Perpetual Glee :: Weekend Reading List

“There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you’re going to be happy. But it turns out that’s not true.” —  Raj Raghunathan

American culture weaponizes the human desire for happiness. Our founding documents give each citizen the legal right to engage in the “pursuit of happiness.” Our economic environment focuses this pursuit on the accumulation of material items and experiences—wooing all citizens into perpetual consumption, since there is no such thing as a content consumer. Even our dialogue around relationships comes back to one simple question, “are you happy?”

Anything that hinders the pursuit of constant and unconditional happiness—outdated electronics, jobs, marriages— instantly becomes disposable. And though we have more economic prosperity, comfort, connection, and freedom than any other people in the history of the world, we are profoundly unhappy.

In his book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? marketing professor Raj Raghunathan explores research behind happiness, discontentment, and living a fulfilled life. Joe Pinkster from the The Atlantic summarizes:

There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.

But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.

How we pursue happiness reveals what we truly believe about the world. Sometimes this is obvious: the god of the materialist is his appetite—his liturgy, consumption. Other times we have to look deeper.

A recent article from Quartz proclaims: “The key to happiness at work isn’t money–it’s autonomy.” This is a worldview statement. What will make us happy? More? No, that’s far too bourgeois. We are happy when we can stand on our own two feet—with no authority above and no conflicting responsibilities or relationships alongside. We are happy when we are the god of our own world.

Scripture rebukes this self idolatry—but it doesn’t lead people away from the pursuit of happiness. It’s only through God’s grace that we are free to experience the full depth of worldly happiness without being consumed by it.

What we discover in the security, comfort, and freedom of Christ’s loving embrace is the reality that, in Viktor Frankl’s words, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 21 (Listen – 2:32)
2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 22 (Listen – 3:53) 2 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:21)
Isaiah 23 (Listen – 2:50) 1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)


Restful Meditations :: Advent’s Hope

Focusing our hearts on Christ, the hope of Advent, expands the holiday experience beyond mere merriness. In the gospel our hearts find rest from pain and hope for renewal.

“Jesus, my feet are dirty,” prayed Origen in the third century. “Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, ‘If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.’ Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.”

Origen’s prayer captures the spirit of Advent: looking back at Christ’s work on our behalf, looking forward at the completion of his fellowship, and longing for his presence and power today.

Another third century prayer, an anonymous Syriac Christmas liturgy, gives words to this hope:

The radiance of the Father’s splendor, the Father’s visible image, Jesus Christ our God, peerless among counselors, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come, the model after which Adam was formed, for our sakes became like a slave: in the womb of Mary the virgin, without assistance from any man, he took flesh.

Enable us, Lord, to reach the end of this luminous feast in peace, forsaking all idle words, acting virtuously, shunning our passions, and raising ourselves above the things of this world.

Bless your church, which you brought into being long ago and attached to yourself through your own life-giving blood…

Bless your servants, whose trust is all in you; bless all Christian souls, the sick, those tormented by evil spirits, and those who have asked us to pray for them.

Show yourself as merciful as you are rich in grace; save and preserve us; enable us to obtain those good things to come which will never know an end.

May we celebrate your glorious birth, and the Father who sent you to redeem us, and your Spirit, the Giver of life, now and forever, age after age. Amen.

Christ, may our hearts find their rest in you, the hope of Advent.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 3-4 (Listen – 5:42)
1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)


The Linchpin of Generous Words :: Advent’s Hope

“Emotions run high during the holidays,” observes the American Psychological Association. “People in the United States are more likely to feel their stress increase rather than decrease,” The research tracks increases in fatigue, stress and irritability along with the season’s happiness, love, and high spirits.

In this way, the human experience around Christ’s birth hasn’t changed since Mary responded to the angel’s announcement. Mary didn’t initially reply with exuberant praise but simple obedience; “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Her unadorned submission stands in stark contrast to the deluge of joy-filled worship Luke records just eight verses later:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Mary was overwhelmed in her first response; as an unwed mother in the ancient Near East her plans for the future—her marriage, social status, even friendships—vanished the instant the angel spoke. She told no one of the angel’s words, rushing out of town before anyone could notice her pregnancy. Then she walked into the house of Elizabeth.

Luke records Elizabeth’s generosity of spirit, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” This is when everything changes. There is such power in the affirmation of her trusted friend that Mary immediately bursts into ardent worship, looking toward her future with welling hope.

Sometimes the hope people need is carried in our prayerfully chosen words. It’s a risk to affirm something unseen—Elizabeth’s words made no sense apart from her faith. Yet they were the very thing that led Mary to her need for a Savior and her faithful response to live into the journey to which God called her.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 2 (Listen – 3:41)
1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)


Hurting through the Holidays :: Advent’s Hope

Physical and emotional pain can make the holiday season feel like a torrent of expectations to appear happy. The unspoken demand of “Christmas joy” weighs on those mourning the loss of a loved one, suffering a long-term illness, or carrying the pressures of daily anxiety or depression. At some point this converges with the seasonal stress of wrapping up the final quarter of the year, scheduling events, and traveling through busy airports.

The musical messages that flood every store and streaming site are less than helpful. While festive, the top 10 Christmas songs in the U.S. are unapologetically devoid of spiritual joy. From Lennon’s Christmas-as-political statement, “Happy XMas (War Is Over),” to Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which desperately pleads with a lover to fill a need far too large for any person, these songs speak of happy feelings but miss transcendent peace.

Settling for happiness as proxy for true joy isn’t a recent change in America’s Christmas tradition. In 1944 Judy Garland sang, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the song mandates merriness—challenging, “from now on your troubles will be out of sight,” while predicting, “through the years we’ll all be together”—yet offers no sufficient solution as to how any of this will come to be.

The season of Advent, contrary to demanding a facade of holiday spirit, is an invitation to rest in the promise of Christ’s redemptive joy. When Christ talked about anxiety and trust he wasn’t minimizing the stresses of life, he was revealing the sufficiency of his love.

It’s only by placing our faith in the gospel that we are given the opportunity to displace it in ourselves and our circumstances. We stop looking to calm daily anxieties with our own success, appearance, or accolade—which change far too often to offer the security and hope we need.

“In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus said to his followers. “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Lord, renew in us, this Advent, the hope of your victory, the promise of your relief, and the joy of your redemption.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 1 (Listen – 2:47)
1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)

Editor’s note: When Christ talked about anxiety, or discouragement, his words were focused on the daily pressures common to all people. He was not, nor are we above, trying to speak to mental health conditions that persist despite great effort and desire. In all things we look to Christ, but in many we find ourselves holding on for future relief, future glory, future joy—Christ will return, he will make all things new.