We are happy when we are growing

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Sprout is now growing up.photo © 2006 Bong Grit | more info (via: Wylio)

Today’s post serves as a final entry in the Common English Bible’s Lenten Blog Tour. If you have a few moments, check out the rest of entries.  

Happy are people who are downcast, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 

Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. 

Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. 

Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. 

Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. 

Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. 

Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

- Matthew 5:3-10, Common English Bible 

I’ve always been a bit unnerved by Bible translations that render the operative word of the incomparable Beatitudes “happy” instead of “blessed.”

“Blessed” is the word we use around our Christian friends when talking about food, shelter, and responsibilities. “Happy” is the word we use when ’30 Rock’ is all-new or when the Krispyy Kreme "HOT" light glows or when our contentment comes without any guilt or pressure to spiritulaize it. 

Happy just sounds less holy.

And besides, how can one be downcast and happy at the same time?  Is the happiness that Jesus speaks about in the Beatitudes reserved only for some future state, unattainable in this lifetime? 

Poet W.B. Yeats wrote that “happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.”

Indeed, studies indicate that the happiest people are not those who have achieved all their goals, but rather those who are making progress toward their goals. It is in the striving that we encounter the kind of happiness that is best described as joy. 

I don’t know about you, but I often suffer from what Tal Ben-Shahar called the  “arrival fallacy,” the belief that when I reach a certain destination, then I will  be happy. 

“If I can just get that raise…”

“If  I can just finish school…”

“If I can just find the right man…”

“If I can just publish a book…” 

“If I can just write a bestseller…”

Then, I’ll be happy. 

I do this all the time when it comes to my doubts.  I figure I’ll be happy once I stop having them, once my Christian faith makes perfect sense in both my heart and my head, once I no longer struggle with all these relentless questions. 

Perhaps you feel the same way at the end of your Lenten journey. Perhaps you expected to be “finished” by Easter, all the lessons you hoped to learn in your 40-day fast permanently etched into your character. 

Too often we ask ourselves, “Have we arrived?” when the better question is, “Have we grown?” 

Growing isn’t easy. It often comes with grief, humility, costly mercy and an insatiable hunger for more. But Christ promises us that the story ends well—that we will be made glad, that we will see God, that we will be fed until we are full. 

I guess we just have to believe him when he says that we can be happy in the meantime. 


In what ways have you been growing recently? What did you learn during Lent?

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