Monday, December 17, 2012

Heaven's Hope

 It’s hard to think about happiness right now in light of the horrific tragedy in Connecticut.

When I heard the ages of the children who were killed, I saw the face of my grandson… and wept. Unimaginable.

I believe there is no greater loss on earth than the loss of a child.

I almost lost a child 4 ½ years ago. But we never lost hope. Never, not even in the most desperate clinging-to-life days. There was always hope for a miracle.

These parents have no such hope. They will never see their precious children again on earth. Just the thought of never seeing James’ big brown eyes again feels like a punch in the stomach.

How do you keep on living after that? How do you breathe?

But people do.

I know people who have.

I broke down and bought the Heaven is For Real book at Target yesterday. I read it in about an hour or so. I wanted to hear it in the words of a young child.

Of course there’s skeptical criticism about any book of this kind. (“The Bible doesn’t say we’ll have wings…” “Where does it say anything about animals?” etc.)

The specifics weren’t important to me. No human explanation of heaven will ever be perfect. We don’t have the vocabulary.

But the words of that little boy helped me. He was so matter-of-fact about what he’d seen and experienced.

Those of us who’ve never had a Near Death Experience must rely on faith, though not of our own mustering.

The Holy Spirit sends “blessed assurance.”

Emily Dickinson was a near-recluse, yet that assurance led her to pen these words:

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

I believe with all my heart that those children from Connecticut are alive and well in a far better place than this. Fully alive. Busy. Joyful. Happy. Engaged. Learning. Being saturated with more love than we can imagine.

Their loved ones on earth are walking through a deep valley of sadness that cannot be articulated. But surely some must have hope.

I pray that they do.

I pray that they have, or may come to have, this kind of hope:

“They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35)

For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven.” (Colossians 1:4-5)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1:3-6)

That’s the only kind of hope that makes it possible to endure the unendurable.


Father, we pray that you will minister to those grieving this unthinkable tragedy. Send your Holy Spirit to comfort and love in ways that words cannot express. Grant those who weep the gift of faith and hope in You. Give them eyes to see beyond the flimsy veil of life on earth to eternal realities. Comfort them with assurance that their precious ones are safe with You, beyond all pain and sadness forever and ever.  Amen.


Some books to whet your appetite about the future:

Heaven, Joni Eareckson
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
Heaven, Randy Alcorn
The Heaven Answer Book, Billy Graham
Heaven Is For Real, Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent
To Heaven and Back, Dr. Mary C. Neal
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Kevin and Alex Malarkey

All are available through Amazon.

(The old saying “We don’t want to be so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good” seems to me to be obsolete. I think we need to be as heavenly-minded as possible these days. It makes us more earthly good.)

Please feel free to recommend other good books on Heaven in the comments.


So....if you've already read this today, you'll notice it has a different title now. That's because Granny had already published a post with that title! 

I need to sign up for Luminosity.  Or the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Anyway, here's another take on hope from the archives:

Please do re-read it if you need some extra hope today. I just did.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Happiness is a butterfly,
which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp,
but which, if you will sit down quietly,
may alight upon you.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

(previous source did not credit photo.)

Happy doesn’t always come easily for me.

Even as a young child, I was very sensitive to the pain in the world.

I was involved in a terrible tragedy when I was seven years old. It is only in the past decade that I’ve come to understand the effects that pivotal event had on the fragile fabric of a child’s psyche. On a subconscious level, it changed the way I view the world.

A sheltered, joyful, blissfully naive little girl metamorphosed into one who knew that every story didn’t have a happy ending after all. Fairy tales don’t always come true. The world is a terrifyingly unsafe place in which to live. Fear entered in, and with it an underlying sadness that things are not as they should be down here.

Over the years, I’ve had to fight for happy.

By the time I was 12 or 13, I had my first taste of actual depression. (Puberty.) I realized that the harder I tried to be happy, focused on its presence or absence, the more elusive it became. The Hawthorne quote at the top is the first I ever saved in a notebook. I came to the conclusion that sometimes Happy just happened. It was a gift. I needed to stop thinking so much. About everything.

As I have matured, evolved, grown-into-knowledge-the hard-way, I’ve realized that much of what we assume will make us happy doesn’t. The pursuit of those things, positions, or conditions, is an exercise in futility, like a dog chasing its own tail.

But lately I’ve been fascinated by emerging studies in “Positive Psychology.” Literally, the science of happiness. It almost makes me want to go back to school to study neuroscience. The brain is endlessly intriguing.

Are there formulas we can follow… goals we may pursue… practices we might adopt that could actually enhance our “Happiness Quotient?”

From the plethora of books, articles, and television shows on the topic, evidently so.

First, I happened upon a movie on Netflix called, simply, Happy. I watched it twice. (And I highly, highly recommend it.) Shortly afterwards, world-renown psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud, the author of the original Boundaries book, in addition to about 20 others, spoke on the topic at our church in Los Angeles, Bel-Air Presbyterian. (He’s a member there.) Later, Dr. Gail was talking about the Happiness research on the Today Show. Then I read an article in Salon, "The Neuroscience of Happiness."

