We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--Preamble of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America
I had a thought the other day which took me aback in its simplicity and its staggering implications:
I do not have the right to be happy.
In longing to fix my marriage I have thought much about what kind of life I want us to have. I’ve thought how I want a partner to share my life, good and bad, illness and health, the usual things we believe are a part of a marriage. I want it. I hope for it. I’m not sure if it will happen. In short, I want to be happy.
But I don’t have the right to it.
Americans are full of rights. I hate that phrase, the title of this post: "I know my rights." We say it so often, almost as a threat to anyone who crowds us too much. We glory in our rights.
We have the right to remain silent. We have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If we cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for us.
We have the Bill of Rights, a long list of freedoms and securities, and we always keep them in mind.
As Americans we feel the right to buy, to take, anything we need, anything we want.
When the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended I thought we would stop pouring so much money into the military, I thought we would finally turn our attention to education, reducing debt, science.
But, as a nation, we are as full of "our rights" as we are as individuals.
OK, OK, I won’t go down the path about U.S. consumption, corporate greed, and carbon emissions. I’m really thinking more personal anyway.
I fully accept that I have not been all that I should have been in my life. I recognize I was slow to my career, to caring for my family as I should, for helping my wife to feel special, cared for, loved.
And I accept that I am of the race which turned its back on God seeking "freedom", freedom from... love.
I know God wants me to be happy. I also know I have no right to it. Not with what I have done as an individual, what we have done as a race.
So, it occurred to me yesterday: I have no right to happiness.
Even our Declaration of Independence at the top of this post says nothing about having the right to happiness, only the pursuit of it. And that is a right granted me by the fact I was fortunate enough to be born in a land where that was given to me. Many in the world have so much less.
So, I recognize I really haven’t the right to happiness.
What I have is grace. I have the forgiveness of the Creator.
What I have is love. I have the sacrifice of my Lord Jesus.
What I have is hope. I have the presence of the Holy Spirit with me.
No rights. None.
There is a word about happiness given to the man who pleases Him (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Perhaps I will get that.
I understand Job’s feelings of hopelessness...
"My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again...”
But, I think I am going to be OK. I have been talking to Jesus lately, just like He was a good friend. I’m not asking for stuff, not bargaining or even praising, just talking.
And something has happened. I felt something in my heart. I felt that the guy who smoothed pieces of wood on the shores of Galilee is happy to have me get to know Him as a friend.
Something has happened. The image of Him smoothing pieces of wood settled in my heart. And during a brief time in the Prayer Room yesterday I sketched Him doing just that, smoothing a piece of wood, a large timber of wood notched into a cross beam.
My art has returned.
I’m not really happy or anything. I’m not even expectant of the future, for I have no idea what to expect. I’m not demanding my rights, for I feel that after what I have done as a man, and what we have done as a race, we can’t expect too much.
But I’m praying to my Big Brother, my best friend, and it feels pretty good just to do that.