Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Paradox of the Plan of Happiness

Draw a circle at the middle of a piece of paper.  That represents you and a precious gift God has given to you—your agency or free will.  Now draw a sun at the upper right corner and some rain clouds at the lower left corner.  The sun represents true happiness and freedom.  The clouds represent bondage, outside discipline, and unhappiness.  Now draw an arrow from you up to the sun and another arrow from you to the rain clouds.

This is how we began a recent Family Night at our house.  Our kids were fixated on the brownies we were going to make afterward, but gradually, through the use of questions and the assurance that they would be able to lick the spoon and brownies bowl afterwards, they became more and more interested in the following ideas.  

The two paths

We are free to choose two paths.  The path of discipline and responsibility leads to true happiness and freedom. Once we see that, our attitude about that path can become positive and even joyful.  The other path leads to outside discipline and/or a form of bondage or addiction to drugs, habits, or negative emotions.  The outside discipline becomes necessary when we don’t develop inner discipline.  I gave my kids an example: “That’s like Mom sending you to your room until you can find the inner discipline to be as sweet as a frosted brownie.” 

God influences and encourages us in many ways to be responsible, but we sometimes give in to tendencies and temptations that take us the wrong direction, that take us away from God and true happiness.  “Now,” I said to my children, “I’d like to ask you a key question: which is the easy path?” 

The paradox

Which path is the easy one?  My kids were certain they knew.  Obviously, the lazy path is the easy path.  My wife responded, “Well, it is the easy path…at first.  Eventually, it becomes the hard path.”  Yes, the easy path is the hard path—that’s the paradox.  The responsible path ends up being an easier road.    

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Does that mean following Jesus is easier than sitting on your buttinski eating brownies?  I think it means that He helps us bear up under our responsibilities through his grace. It also means that when we find ourselves going the wrong direction, we can turn around and move forward.  That’s repentance. 

A prisoner repents

We have a friend who currently resides in a state penitentiary.  He did something that was wrong and lost most of his freedom for awhile.  He’ll tell you that it’s hard being a prisoner.  Fortunately, one reason Jesus came to earth was to set the prisoners free.  We can repent of non-productive choices and get on the right path, the path of happiness and freedom. 

Here are the words of my friend, the prisoner: “I have no problem now working hard. I believe in doing what I can, with what I have, where I am at.  I have learned that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  That’s his attitude now.  He wants to work and be responsible because he knows it will make him so much happier.  Now listen to him describe the attitude that created his problems and led him down the wrong path:

“I used to be a slacker.  I could not keep a job because I would not show up on time or perform poorly on purpose.  Now I see that even a tiny job in prison is something to appreciate.”  It seems evident that the lazy or irresponsible path can become the hard path. 

At this point in our family discussion, one of my children said, “When I am honest and do my chores, it feels like the sun is shining inside me.”  I couldn’t think of a better conclusion, so I said, “Let’s have a prayer, make some brownies, and keep living. 

Note: The quote from the prisoner is by permission.  “The Statue of Responsibility” is a related blog entry and the first entry on this blog.