I chuckled this week when a podcaster described a “new” problem referred to as the “I’ll be Happy When…” syndrome. The podcaster must not realize that it’s the human condition that has been with us from the beginning: always striving after the world’s empty promises only to be left empty and wanting more. What began with Adam and Eve’s deceived assumption that they would be happy when they tasted the forbidden fruit continues to this day with our preoccupation with what we can acquire through our efforts. Just like our ancestors we discover that happiness eludes us because it is always moving according to the measure of our dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with the present drives our striving after new ideas, new concepts, new things, new remedies. Granted it is within us to discover and innovate but when it is disordered it can consume us and suck the life out of us.
Consider today’s reading from Psalm 13 which begins with a question we may often find ourselves asking if we suffer from the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. The psalmist pleads, “How long, O LORD?” and then proceeds to reveal his heart to the LORD, eventually concluding by remembering:
“…I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.“
The psalmist offers us a remedy for our discontent; when we recollect the LORD’s sufficiency, our minds shift our attention to our generous LORD. I, like the psalmist, sometimes find myself thinking about all the ifs and buts we are prone to place upon the LORD, ourselves, and those around us; it can take a lifetime to release our will to God. I grew up in an environment that inadvertently fostered a discontent with the present moment. The drive for the next thing to look forward to was consuming in those who influenced my life; it was an ill-fit for me. Happiness seemed to need to be scheduled with a whole lot of contingencies that drove contentment and peace into the future. The result was the restlessness that discontent fosters. Over the years I’ve witnessed up close the side-effects of the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. Have you? Perhaps you even suffer from it yourself? Let’s consider today’s Gospel reading from Matthew and the other readings from Sacred Scripture and look for the remedy the LORD offers for this human condition we fight against.
The account of an altercation the temple tax collectors had with Christ’s disciples recorded in St. Matthew 17 is almost humorous to me. I kindle to the way Jesus flippantly instructs Peter to “go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” There was a duty that needed attention, instead of Christ allowing the disciples to fret about it, he gave an off-handed instruction as if to say “Meh, it’s not a problem, I got this.” Those twelve men suffered in varying degrees from the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome just like we do.
What about you, friend? Do you wring your hands and murmur, “I will be happy when” I can get my taxes paid? I’ll be happy when life goes how I’ve scheduled it? I’ll be happy when this pandemic is over? I’ll be happy when all my social media friends press “like” on my posts? I’ll be happy when I make more money? Ohhh….there are so many ways that we undermine our peace in Christ by our thoughts and motivations, isn’t there? Mine is unique to me, yours are unique to you, but we both have the same problem. We do not trust God’s word to us just like Adam and Eve did not trust God’s word to them. We like to say we do, but when it comes down to it, do we? Can we release the death grip we have on our expectations? More often than not, I think we entrust ourselves to ourselves, pursuing ways to satisfy our own fearful and prideful pursuit of happiness.
Despite our disordered thinking, Jesus still says to us, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) He is the definition of true happiness. As the Psalms declare in varying ways, God is the fulfillment of all our longings. He is what the prophets refer to when they say, “On that day….” Now, there’s the only contingency we should focus on because that day the prophets refer to is the beautiful realization that God is present here and now, in the only moment we are promised. How he must laugh at our striving! How he must grieve over our useless pursuits. Isaiah prophesies, I am paraphrasing a bit:
“I will lead those who are blinded by pride, fear, anger in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known. I will guide them. I will turn the darkness of their “I’ll Be Happy When” thinking into light, I will make their rough paths that they think leads to happiness into level ground. These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”
As for me, I find it helpful to prayerfully my disordered “I’ll be happy when…” drives. Sitting with the LORD and allowing him to light my darkened thinking always brings light. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for me as I unpack the motivations behind each statement. She is the perfect example of contentment. I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with His wisdom and discernment.
Making a habit of reading through the anthologies of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ben Sira in the Old Testament exposes us to all the human struggle to relinquish control to the LORD. What we discover are treasures that satisfy every longing of our hearts. They do not fade or become stale; in fact, they increase in satisfaction the more we pursue them. To get a foretaste of the books, I encourage you to read Proverbs 2.
LORD Jesus, You are our Alpha and Omega. You are our Sufficiency. You are our Happiness. Holy Spirit, help us to order our thoughts and actions as we pursue the treasures that give abundant life. Holy God, may we live and move and have our being in You!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.