“Are you happy in what you do?”
And I notice that some of us, realizing the reality that we’re always overtaxed with our studies/work/ministries, and that our life as disciples is not a rosy one, tend to give this typical reply:
“Well, we may not always feel happy in the worldly understanding of happiness, but we experience joy in what we do.”
Huh? Is this just a textbook answer? Are we just covering up the pains and struggles we experience in this way of life? If not happy then say not happy lah! So diplomatic for what?
In ministries, we encounter many problems – because we feel for the people and carry in our hearts their many problems in life, and it pains us to know they’re suffering so much. As if these external sources of pains are not enough, internally we struggle with our own problems, shortcomings, inadequacies, etc. And as seminarians in formation, some of us have to juggle all that with community living and of course needless to say, the pains of assignments and exams. Now, honestly, are we really joy-full? Is this happiness?
Well, it depends how we understand the terms ‘Happiness’ and ‘Joy.’
[Disclaimer: For the sake of clarity, we use the term ‘Happiness’ in a secular sense.]
We can of course refer to the dictionary and understand the technical definitions of these terms. Or we can also ask those people who always give the typical answer above for their perspective. But since I am the one writing this blog entry, you have no choice but to bear with my understanding and perspective of these two apparently overused terms :) My sharing is in the light of my limited experience in ministries and my life in these few years of seminary formation.
My mum has always been the one responsible for the upkeep of the house, from preparing meals to the laundry and all household chores. Now, let’s say that lately she is not able to do all these because of a recent hand surgery. And let’s say I really hate doing all these household chores. Now I have 2 options before me:
1. Forget about the chores and spend my time watching TV
2. Help mum upkeep the house by doing whatever needs to be done
Now at the superficial level, I know I’d enjoy myself if I make the first choice because I love watching TV, and would be feeling miserable should I decide to choose the second option.
However, at a deeper level, if I were to choose the first option, not only would I know that my enjoyment wouldn’t last too long, but my conscience would come and haunt me. Whereas if I were to decide to help mum with the household duties, I know I’d get a sense of peace within me although doing those things was challenging and not pleasurable at all for me.
The worldly understanding of happiness can be seen in the enjoyment I get when I spend my time watching my favourite TV shows. It is something I like to do and it feels good to satisfy my desire. But this pleasure is just a short-term gratification. It may even have a counter effect, especially when our conscience kicks in like the example given above.
On the other hand, joy can be found in the deep sense of interior peace and assurance I get when I help my mum with the household chores. I may not enjoy doing those things, but the consolation I experience is profound and lasting. It’s not a matter of doing the right thing, but a matter of being true to my identity as a son.
This analogy may be too simplistic, but I hope it helps us distinguish a bit clearer the difference between real joy and superficial happiness. I’m not saying that by being true disciples of Christ, whether lay or otherwise, we will not have a happy and enjoyable life. But if our Master himself doesn’t have a proper place to rest [cf Mt 8:20, Lk 9:58], who are we to ask for more? If this was a musical, I’m quite certain that Jesus would be singing, “I beg your pardon? I’ve never promised you a rose garden!”
My emphasis here is not whether we will suffer or be happy. What is more important is that as long as we are faithful to our identity and be the person we’re called to be, we will experience real joy, one that the world cannot give. This is what keeps most of us going and smiling :)
Or are you merely happy?