I like to call it by its proper name, Christmas. Proper name shows respect and recognition. It’s Independence Day, not just holiday. Or Mary, not just woman. It is heartwarming to receive a Christmas wish the way it has inspired countless musicians to write soul rousing songs. “O Holy Night” “Mary Did You Know” “Joy to the World” are so so good. That does not happen with “Holiday” no matter how many “Happy” we put in front of it.
This Christmas, I decorated before Thanksgiving, to have more time to enjoy its message. I guess this is the real reason why. Christmas is huge so that a day or a week to enjoy and talk about it is not enough. Whereas we so much need to be lifted up in spirit. Have you heard of the little known story of the Magi which says they did not see the baby Jesus until January 6? I’d say why not prolong the celebration of hope till then? Surely a pandemic year would not reject the idea of spreading more hope and good cheer. Shall we then say it like it is?
Be filled with the joy and peace of Christmas throughout the year.
Everyone starts life by getting acquainted with one's body and surrounding. When Adam started life, God brought to him the living creatures to see what he would call them. The Bible said that "whatever name Adam gave for each, that became its name." So the first time Adam met Eve he said "she is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh." He gave his wife two names. "Eve" or "Chava" in Hebrew because she is the mother of all the living; and "Isha" which means woman, the feminine form of Hebrew "ish" for man. Her gender is part of her identity not just an add on. Her names describes her role, her term of engagement, her relationship with Adam. In other words, naming is basic for living and much more.
Don’t you think that account is amazing? I do. It is God naming the world as He sees it, which is a good definition of truth. It means names are not to be tampered with, but respected because Reality exists. It means that reality exists apart from our own understanding, certified by God Himself.
These days, who hasn’t come across a misnomer? Violence is called peaceful? Colorblindness is racist? Abortion is life-saving? Criminals are victims? Parents who stand up for their children’s education are domestic terrorists? The nameless agitated mass is hailed as heroes and anyone with a notable name is in danger of being replaced, twisted or obliterated. It is like people take the liberty to define reality including history, value, morality, identity and rules of engagement, to the extent that names no longer need to correlate with reality. The assumption isTruth no longer exists, only one’s own perception or feeling is true.
What happens when you are Jane today and Jill tomorrow by the time you reach Russia? If Pam is the convicted felon, what happens if she is now Pete?
Misnomers create a fractured world instead of a universe where people can converse intelligently (uni: one; verse: word). Now, that is much worse than communication gap which is usually just misunderstanding. Rather, it is idiocy fueled by misinformation, ideology and controlled narratives. That’s one sophisticated description of lying that’s infiltrating preschools all the way to the top universities. If reality is fluid, how does one decide what is? How can one be ever sure? How does that train anyone to think clearly, communicate accurately, or execute precisely? Then only a life of failure and misery awaits them. Isn’t it a mark of childishness to be double-minded, to disregard consequences, to believe with passion that which is not tested against broad wisdom in existence for centuries? And I thought testing is the basis of scientific research?
From experience, we know that mistrust turn people against each other, not just distancing them. Instead of changing the world, we are changed by the world we create. We become skeptical, cynical and alienated where we no longer know who to believe, what number to check, what name to use. After a while, we create causes to justify those lies, make up categories, events, victims and enemies that don’t exist as long as these yield the desired results we want. That is how victim-hood becomes hip. It’s lucrative.
Ah… did you hear that a teacher was fired for misusing pronouns! What? Can’t he just correct himself? Obviously the issue is not grammar. Rather, designation, speech, and human transactions are now based on color, gender, politics, ideology, feeling or mere loudness. Grammatical rules, language rules, moral rules are now a thing of the past? Well, if someone wants to change the basic rules of engagement, shouldn’t another have the right to challenge them or opt out, without getting vilified or fired? Creating rules that are one-sided only court friction. Worse if it is turned into a policy or a law. It’s a lie that it is done for unity, equity or progress. To call it justice is another misnomer.
Control the words to control someone’s reality and change it to one’s advantage. That’s gaslighting. I know what peaceful protest is when I see one. I bet you do too since you’d run for cover fast. You would not find it amusing if someone makes you second guess what you know is true and then suggests that you are paranoid or crazy. Would you?
