Get Happy - Joseph Wood

At the start of Lent one year, a seminary classmate of mine declared that he thought people were going about Lenten devotions all wrong: “"Don't give up something that makes you happy, because God WANTS you to be happy. Instead, give up something that makes you sad." When I first heard the comment, I had a pretty negative reaction. What was this Joel Osteen, Prosperity Gospel nonsense? I worried that my friend was offering up half-baked, feel-good theology that only encouraged our indulgences. After much discussion (and a heated word or two), he slowly convinced me that he was on to something. He wasn’t arguing that our seasonal piety shouldn’t be difficult; rather, he was drawing an important distinction about the perspective with which we approach that struggle. Too often, we lose sight of the preparatory nature of Lent, being so caught up in the somber and penitential mood of the 40 days that we go a little overboard—letting the season be colored by suffering. God doesn’t want us to suffer. Let me repeat that: God does not want you to suffer. Instead, Lent is about letting go of some of the things that hold us back individually and communally, that keep us oblivious to the Divine message echoing all around us. Whether you’re taking up a practice or forgoing one for the next few weeks, remember to give that space over to listen, really listen, for what God might be saying in your life. As American theologian Frederick Buechner points out, that kind of listening is intrinsically linked to our happiness: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That’s the Easter promise, that’s what Jesus revealed to us throughout his life, death, and resurrection. (Think that A-word we’re saving for April 16th.) Lent’s all about preparing us to hear it and, more and more, live it. Amen.