When Happiness Isn’t the Point

17 Jun
A sketch of the crucifixion drawn by St. John of the Cross.

A sketch of the crucifixion drawn by St. John of the Cross.

I sang the Sunday School songs along with all the other four-year-olds, not much thinking about the words until I was too old for them. “I’m happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time. I’m happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in, and cleansed my heart from sin, I’m happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time.”


St. John of the Cross wrote Dark Night of the Soul, not the script for Mythbusters. As a 21st-century Christian, however, his book performed that function for me. Among the busted myths, I especially appreciated the following five.

  1. Genuine Christian mysticism is nothing like that Eastern mysticism many of us are familiar with. St. John—one of the most famous Christian mystics—writes about spiritual growth using almost scientific precision. Maybe he isn’t always accurate (I’m in no position to judge), but he would not get on well with a Zen master.
  2. Real Christianity has nothing to do with being “happy all the time.” Period.
  3. Being “passionate about God” (St. John prefers the word “love”) does not mean that thinking about God always makes you feel happy. The opposite can be true at some points in your life. If you’re really passionate about God, you seek Him even when the process of seeking is painful or seems hopeless.
  4. Having faith in God does not mean feeling lots of positive emotions about how God is working in your life. Like loving God, faith is about following, not feeling.
  5. Times of spiritual emptiness can be a catalyst for spiritual growth. In fact, St. John contends that without a period of emptiness, spiritual growth is impossible past a certain point. Sometimes your spending a long time without feeling God’s presence actually allows Him to reveal Himself to you more fully.

It’s easy to see how God uses our happiness. But we cannot afford to forget that God also uses our times of frustration, depression, and darkness. A friendship that only involves going to amusement parks would be a pretty thin one.

“How secret is this road and ascent to God,” writes St. John, “and how different from that of man’s knowledge….Ordinarily that which is of the greatest profit in [a relationship with God]—namely, to be ever losing oneself and becoming as nothing—is considered [by man’s knowledge] the worst thing possible; and that which is of least worth, which is for a soul to find consolation and sweetness (wherein it ordinarily loses rather than gains), is considered best.”

If you’re not “happy, happy, happy all the time,” don’t worry. Happiness isn’t the point. God is.


Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Spiritual Writings


Tags: , , , ,

2 responses to “When Happiness Isn’t the Point

  1. Laughter of Lowly Things

    June 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm


  2. LS

    June 19, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Well said. I know for myself, my hardest times are definitely the times when I am closest to God, as your last quote pointed out.
    However, I am still trying to learn point 5. It’s hard talking to God when you don’t feel like He’s listening, which for me, tends to result in my talking less, and thus hearing less, which doesn’t really help with spiritual growth…


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