Faith is not your ticket to happiness—but something much better

The goal of faith isn’t what we get out of it, but what we are able to give because of it.

Evgenij Yulkin | Stocksy United

Although brick and mortar bookstores are basically endangered species now, whenever I pass by one of these poor, lonely shops I like to go in and browse a bit. The shelves in the spirituality section hold some particularly interesting reading. Often, the “Spirituality” books are indistinguishable from the “Self-Help.” Take, for instance, these titles from popular books: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life and Yoga: Guide to Healthy Living, and Living in Favor, Abundance and Joy.

See what I mean? I’m not saying these books are no good; they may be well-worth reading (I can use all the help I can get!), but the focus of the titles is telling. The covers sell these books as being all about what I can achieve through faith, and what spirituality can do for me. They seem to appeal to a consumerist mentality, with faith being sold by emphasizing how the returns will be worth the time and investment. I can become healthy, or achieve a more calm mental state, or find my way to blessings and miraculous prosperity. Which leads me to an important question: what do we actually “get” out of faith anyway?

If nothing else, faith ought to bring us happiness. It seems to reason that if indeed we are made by God and given a soul that responds to his love, then the more we seek God and return his love, the happier we’ll be. What is more difficult to understand, though, is how exactly we should define happiness, and whether acquiring it should be the main point of spirituality.

The human soul yearns for more than just what we find here on earth.

Some say that wealth brings happiness because then there are no more worries about money. Back when I attended chapel services in college, I remember more than one speaker telling us to “Name it and claim it,” meaning that God wants to give us whatever prosperity we desire if we only have the faith to ask. Others say that happiness is having a care-free, easy life, like always finding the best parking spot at the mall or songbirds serenading you while a rainbow lights your path. Or maybe true happiness consists of social status, such as the respect and honor you enjoy in your community, or even your church.

All of this sounds good and I would love it if faith brought these sorts of fringe benefits. But really, none of these bring true happiness because none of them last beyond this earth.

The human soul yearns for more than just what we find here on earth. That’s why we find happiness not in what we can “get” from our faith, but in how our faith sets us free to live a new sort of life, one that focuses on what lasts beyond our time here. Yes, faith brings a deeper understanding of self and our place in this world. It also gives us the tools to weather the challenges that life throws our way. But most of all, it empowers us to give ourselves away in love. When we love, we are truly happy.

It might be different than what you imagined or hoped, but in my humble experience the happiness faith actually brings is much better.

This is why faith—far from bringing us material comfort and other benefits—may actually be a bit dangerous. It changes our priority from focusing inward and trying to help ourselves, to focusing outward on loving God and neighbor, a point that Pope Francis recently made when he said, “Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.” That’s a tall order, and I admit that it scares me a bit. But as the author John Henry Newman says, “Do not fear that your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.” With faith, our lives might be more uncomfortable at times, but it also sets us free to make a new beginning and be truly alive.

So wherever you are in your faith journey—whether you go to church every Sunday and pray every night or whether you’re just trying to figure out if God even exists—be encouraged. Even if you find it difficult, you aren’t necessarily going about it wrong. Your faith isn’t defective or weak if you find it to be a struggle. It might be different than what you imagined or hoped, but in my humble experience, the happiness faith actually brings is much better. The goal of faith isn’t what we get out of it, but what we are able to give because of it.

Each week, Michael Rennier reflects on the Sunday Mass readings and pulls out a theme applicable to our daily lives. Today’s reflection is based on the Gospel for the 33nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Luke 21-5-19.

 

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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