Published May 25, 2006
“Happiness is a Warm Puppy” is a rather charming kids’ book by Charles Schulz, the inventor of the “Peanuts” comic strip.
As a child, I took the title to be gospel truth because whenever I was in the presence of a plump, velvety puppy, I felt that I’d found true bliss.
Unfortunately, my mother saw puppies as walking flea machines and banned them from our pristine Miami house, so my sister and I had to squeak by with turtles and parakeets.
And thus I learned a very early lesson about happiness: Just like puppies, it apparently was out of my reach.
In later years, I discovered that many other folks saw happiness as elusive.
My single girlfriends, for example, believed that if they could just meet Prince Charming, they would be forever happy. Once married, they yearned for children, and then when that dream was realized, they started counting the years until the kids would be out of the house.
Unemployed friends felt that a paycheck would bring them bliss, and folks with jobs were yearning for retirement.
There is a telling scene in the Gospels, where two disciples ask Jesus if they can have a special place in His kingdom. They probably figure they will be happy if they can just secure good seats.
His answer is very unexpected. “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”
Of course, they have no idea what cup Jesus is referring to, but as the plot unfolds, they realize that His cup contained the bitterest drink of all, which was the crucifixion.
The cup that God hands us is always changing. For children, the chalice usually overflows with sweet dreams.
Who will they be when they grow up? Where will they live? The possibilities seem endlessly exciting.
In our 20s, we are handed the chalice of adulthood, which seems to contain a mysterious elixir that surely will bring happiness.
In that cup are adult responsibilities. For many, that means jobs, and perhaps families. And at times, the cup of parenthood can seem unbearably heavy.
Ask the most blissful new parents. They can attest that, despite the sweet joy of having babies, there are also countless sleepless nights and frantic calls to the doctor when the baby has a fever.
“Holding the cup of life is a hard discipline,” writes Henri J.M. Nouwen in “Can You Drink the Cup?”
“We often compare our lives with those of others, trying to decide whether we are better or worse off, but such comparisons don’t help us much,” he adds.
“We have to live our life, not someone else’s. We have to hold our own cup.”
Still, parents of teens sometimes feel too weary to pick up the cup.
Perhaps they are tired of waiting, night after night, for Johnny to get home from the dance and worrying that Susie is running with the wrong crowd.
Many of us drink from the chalice that comes with jobs. We climb out of bed when the alarm shrieks, race to get dressed, rush to office or factory, and spend the day dancing to someone else’s tune.
And, sooner or later, we all drink from the cup of grief, as we say goodbye to those we love.
Some die too young and leave unfinished chapters in our hearts. Others die of old age, but that doesn’t dilute the pain of losing them.
There was sorrow in Jesus’ cup. At one point in his ministry, people were cheering him on and calling out “Hosanna” when they saw him. And then, before long, the crowds changed their tune and started screaming, “Crucify him!”
We are told He wept over the death of His friend Lazarus and cried in the Garden of Gethsemane, where, all alone, He had to face the knowledge of the dreadful events that were unfolding.
But there was also happiness in His chalice. After all, He healed people who had been crippled or blind, and He knew that He was doing the Father’s will.
There’s that old saying about the glass being half full or half empty. For some, especially those with many material possessions, no matter how good things are, the glass could contain more.
And so they are constantly trying to fill the bottomless pit with more possessions.
The poor, however, are more likely to see the glass as half full. If you have ever gone hungry, the simplest sandwich is cause for gratitude, and the most modest home seems like a mansion.
Our consumer society teaches us that we will find happiness by drinking from a shining cup that overflows with material goodies, money and sparkling health.
But this definition falters.
What happens if a spouse dies? Or your income is slashed in half? What happens when youth and health slip away?
Happiness, the kind that is deep and lasting, comes from accepting a cup that contains something besides possessions, youth and human relationships.
You will recall that Peter tried to get Jesus to reject the Father’s chalice. When Jesus told His friend about His future suffering and death, Peter reacted with horror.
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” he protested. (Mt 16:22)
And Jesus responded with harsh words. “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.” (16:23)
We can expect Satan to create obstacles to prevent us from accepting God’s will for our lives.
For one, he will encourage us to run away from suffering. Assure us we can “lose ourselves” in mind-numbing television, gambling, shopping and other addictions.
Jesus, however, didn’t run away from a cup that contained torture and death. He told His friends in the garden, “I must drink the cup my Father has given me.”
And so it is for each of us. We must pick up the chalice that God gives us, whether it contains grief or joy.
When we accept His will, we soon discover that lasting happiness is not as elusive as we thought. It is not a warm puppy, a job, a friendship or a marriage.
Instead of these fleeting things, true happiness is found in forging a relationship with God, which lasts forever.
Artwork by Jef Murray. Lorraine Murray is the author of three books on spirituality, available on her Web site: www.lorrainevmurray.com. You may write her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.