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This semester I’m paying someone thousands of dollars to remind me that my happiness cannot be dependent on anything I cannot control, because that happiness is sure to fade and disappoint. We’re learning about wise leadership — strong leaders are encouraging, self-aware, proactive, and empathetic. And to be a strong leader, you have to know yourself.

In some ways this could feel novel or encouraging, but at 8:15 on a Wednesday morning, all I can think is that I’ve had the knowledge that happiness is not the ultimate goal preached to me from the pulpit for years, and this classroom focus on looking inward, rather than upward, feels like a bit of an empty answer.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 5:13) Joy, peace, and hope could easily be lumped in with happiness, but I don’t think that’s what Paul is aiming for. If we were to ask Paul, I think he’d tell us that to think just about our happiness is to think far, far too small.

In fact, I don’t know that God is all too concerned with my happiness. Happiness, after all, is rooted in the temporary and tangible, and God casts His vision for the eternal.

It seems like the church likes to chuck ourselves far down one path or the other — we either cast God as one who just wants us to be happy and materially #blessed, or we flip the script and equate pleasure with sin, assuming that God is dismayed when enjoy our world.

And in doing that, I think we think too small.

Christ came that we might have life, and life abundantly. Christ came that we might have Himself. In this world we will have tribulation, but we take heart, because Christ has overcome the world. We can enjoy creation, but we find our satisfaction in its Creator.

When we talk in my class about knowing ourselves better, and how striving for a virtuous life, as well as focusing on changing our attitudes rather than our circumstances, will make as strong, and perhaps happy, leaders, I think back to the leaders I value most. Those sacrificial men and women who died to themselves and followed in the steps of Christ. I think of those leaders, and I think about how the lives they led would not make me very happy at all.

Four-year-old Jessica loved cheeseballs, and she was certain that there was no limit to the number of cheeseballs she could eat. She hid out under the kitchen table, at an entire jumbo container by herself, threw up, and in doing so, learned just how far that happiness could go.

Twenty-five-year old me measures happiness differently, but I’m not too far away from the child who overindulged and learned the gross and hard way that sometimes we have absolutely no clue what will make us happy. It turns out sometimes I’m frightfully bad at knowing what I want. How then can looking inward be the way I steady myself?

I don’t think I can. I will never be able to full squash all of my fears, calm my anxieties, and bring about the deepest joy.

In John 15, Jesus tells us to abide in Him, to love as He loves, and to prepare for a world that will hate us because they hated Him. And why does Jesus say this to His disciples? So that in Him they may have peace.

He leaves them with this source of hope: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Happiness, whether found in the world or within ourselves, will always be temporary. But joy in Christ, in a world where we are guaranteed tribulation and trials, brings something far greater than happiness. It brings joy that cannot be crushed, an eternal hope, and a peace that passes all understanding.

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Jessica Fields

Jessica Fields is a coffee-drinking, world-traveling, soon-to-be graduate student. She grew up in Winston-Salem, went to college in Chapel Hill, and will be living in Brisbane, Australia for the foreseeable future. She is passionate about Jesus and the radically transformative power of the Gospel. She also loves baking and cozy afternoons, so consider yourself invited over for baked goods, coffee, and chats about faith and life!

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