Is Repentance Tied to Happiness?

Today is our last look during Lent at the word repentance before we turn to Isaiah’s final word rest in chapter 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he says, “repentance means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.”  I’m not  sure how to unpack that statement in a few paragraphs, but perhaps a quick look at the word happy can provide some insight on what Keating might be getting at. μακάριος is the Greek word for happy. It is most often translated at blessed and most famously used in Jesus’ remarkable Sermon on the Mount. Look at these words of Jesus through the lens of happiness:

How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!

Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!

Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!

Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!

Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!

Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons (and daughters) of God!

Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way. (Matt 5:1-10 Phillips)

If I am honest with myself my definition of happy is most often the opposite of these statements that Jesus makes about happiness. I don’t want to be humble, experience sorrow, be merciful, make peace. Instead I want to build my own kingdom, have security, cut corners, take offense, and be in a constant state of pleasure. In addition to that, I want to turn to another person, an object, or an ideal and settle for temporary “happiness” at the expense of true contentment.

So how might we lean into Keating’s invitation to change the direction we are looking for happiness?  Perhaps part of the answer is in Isaiah’s invitation into quietness, “In quietness and trust…” What if the answer is in the pause, in getting quiet long enough to be honest and ask ourselves what we are currently doing/looking to for happiness? I did this when I awoke this morning. What was revealed to me in the quiet wasn’t pretty. Pride, vanity, and my own selfish desires surfaced. As I confessed those passions once again to God I was able to remember that my heart is good, it matters to God and that He is the only true source of happiness? Thanks be to God!

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