And I started wondering.

Am I doing all that I can to be the best, happiest, version of me? Or am I settling for less than God intended? Anything worth having is worth working for. Should I be working harder at happiness?

Surely, the world is full of sadness, loss, and tragedy. But life is not just something to be endured until the joy of heaven.

What little changes might make a significant difference on my Mood Thermometer?

First, some information culled and compiled from the sources above, drawing primarily from the Happy movie.

50% of our H.Q. (Happiness Quotient) is biological.

If you have more than one child, you might have observed that people are different from birth. Some babies are born placid and peaceful; some are fussy and high-maintenance. And remain so. (“He was just born that way!”) Ever since Hippocrates, there have been theories about the differences in personality. For centuries, it was believed that there were four basic temperaments (or ‘humors’) determined by the effects of bodily fluids. Those were: sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (introverted and thoughtful), and phlegmatic (relaxed and quiet.) But aren’t most of us more than one? According to the theory of humors, I would be classified as a sanguine/melancholic, which seem to be contradictory. Split personality?

Modern neuroscience confirms that we are born with a genetic set-point on the happiness scale. A certain constitutional makeup or temperament, determined in large part by our genes. This is hugely liberating for those of us who struggle with mood issues. It’s not a character flaw or a moral failure. It has to do with DNA.

10% of our H.Q. is circumstantial.

This is the real shocker. Our circumstances in life… what happens to us… accounts for a minimal slice of the happy pie.

Most people think that if only x,y,or z happened (or hadn’t happened) then they would be happy at last. (“If only I had more money, lost 10 pounds, got married, retired, moved…” Or “If only he hadn’t left me, she hadn’t died, I hadn’t gotten sick, lost my job…”

But in actuality, our circumstances have little to do with our happiness level. A rickshaw driver in a slum in India has a higher happiness quotient than a successful businessman in a modern Japanese high-rise.

Once you have your basic needs met, more money does not mean more happiness. Although there is a major difference between someone who makes $5000 per year vs. $50,000 per year, there is no difference between someone who makes $50,000 and someone who makes $50,000,000. That is because humans adapt to a “hedonic treadmill.” Whatever you have, it’s just not quite enough. There’s got to be something more. In the song Lost by Coldplay, Chris Martin sings that he’s "just waiting ‘til the shine wears off.” Because it always does. You bring a new dress home from the store, and the shine wears off by the second wearing. Then you need something new to get the dopamine back up again.

This unending cycle is one of main enemies to happiness. And why ‘the pursuit of happiness’ is doomed to failure if the wrong goals are sought in order to reach it.

Studies reveal that those who are focused on extrinsic goals are much more depressed than those who focus on intrinsic. Extrinsic goals are those externals that are deified and worshipped by our consumer society: Image, status, money, etc. Intrinsic goals are internally satisfying in and of themselves: intangibles such as personal growth or a desire to help others.

If my happiness quotient is overly affected by how I look, how much I have, or what my coolness-factor is, then I’m in trouble.  If my happiness depends on how others view me because of these externals, I become a praise junkie that constantly craves another fix of affirmation from the crowd. When I focus on extrinsic goals, I become sadly self-focused.

The good news is that no matter what one’s circumstances in life, it is still possible to cultivate happiness.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have believed that.

Even when tragedy strikes? Is it still possible to be happy after that?

When I was a young mother, I imagined that if something horrific happened to one of my children, I’d just check out of life. Like, maybe permanently.

Something unbearably sad did happen to my first-born love. Unimaginable. Devastating. I have suffered more than I ever thought I could, and still survive.

And I am happy. Not every minute of every day. Sometimes not for weeks at a time. But overall, yes. I would say that I’m relatively happy. And I’m still learning.

I attribute this fact mostly to God, as I chronicled in Katherine’s Mom’s Blog. But the God-thing is really more about reckless joy and stubborn faith, as opposed to what we’re talking about here.

Researchers in Positive Psychology have discovered something fascinating: Overall, people do better when things go bad. We are able to ‘rise to the occasion.’ In many ways, adversity is actually good for us.

(I know. Don’t say it.)

But listen to this:

Our nervous system is a differential engine. It looks at contrasts. It integrates information by noting differences.

That is why there is no such thing as pleasure without pain.

We need constant change in order to grow and learn.

In “The Neuroscience of Happiness,” Dr. Shimon Edelman states, “…a changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.”

These new studies give me hope and understanding. They confirm that I am not merely at the mercy of my genetic makeup or my circumstances. I am in control of the remaining 40% of my happiness equation.

I have a responsibility to God, myself, and those around me to work hard at developing practices that enable me to more fully celebrate this precious life I’ve been given. To be happier.

Next time, I’ll share some of the ways how.


I apologize for the length of this piece. I hope that some of you reading are as interested by these Happiness studies as I am. Please watch the movie if you have time! I know that there are others who sometimes struggle with depression, or have loved ones that do. (You’ve told me so.) Let’s pray for each other during this challenging month.