Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
OK, so I am miserable. Just plain not happy. Something is wrong, but what exactly it is I am not sure. But one thing is for certain, something is askew.
My parents are a constant bother. Everything I do or say, it seems, upsets them; and they end up either arguing with me or yelling at the top of their lungs. Then, to make matters worse, a brother or sister has to throw in a snide remark here and there. Sometimes I wonder whether it is even worth going home after school or work. What’s at home anyway? I have a much better time with my friends.
But, added to all of this, I just simply have no desire to become involved in anything. Going to church on Sunday and catechism class during the week is just one big bore. Sure, I spend tune learning my catechism lesson. If I did not, life would be even worse. But ask me if I really learned anything! Something is definitely wrong here!
I am just not satisfied with what is going on in my life. I feel confined. Everything is no, no, no. I think I just have to branch out in my life, find something new and exciting that will keep me happy. If I could just get away from it all. That’s all I need to do. What has gone wrong?
Many a young person – yes, even a Christian young person – has suffered under such perplexity and despair. In fact, almost every young person has that experience, to one degree or another. I guess it is a part of growing up and assuming responsibility for your own life and decisions. Adolescence is hardly the happiest time in one’s life. The young person who thinks like the one we have just described is one who is far, far from being happy. Some can become downright depressed. And, although it is a sin in itself, there are even Christian young people who have thought of suicide. The only thing that has kept them from it is the preserving grace of God. Otherwise they would be like the countless other young people who in their unbelief and misery have taken their own lives.
The question is, of course, how do we overcome such unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life? How can we be happy and content with the direction of our lives?
Many a young person believes that the answer to this is to blame others. In fact, that is the psychotherapy many modern counselors practice: just blame it on your parents. You are a good individual. All your problems are rooted in the mistakes and limitations that your parents forced on you in your childhood. You will be happy as soon as you can analyze and overcome those restrictions imposed on you by parents and church. It is not your fault – you are the way you are! It is someone else’s fault!
How careful you must be, young people, when this is the advice given you. You, too, will be parents some day, the Lord willing. Will you be willing then to accept this type of analysis of yourselves? Oh yes, your parents do make mistakes — sometimes big blunders. They are sinners too. Many times they err in the way they deal with you and your struggles in life. But are you going to blame them for the misery and problems that plague you in your lives? You know that you cannot! You love your parents far too much to place the blame on them.
The only way of overcoming our own unhappiness is by introspection: we must look in our own hearts for an answer. May I suggest that, when you do this, you consider what Solomon says in the first part of verse 26 of Proverbs 4, “Ponder the path of thy feet.” To walk the straight way of God is more vital to our happiness than we often realize. Especially is this true when we are a child of God. God never gives any peace and happiness to His children, whom He loves, when they choose to follow their own path to happiness rather than the one He has laid out for them in His Word.
Now, do not be so quick to stop reading at this point. “Here we go again, telling me how I have to live!” Just listen once! It’s true! King David thought it was going to give him extreme joy and happiness to sleep with Bathsheba, the wife of another man. Maybe it did for a few moments. But when reality hit him, that he had greatly sinned, he was terribly miserable. The prodigal son left the home of his father taking with him his part of his inheritance. He went out and spent every penny of it because he thought this was the way to happiness. But when he ran out of money he realized that his life had really been pure misery all along. It’s true! God does not give happiness to us when we walk our own path to happiness rather than God’s.
The path God has laid out for us in His Word is straight and narrow. It is not always a way that is easy to walk in, because it places restrictions on our sinful flesh. God’s laws require walking a straight line. There are many sins, which the people of this world close to us enjoy, that we may not enjoy. This means that the path of God can also be rather lonely, because there are not very many who are willing to walk it with us. But one thing is for certain, when we walk that path of God there will be joy and happiness. No, not the fun kind of happiness the world makes us think is true happiness, but the inner peace and satisfaction that is ours when we obey God’s will. I know, the world wants us to think that there can be no real satisfaction in life unless we are out in the midst of the world living it up. But that world out there is a jungle! Say what they will, the ungodly have no security in life. And the truth is that it is security that gives happiness and real joy.
God’s paths lend that security to life. God’s ways are always good. When we keep them out of a deep love for God, God Himself will grant unto us the security that as long as we belong to Him nothing will hurt us. We are His and He takes care of His own! That security gives happiness.
But it comes only when we walk that straight path. Solomon, in that same passage in Proverbs 4 which we looked at earlier, continues to write in verses 25-27 with these words: “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee…. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.” Maybe, just maybe, we ought to consider ourselves in light of this Word of God to us. Maybe we are miserable in life, maybe we have trouble with Mom and Dad, maybe our spiritual life lags, because we have not looked right on and turned not to the left or right. At least, we ought to give this our consideration, before dismissing it out of hand.
From this straight path of happiness in Christ there are many other little paths that lead us away. Most of those paths are labeled, “Fun and Freedom.” Those paths appeal so easily to our sinful natures, and the world is found at the opening of every one of them, beckoning us to enter. And, believe me, those paths are tempting! We see in them fun, independence, freedom from all restrictions and responsibilities. Just the opposite of the boring, straight, narrow way of God’s precepts! Surely, if we follow these alluring paths we will really be happy. Ah, there is the temptation!
Nor do we realize that when we take one little step along these paths it always leads to step number two, and step number three, until we find ourselves far off the straight path which we ought to follow fork happiness. That is how it usually happens, you realize. We do not take one big lunge into these paths. We take one little step at a time. One little step of disobedience, that leads to another little step, and another, and another, until all of a sudden we are not getting along at home anymore. Spiritual things do not concern us anymore. Life is miserable, and we simply do not know why. Maybe it starts with watching a movie on a video-tape with our friends, as step one. Then it leads to going to a theatre, step two. Then if leads to trying some, of the things we see people do in the movies, step three. All of a sudden we are drinking we are committing fornication, we are partying, all in an attempt to have fun. But, after all is said and clone, we are miserable people. There is no true joy and happiness found in these things. We have drifted from home, church, and godly friends, only to find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the world with no security and no true joy. What happened? We placed one foot in front of the other, a step at a time, and walked in our own path rather than Gods.
It is so easy to do that, because there are so many paths which lead to misery. It can start with only one false step followed by another. This happens when our hearts are not right with God. We are not examining each step we take to see if it is in harmony with that life of sanctification that Christ has worked in us. We are not determining whether we are doing something to satisfy the Spirit in us or the desires of our flesh. Maybe we are not very happy because, just maybe, we are not keeping our feet each step of our way.
That is the injunction of Hebrews 12:13: “Make straight paths for your feet.”
“But it’s too late! I have burned too many bridges behind me. I have taken too many steps in the wrong direction. I cannot undo what I have done. It is impossible to be happy again.”
Not true! The saying, “You can never go back again,” is not true. You can. It is hard at times, but it can be done. What it takes is true sorrow and repentance. Jesus says in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh I will in no wise cast out.” With that reassurance we turn around and retrace our steps, stopping at each one and acknowledging before God that these were wrong steps. Then, returning to the straight path of happiness in Christ, we walk straight and sure.
It can be done. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But wee have to understand one thing: happiness is not found in our own way. It is found in the way of redemption in the cross of Jesus Christ! Follow this way, and the heartache of this present life of sin will be taken away!