There’s been a little part of me that is reluctant to say the three words that are routinely exchanged between people this time of the year. It has nothing to do with our current circumstances, I’ve felt the same way for a long time. Of course, I can’t completely avoid saying those three words because as soon as I hear them repeated to me, it’s knee-jerk etiquette to bounce them right back. I’d appear really rude and cold if I didn’t finish my half of the annual dialogue deal. “Happy New Year?”
It seems futile and insincere to me; fake and superstitious even. It’s like a mask that covers over something significant, serious and true about the reality of life and the future. On the morning of January 1st 2012, I visited the BBC News website and in the right hand column was featured the ten most popular stories of the day so far. Here are the headlines for six of those ten:
- Man dies in New Year party attack
- Detox is futile says charity
- Europe leaders warn of grim 2012
- Woman falls to death in St. Lucia
- Climber, 19, dies on Scaffel Pike
- Police search for bridge leap man
Of the remaining four stories the only two that could be interpreted as good news concerned the Duke of Edinburgh walking to church and a Swedish lady who found her long-lost wedding ring wrapped around a carrot growing in her garden (nope, not kidding, BBC actually qualified this as ‘news’). Heart warming as that might be to some, even if Disney reanimated those two stories I doubt we’d glean enough happiness from them to last the next 364 days.
A line from a song by one of my favourite college-days bands seems to be the motto of the general public this time of the year:
‘…It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last…’ – A long December, Counting Crows
But is there really any reason to believe that in the passing from one particular day to another that the subsequent 300+ days will be better than the last? It’s not as if on midnight January 1st the whole world mystically renews itself and starts with a clean slate. For as much reason as there is to believe that next year will be better than the last, there’s at least as much reason to believe that it will be worse or no better at all; and a cursory look at the headlines confirms that.
It seems to me that New Year celebrations seem to be fuelled more by ‘hype’ than ‘happiness’! And to borrow the words from another group of poets whose lyrics used to fill my ears in my college days, I’m inclined to suggest: ‘Don’t believe the hype!’
Honestly, I am not writing this to cast a shadow on the New Year!
You have to believe me and I urge you to read on before bursting into tears! You see, I do believe that there is such a thing as a truly Happy New Year. The important question is how do you interpret ‘happiness’?
A lot of people believe the myth that if they have more or better (or both) then they will be happier: more money, more time, a bigger home, a better car, a better paid job, better family circumstances, better health, better relationships. Of course there are those for whom less is instrumental to their pursuit of happiness. As I write this I’ve lost count of the number of people jogging past our house this morning, presumably chasing the idea that they will be happier with less inches around their waist and less cholesterol in their arteries! In the past I’ve worked alongside a good number of people who would have happily accepted a lower paid job with less responsibility in exchange for less stress. But even these pursuits ultimately aim at gaining more: more health, more time for self, for hobbies, for family…and the list goes on.
On Sunday morning our Pastor preached the first sermon of the new year. The subject was happiness and in particular where to find true, lasting happiness. He opened the sermon by quoting from a fairly recent major study on happiness in our society…
“Surveys in Britain and the U.S. show that people are no happier now than in the 1950s – despite massive economic growth.” – Action for Happiness
The happiness that a lot of people are chasing and wishing one another is at best circumstantial happiness and by its nature it is fleeting and temporal. Circumstances change and happiness built on our circumstances being good – be they relational, financial, occupational, physiological, material or something else – will crack and tumble with time.
Perhaps right now, you are happy and optimistic about the New Year because of your circumstances. You have good friends, good health, a good job, a home and someone to share it with. But what if you didn’t have those things? Would you still be happy?
In our experience there is such a thing as true and lasting happiness that is not fuelled by circumstances.
As Annie and I review 2011, as we come to the end of the year, in many ways, most of our earthly circumstances have taken a massive hit. And as for looking ahead, humanly speaking, 2012 could be our most difficult year yet. The latter part of 2011 has been very tough. It’s been painful – physically and emotionally. The last week of December has not been easy. Following a very quiet Christmas, we’ve faced a stream of dreadful nights and difficult mornings. And as a result, even the simple pleasures of spending more time with friends over the Christmas week were dashed and replaced with reluctantly staying at home due to circumstances.
Annie’s body just seems to go from one problem to another. In the last few days, like clockwork, at around 4am she is woken up by an overwhelming pain in her leg and her back that has left her in tears while simultaneously being overcome with coughing fits so hard that they cause her to throw up. I’m not being gratuitous here. I am being honest about the reality of our circumstances. It’s not rosey. Honestly, at times like that, it’s really horrible. And frankly, not even the sum of all the better days have been enough to outweigh the hard ones.
Just the other morning, following one of those very difficult nights, I was feeling exhausted and I guess Annie could see that. Later on that day when we had a moment of respite, she said to me: “Ry, if Jesus’ desire is to call me home soon, it’s probably going to get much harder than this.”
In spite of the past, the present and the future we may face, our happiness is not shattered.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. – Psalm 1:1,2
As our Pastor reminded us on Sunday morning, the word ‘Blessed’ in verse 1, in the original language it was written in (Hebrew) actually means ‘Happy’. It’s the same word that Jesus used nine times at the beginning of His famous sermon, the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5).
The happiness being described here is neither singing while you’re winning nor grinning when you ought to be groaning. It’s a happiness that comes from walking through the best of days and the worst of days with the risen and victorious Jesus by your side. The more time we meditate on God’s Word, the more we hear God speak to us, the more we discover what God desires of us, and what God has promised us. The happiness we have is made up of a peace that comes from God and cannot be shattered (Psalm 119:165); the hope we have is a hope that no power (be it financial, political, physical, spiritual or anything else) can rob us of (Romans 8:38-39).
Not even our own sinfulness can rob us of that hope! As a teenager I remember buying my first study bible and in the front I wrote the words I heard first from my then Pastor, Paul Mallard: ‘This book will keep me from sin or sin will keep me from this book.’ There are times when Annie and I fail to walk in step with Jesus. And when you walk away from Jesus you walk away from the source of happiness. But His love and His power is… it’s irresistible. His Spirit always draws us back to the wonderful Truth; the Truth of the gospel; the Truth that on the cross Jesus paid for all our sins – past, present and future; the Truth that permits us and empowers us to get back on our feet so that we can follow Him and serve Him.
We are happy because we are forgiven by God; happy because He is for us, not against us (Romans 8:31); happy because we have been adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5); happy because we are His children (1 John 3:2) and He is our Father (Galatians 4:6); happy because Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2,3); happy because He – the All Loving, All Caring, All knowing, All Wise, Almighty God – dwells in us through His Spirit (1 John 4:13).
Annie and I cannot predict what the coming year will look like no more than you can. But there is one thing we can predict. We can predict that God will be sufficient for our needs and that He will never stop being faithful and loving. And that makes us very happy 🙂
“We don’t know what the future holds but we are beloved children of the Father who holds the future in His hands.”
It’s our prayer that everyone reading this would come to have the truly happy new year that comes only through walking with Jesus.