I recently watched a television show where one of the characters was talking to her friend about her daughter. She expressed concerns that the man her daughter was engaged to wasn't a man of integrity or honesty. "I just want her to be happy," she said.
That statement, "I just want my child to be happy," seems like a good one. We nod our head, yes, of course, parents should want their children to be happy. But on further examination, it's a concerning statement. In the case of the television show, it kept a mother from speaking the truth to her daughter. While that was just a fictional situation, it's also a ruling standard in the real lives of many parents today.
The Pursuit of Happiness
In our culture, happiness is the highest goal in life. We pursue it at all costs through relationships, wealth, fame, and success. When it comes to our children, we seek their happiness at all costs as well. We sacrifice our time and money to provide sports and activities, the latest gadgets and toys, the best education, and memorable experiences, all in an effort to provide the happiness we think our children need.
When I use the word happiness, I mean the temporary feeling that comes through things, achievements, experiences, and positive moments. It's the feeling one has when everyone is singing "Happy Birthday" or when they score the winning goal in the soccer game or when they get the new toy for which they've waited all year. According to the world's perspective, such happiness is our highest aim in life, even to the point of doing things that are against God's law. In using the word happiness, I am referring to the world's view and the fact that it is one that we as Christians easily adopt as our own.
To be honest, I find myself doing the same thing. I seek out activities I know my children will enjoy doing. Sometimes I know I've failed when they complain that their day was "boring" and they "didn't do anything fun." While having fun isn't a bad thing, it becomes so when it's the first thing of importance in our heart.
That's where the problem lies. When we seek happiness apart from God, we're seeking a false substitute. That's why such happiness is temporary and fleeting. It wears off once everyone stops singing the birthday song and the toy we bought breaks. And so we seek to find something else to replace that missing feeling.
When we seek happiness apart from God, we're seeking a false substitute.
The question we have to ask ourselves is, What is our ultimate goal for our children and what are we doing on a daily basis to pursue that goal? And second to that is, What are we teaching our children about pursuing that goal? They say that what you spend your time and money on reveals what is most important to you. Based on how we spend our time and money, are we teaching our children that the pursuit of happiness is their ultimate goal in life?
A Worthy Pursuit
Scripture doesn't teach us that happiness is our highest goal in life. In fact, things we might view as antithetical to happiness Scripture reveals as good and necessary. David says, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Ps. 119:71). Three times Paul pleaded with God to remove pain in his life, but God decided it was better for him to suffer with weakness (2 Cor. 12). Our Savior didn't pursue happiness in His own life. He was the suffering servant, one who gave up His very life so that others might live: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). And contrary to the American Dream, Christ didn't even have a home to call His own.
As believers, if happiness isn't our ultimate goal, what goal should we seek for our children? What should we teach them to pursue?
The Westminster Confession sums up our life purpose and goal like this: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." This comes from passages such as "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). And "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you" (Ps. 73:25).
We need to live out this two-part goal in our own lives and teach it to our children.
We also need to instruct our children in what it means to bring God glory. God's Word is clear about what actions glorify Him. We need to read the Word with our children. We need to have them memorize it. And we need to help them live it out so that in all they do, in their thoughts, speech, actions, and desires, our children are learning to glorify their Maker and Savior.
Knowing God and being known by Him is our greatest joy in life.
We also need to teach and show our children what it means to enjoy God. David wrote that the one thing he wanted most was to be in God's presence (Ps. 27:4). Knowing God and being known by Him is our greatest joy in life. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.
An Abiding Joy
Our children will never know completeness and wholeness apart from Christ. Apart from Him, they will wander in a desert life, searching to fill their thirsty soul through empty and meaningless things. We need to teach them that they were created to enjoy God and that only He can satisfy their deepest longings. Being in relationship with our Savior gives us a deep abiding joy that stays with us through the ups and downs of life in a fallen world.
Our purpose as parents is not to make our children happy. It's not even to provide a life for them that leads to a good education, a high-paying job, or whatever else our society values. Our goal each day is not to give them things or experiences that keep them busy and out of our hair. Rather, we are to lead, guide, and teach our children their twofold purpose in life-to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Do you find it a challenge to raise children in a world where happiness is the highest aim in life? How can you teach your children to live for God's glory?