Today, I am re-using a post from the past, not because of the lack of time, but because it is a re-run in my heart. This lesson surfaces for me every Mother’s Day, so I bring it back for you.
The common room was peaceful. Wheelchairs were gathered about, but most of the residents slept with chins on their chests or heads lolling to the side. Vivian paced, ever restless, ever moving. Sarah was curled on the couch asleep, resting from her constant wandering. The TV prattled on, but no one noticed. The noises faded into the background. In the otherwise peaceful setting, Thelma’s cries of “Help me! Somebody help me!” and the smells of Pine Sol and urine fought for our attention.
But our focus was on my mother. Apparently oblivious to her surroundings, she sat at the table where she had eaten lunch. She seemed uncomfortable—tilting a bit in her chair, blouse stretched around her middle, crumbs resting in her lap. Her lips were hidden, safely tucked between her gums, a habit begun when her partial was removed several months earlier.
We struggled to have a meaningful visit with a mother whose world was framed by the present moment, a loved one who no longer remembered us. She was more lucid today than at most visits, but communication was difficult. Then I remembered the question of a friend at church.
“Mother, a friend asked if you’re happy here. Are you happy?”
After her usual pause to process what was said, she answered, “Am I happy? I haven’t considered that.”
She contemplated the question, eyebrows wrinkled, sucking her lips in and out of her mouth as if priming the pump. Finally, she responded in a lifeless voice, “What does it take to make happy?”
I said, “That’s a good question!” How do you answer that? What does it mean for a person with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease to be happy? After some thought I said, “I guess happy means contentment. Are you content?”
Shiny white hair framed her lifeless eyes as her lips moved in and out, in and out. Did she understand? Was she still with us?
Her lips never slowed, in and out, in and out. Should I repeat the question? Or change the subject? I glanced at Robert for clues as to what I should do.
Finally, in her characteristic flat voice she said, “Yes. I’m content. You could say I have contentment.” It was evident she spoke the truth. Her memory was gone, but she answered with understanding. And with wisdom.
We often fill our time seeking happiness. But how many have stopped to ask, “What does it take to make happy?” A ninety-three year old in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s could teach us all a lesson.
We search for happiness according to dictates of society—in possessions, success, prestige, or fun (entertainment, immorality, food, drinking, . . .). We think we’ll be happy if we can just get what we want, so we pursue temporal fulfillment of personal desires.
Before we spend so much time, energy, and money seeking happiness, maybe we need to stop and ask, “What does it take to make happy?”
Mother’s question was profound, but a better one might be, “What does God say it takes to make happiness?”
I checked it out and found a very different picture from the self-centered happiness that we pursue.
The primary words in the Bible for happy —in Old and New Testaments—are often translated blessed. It seems that happiness is the same as–or comes from–being blessed. But I still found some surprises. For example:
“Happy is he who keeps the law” (Prov 29:18, NASB).
“Happy is he who is gracious to the poor” (Prov 14:21, NASB).
“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves” (Job 5:17, NASB). Reproof leads to happiness? That’s what it says!
“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed” (1 Pet 4:14, NASB)
“Behold, we count those blessed who endured” (James 5:11, NASB).
True happiness is closely related to our relationship with God and receiving something through His hands—even if that something is reproof, or being reviled for His name. Genuine happiness is deeper than our circumstances. It’s a gift from God.
Likewise, happiness and contentment are closely related, so I wasn’t too far off the mark. We may seek happiness through personal temporal gain, but God says, “Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6, NASB).
My mother has been rejoicing with the Lord for several years now, but her question remains, “What does it take to make happy?”
Proverbs sums up the answer to the question. “Whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he. (Prov. 16:20 NKJ)
That answer leads to another question, “Are you trusting?”–for that’s the only way I know to be truly happy, especially during reproof, reviling, and enduring.
Meanwhile, I like being happy, so I’m working on the trust part too. How about you?.