As Christian parents, we want our children to be both holy and happy. We desire for our children to walk with God in holiness, to love God and to seek His Kingdom, to live above sin, to know and to practice God’s Word, and to live out of trust in God. We also desire for our children to be happy in the lives they live, to enjoy their families and their friends, to have the things they really want, to be well-liked by their peers, and to be successful in their endeavors.
These two desires are not incompatible. The Scriptures tell of men and women who would fit both of these descriptions, our Lord Jesus most of all. So why do so many Christian parents fail to see their desires realized?
Many of us seek balance between the holy and the happy for our children, by making them equal. Yet happiness and holiness cannot be pursued equally for our children for two reasons.
First, we know more about happiness than we do about holiness. As parents, we teach what we know, and we know more about what it takes to be happy and what happiness means than we do about what holiness means or what it takes to be holy. This much is part of our sin nature along with our own sinful desire to place our own happiness above all else.
Second, and more important, happiness and holiness are two very different types of things. Happiness is a response to our circumstances. It manifests itself as and is judged by a feeling, an emotion. In order for me to manifest happiness, things must happen that I find to be happy things, things that I like.
Holiness, on the other hand, is a status I hold in relation to God. Holiness is manifested in attitudes and behaviors that are classified in God’s Word as obedience to His commands.
We can see this difference in the way we use the terms. I can be happy about being holy, but I cannot be holy about being happy. The latter, of course, makes no sense to us. I can respond (happiness) to having a right status in my relationship with God (holiness), but I cannot reach a right status simply from being happy.
Happiness resulting from awards and activities, from being liked by the world, from being sensorially pleased, from being successful, is fleeting and passes with the passing of those circumstances. Happiness from such life accomplishments can be maintained only by ever greater accomplishments. However, happiness resulting from a right relationship with God can be maintained in the form the Scriptures call “joy.”
“Balance,” in this case, does not mean “evenness” or “equality of substance” or the “same quantity on each side” or “equally important.” Living according to God’s priorities, emphasizing what God emphasizes and minimizing what God minimizes is balance in God’s Kingdom.
Therefore, the parenting emphasis, or priority, must be upon holiness, seeking to teach and to show our children in our own lives that holiness is something very much worth being happy about! Further, we can teach that holiness avoids sins and pains that destroy happiness, thus giving us the very best opportunity for long-term happiness. Jesus put it this way, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) In the Proverbs, we read, “He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.” (Proverbs 16:20)
Only through an emphasis upon that which does not come naturally to us, upon holiness, can we lead our children to lasting happiness.