“I just want my kid(s) to be happy.”
“Ultimately, we just want them to be happy.”
“As long as he/she grows up to be happy, I’m good.”
I hear this kind of talk among parents all the time. And I’ve said it on occasion too. But after further thought, I’ve decided that no, actually, I don’t want my kids to be happy, at least not all the time. Before you condemn me for being the worst mom (which may still be true, for any number of other reasons), let me explain.
At ten, my eldest pretty much has the emotional immaturity and volatility of a boy his age (or occasionally, half his age). At the same time, teachers, friends, and DH and I are often awed by Son’s intellect, insight and ability to articulate his beliefs and observations (when that emotional volatility doesn’t win out, that is). And because he’s able to contemplate and discuss rather profound subjects, now and again we enjoy some pretty awesome and meaningful conversations with him.
While driving to skateboard camp the other day, I asked Son what he wants for his future. Long-term. Life-term. Not so much the tangible things – you know, like career, domicile, station, etc.. But really, what kind of life does he hope to live? Whatever it may be, I suggested he start praying over it now, and every day, with faith and confidence. Then I passed on a truth treasure from author/evangelist Beth Moore: God may or may not always give us the answers we want, but He will always answer us. Because He loves us so. After all, God is Love. (1 John 4:8)
Last night, as I tucked Son into bed, he said,
“Mom? I thought about that question. And I already started praying for it. I want to be happy. Yeah, I want to always be happy. And kind and caring. And successful!”
“I’m glad you started praying about it. That’s great. But you know what, honey? Mommy actually doesn’t want you to always be happy.”
(Cut to puzzled expression on Son’s face.)
“Because if you were always happy and never sad, never hurt, never lonely, never disappointed, what kind of person do you think you’d be? Would you be thankful for everything you had? Would you be able to understand…or comfort other people? Would you know what compassion is? If you had a friend who had everything he wanted, all the time, and never knew what sadness or disappointment felt like, what do you think he’d be like?”
“Well, he’d probably be spoiled. And maybe not very thankful. And kinda selfish too.”
“Why do you think? I mean, I think so too. But the reason is…I believe people have to experience sadness for themselves to truly appreciate happiness, and loneliness to appreciate relationship, and “need” to appreciate “enough,” and failure to appreciate success. Sometimes it’s opposites that make things clearer, more…recognizable. Make sense?”
He nodded. And then drifted off to sleep.
As I sat up in bed later that night, I thought about it some more. So much easier said than done, Mom. (Oh, the things we know in our heads but our hearts protest!) No one, myself included, enjoys hardships and hurt. But God promised his people a better life, not better life circumstances. And towards that promise, Love allows — not causes, but allows — pain into my life to mold me into the best Anita I can be. And by “best” me, I mean the least me. The least self-centered, least self-indulgent, least self-sufficient. Rather, my “best” me is God-centered, humble, patient, compassionate. So Love reminds me all the time that I need to “die to self.” And man! It’s the hardest thing; it just don’t come natural to an impatient, impulsive, instant gratification kinda gal. My self-love doesn’t always manifest itself in the form of selfish pleasures, fun and vanity either. Sometimes it’s buried in stubborn anxiety, dejection, indignation — all indications that I’m consumed by my own worries, my troubles, my pride…me, me, me. BUT, when I’m deeply and genuinely content and grateful to God, regardless of my circumstances (even when they’re crap), I have joy. And happiness just has no measure against joy.
Don’t get me wrong. Whenever my children suffer, my heart will hurt alongside theirs. I won’t feel “happy” when they’re unhappy. When they’ve suffered an injustice. Lost a friend. Failed a pursuit. Been bullied, dumped or ditched. But I’m okay with all that. Because I know each and every one of their heartbreaks can be used to make them more humble, wise, compassionate, Christ-like.
It’s all about Romans 8:28. If you follow me on Instagram, you may recall my abso-favorite verse:
“In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
The discerning Tim Keller once paraphrased this to mean that God only brings into our lives what we would have prayed for if we knew everything God knew, and, I think, if we could grasp the fathomless depths of His love. Keller elucidates three principles for finding joy in Christian suffering found in Romans 8:28-30:
1. Your bad things will ultimately turn out for good;
2. Your good things, the truly good things (e.g., salvation, redemption, God’s presence, love and acceptance) can never be lost or taken away; and
3. The best things are yet to come.
So Son, Daughter, Baby Boy, I don’t want you to “just be happy.” I pray you be joyful and content in any and all circumstances, even the “unhappy” ones. I wish you great faith in God and love and compassion for others, that grow out of His great love and compassion for you. And I promise that with each tear, each disappointment, each heartbreak, I’ll do my best to be there with a band-aid, a tissue, an ear, a shoulder and a prayer. A mother’s prayer.
[POST SCRIPT: Just a week or so after I posted this article, Disney Pixar released family film “Inside Out.” After a friend watched the movie and told me she found it uncanny that I’d just written this article because its themes were so closely aligned with those covered in the family film, I took my kids to see it. I have to admit I was surprised myself, not having known or heard anything about this movie. Its message definitely goes hand-in-hand and even beyond, to show how there are elements of sadness even within joy, and that often healing can only come about once the wounds of sadness and pain are uncovered. I highly recommend this film for adults, tweens and children who can handle deeper, heavier content. Just make sure to take a pack, or box, of tissue!]