The Pursuit of Happiness
My one and a half year old daughter insists on her own independence. Every time I set her down in the driveway or the front yard, she makes a B-line for the street, and I have to run and grab her hand in order to redirect her. She squirms and tries to jerk her hand free, but I’ve learned from too many experiences that if I let go she’ll head right back for the street. Sometimes I want to shout at her, “I’m trying to keep you safe! Why don’t you understand that?” But of course she can’t understand the dangers of a busy street; she’s only one. And sometimes, when I think this, I wonder if God feels this way when I squirm and cry because I really want something God won’t let me have.
When my first child was born I was made to fill out a questionnaire to monitor Postpartum Depression. I scoffed reading some of the questions. Postpartum Depression? Postpartum Elation was more like what I had. But after the birth of my second, things got a little murkier. I was overjoyed to have my little boy, another person to love, but something felt a little off. Sometimes I felt guilty for loving my son so much, as though by doing so I was betraying my first daughter. Then I had my third and I found myself lying in bed late in the mornings staring at the ceiling and listening to my kids crying out for me from their bedrooms. I whispered prayers as I watched the blade of the ceiling fan go round and round. Please help me, please help me, let me get up, let me be the mother they deserve, please help me, why won’t you help me? Often I cried. Sometimes I wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I felt like a horrible mother. I felt like I wanted to give up, but could find no way to do so. I felt totally alone and helpless.
Without divulging exactly how I felt, I went to other moms for advice. They all told me the same things. “It’s hard,” they said. “You’re doing a great job.” “The fact that you’re worried about being a good mother means you’re a good mother.” But their advice felt flat. They didn’t really know me or what kind of mother I was. And still, I wondered why God remained silent. Was God even there at all? Was I being heard? Did anyone care?
I began seeing a therapist after months of struggling. She suggested that the things I suffered from were common for many stay-at-home mothers. This both encouraged me and made me self-conscious. Wonderful, I’m not alone. But maybe I shouldn’t be in therapy if my problems are so normal. Maybe I’m just a big waste of my therapist’s time. Then she began to brainstorm ways to reduce the stress in my life, not eradicate, but reduce. In a nutshell, she was asking me in what ways can I control the stress of my life? What are the things I can do to make each day go easier? Prepare meals while the kids napped so it’s easier to have dinner ready when my husband got home? Ask my husband to set an alarm on his phone indicating it’s time to start packing up and heading home? And what about the things I couldn’t control? Was there any point in dwelling on it if I was running late? No, not really. “If you leave 15 minutes late,” she said, “You’re going to arrive 15 minutes late.” Realizing I had some control made me feel a little better, but I was still missing a major aspect of my life: God.
God was still missing to me. I kept going to church regularly; I still prayed before meals and bed, begging for my faith to be returned. But I was lacking zeal. I felt my faith slipping and fear taking its place. I was living Ecclesiastes (“The sun rises and it sets…all is vanity”).
As I was going about my daily chores, sweeping the floor, folding laundry, I reflected on what I knew of happiness. From my studies in college I knew there were some philosophers who argued happiness is the goal of life in and of itself. Well that’s fine and good, but there were other philosophers who argued that happiness isn’t the end aim for life; that happiness is merely a byproduct. The true aim in life, I realized, is unity with God in heaven, and happiness is simply what comes of that unity. It’s a perk. But God didn’t say we all got to be happy all the time. In fact, Jesus showed us through his life, death, and resurrection that indeed there is to be suffering. He, who was from the beginning of time united with God, had to suffer on the cross for our sake.
The world, however, tells us differently. It tells us that the pursuit of happiness is all we have, all we should strive for. Whatever makes us happy is what we ought to be doing, whether it be wealth, power, sex, or love. Yes, even the good things in life can be misused. Even something as holy as motherhood can be tainted: if we bank on motherhood to bring us to that (misguided) end-goal, happiness, most of us will be terribly disappointed. Love brings us happiness, but it can also bring great heartache. My children filled my heart with great love and joy, and yet I still suffered from depression, a depression I’m still slowly recovering from. I let that depression affect my faith, and I am only just starting to recover from that, too, letting my faith slowly trickle back to me.
Logically, I know God never left me, but I felt the absence, and I’m still waiting to learn why. I may never know. I am my toddler, trying to yank my arm free of God’s great grip because I just don’t understand why I’m not allowed to walk in the street. I’m still in the dark, groping around for my faith with both hands, but I carry on; I keep moving forward, trusting that when the time is right, I’ll feel God pull me up to my feet and bring me into the light. I’m sure that eventually I’ll see God has been right here with me all along.
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