anything more. This may be because we were let down in the past. Maybe we didn’t get the object of our desire—the person we thought we would be with forever or the dream job we thought was our destiny—but the happiness the Lord offers is not the joy of getting what we want, but the joy that lives in each moment through appreciating what we have; a joy that can’t be found in our future or past, but here and now; and a joy that does not dream big, but dreams what already is.
The Lord has something amazing for you just beneath the surface, if you only dare to open the door and let the Lord in. It takes time, but the path is worth it. My wish for you all is a joyful and happy journey!
Ronnie Schnarr is living in Bryn Athyn, PA for a few more months as he finishes up his Masters of Divinity at the Academy of the New Church Theological School (www.ancts.org). After ordination in May 2010, home is where ever the bishop sends him. In recent years Ronnie has led teen camps, managed NEXUS' (a camp for New Church teens) website, traveled in Africa, played rock music and generally kept it real.