Summary: The things that rob us of joy are: 1. Living a life of isolation. 2. Living for the material world. 3. Living without Jesus.
How much money would it take to make you happy? A million dollars? Two million? Jack Whittaker, 57, won the largest undivided jackpot in U. S. History — $314.9 million — two years ago. But Jewel Whittaker, Jack’s wife, told the Charleston Gazette, “I wish all of this never would have happened. I wish I would have torn the ticket up.” Jack has been arrested twice for drunken driving and has been ordered into a rehabilitation program. He has been charged with assault after attacking a bar manager, and is being sued for causing trouble at a nightclub and a racetrack. There have been several thefts at his office and home, including a car. Apparently there are many other problems as well which are under investigation.
What would it take to make you happy? The people who go on The Swan or Extreme Makeover say that if they just had a chin, a smaller nose, or if they just had those bags under their eyes taken care of they would be happy. And what would life be without a tummy tuck and liposuction of the thighs? Bring on the holly and Botox and we will have joy this Christmas
The Christian faith has a very different perspective on happiness. We believe that joy is experienced in ways the world never seriously considers as real options. I want us to consider the things which rob us of joy, and as we do that, reflect on the things that lead to joy. Again, these are not really profound, but they are buried deep in the reality of what it means to experience joy and really be alive. It will mean, as Stanley Hauerwas is fond of saying, that we are living in such a way that we are going with the grain of the universe. The universe was designed in a certain way by its Creator, and it is important to live so that we are going with the grain of the universe rather than trying to always go against it. Life becomes very difficult when you are going against the grain. Joy is found when we begin to live in the surprising and simple ways that life was meant to be lived.
There are many things in life that rob us of joy, but I want to point out a few that I believe are prominent on the list. The first thing that I see as robbing us of joy is: Living in Isolation. Life was never meant to be lived alone. Stanley Hauerwas says, “I think Americans are very lonely as a people, and their loneliness desires a sense of belonging.” The answer to that is living in community. Essentially, that is what church is: it is a community of believers who are committed to God and each other. We are committed to love, understand and stand by you. There was a time in the church’s history that it was thought to be very spiritual to live alone with God. These were those who wanted to escape the corruption of the world — the ascetics, the mystics who lived a monastic lifestyle. They were recluses who withdrew to caves. Others retreated to monasteries, and within the monasteries withdrew into private cells. Some of the anchorites went so far as to seal themselves up in the walls of churches with only a small opening through which they could be fed and receive communion. Many of them had hallucinations and some went insane. Living without other people in your life is unhealthy and robs you of joy. Prisons have learned that solitary confinement is an effective punishment.
God’s plan for his people is not the monastery, but the church. The church is a group of believers who are the “called out” ones. We are called out of the world to live together in Christian community, and empowered by that experience of community, we are able to hear and obey God when he calls us back out into the world. But there are always those who want to be the Christian equivalent of the Lone Ranger, or in modern terms, “An army of one.” It’s just me and Jesus. I have my personal devotions so I do not need to be a part of a group. I will teach others, but I will not share with others in a group setting. This is an Americanized form of Christianity. I have literally had people say to me, “There is nothing that the Lord and I can’t work out together.” Oh, but there are things that you and the Lord cannot do alone. For one thing, you cannot love others when you are not around others. You cannot meet the needs of others. The radical individualism of our culture makes people believe that they can be a Christian with no connection with a church — other Christians. I have seen the unfortunate circumstance where an individual, or a single family, will become so narrow in their thinking that since no one believes quite like they believe, they draw the circle smaller and smaller until they are the only ones left in it. They don’t have any real contact with other believers. Still others simply don’t want to take the time to be a part of a body of believers and remain aloof. They believe in God, why do they need “organized” religion?