Better ask how can one know he has fallen into any of these holes. Only the wise is willing to face his lie and admit it. For our greatest enemy is ourselves. We lie to ourselves constantly to get what we want. But since life for Adam did not start with a lie, neither should ours. Be bold and call it by its name.
Small step: Have you come up with a way to sort out truth from distortion? May I suggest checking the basics or the Bible for what God calls “it” for real?
In times of trouble or uncertainty, we naturally look for safety and help. However, a crisis also brings out the best or the worst in us. And boy it did! Who would imagine we could be so shaken, so unprepared, so needy, so gullible, and so unhinged? Where do we turn to for help?
“People who need people…are the luckiest people in the world.” Streisand was fabulous in that song. But it rings hollow, especially now. For we have been found wounded and wanting, preyed upon by people preoccupied with personal gains. We are silenced and isolated from loved ones while technocrats feast, write books and tyrants give orders. We get propaganda instead of news. We are told it is peaceful while stores are pillaged. Some are left to die alone while others fight for toilet paper! We either die or are used. The small world becomes awfully smaller in my eyes. I feel sadness, who wouldn’t?
Like a chorus the whole world perceives a sudden threat from an invisible virus but not the visibly vile changes leading to it and what follows thereafter. We hear something but see something else. We are to wear mask, but blindfolded too? There’s inclusion that excludes, unity that separates, freedom that cancels, social justice that sides, science doctored, equality that classifies, numbers that don’t add up, parents that sell children, children that stab parents, neighbors that tell, aborted live babies twice killed. So I wonder, which is more dangerous, virus or vile people?
In crisis time, is it wiser to examine and self-reflect, or to rush and foment it into a struggle? Does a fisherman expect to find fish in turbulent waters? Surely more disturbances breed angry and mean people; stoke fear and mental illness. Quite the opposite of the benevolence, prudence, peace and strength we hope for. When elephants fight, the ants are trampled. What happened to the educated, enlightened humanity? Aren’t we told we are evolving? What happened to empathy?
If we are still thinking that the end justifies the means, that the heart of the matter is beyond the heart and not the heart itself, that we do not reap what we sow in the heart and we can invent our own reality without changing the heart, then we have not seen enough. Let’s open our eyes.
Ironically, it takes an invisible virus to remind us of the obvious, that evil exists though hidden, human reactions to crises show it. While death attends us all, it creeps up to us in unexpected ways. And the work we do is never enough to prepare us for it. We can only see so much of what is ahead and extend so much of what we have. Our hard earned sense of independence and self-sufficiency quickly blow up in our faces. Moreover, when the desire to thrive means to compete, cheat, take, kill or be taken and killed, then humans have spoken through Cain again: am I my brother’s keeper? Humanism and materialism may remove God and spiritual priorities, but they end up turning people against one another. Probably the weakest part of these underpinnings of our society is the mistaken notion of who we really are, the man reflected in the mirror. Without truth, the combination of power and desire blinds. It is very destructive. Unless God intervenes, no one will make it, including Cain. But God did.
Who is God? To use the law of entropy in physics, the material world is diminishing. Unless a greater outside delivering (GOD) force is applied, such as care and protection, entropy continues to its end. But the help cannot be just any outside force. It has to be one needing no outside help but is self-sufficient without limits. Only God can do so. You might say that is too wonderful it can’t be true. But that is why He is called God and not human nor monster.
He does not even need to kill to self-protect like humans do. Instead, He sacrificed Himself that others may live. So this God is not just powerful and all sufficient, but personal for He understands and loves. Unlike humans who design laws but can’t even see the tip of their noses, let alone human hearts, the all seeing God creates law and order that rules the heart. No wonder when cannibalistic tribes adopt this God as King and His law as theirs, they stop eating people. The weakest members in those societies need not die. Instead of entropy, they thrive. Going forward, instead of ending, there is eternity.
“Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.” Psalm 144:15
Quick check: Going forward, which way for you? A lot depends on what you can see, where you look. Is it time to reconsider where you seek help?
Did you say “happily ever after”? You probably know better just by the rate of divorce worldwide. Don’t get me wrong. There’s no problem with dreaming of lasting happiness. The thing is, happiness is an emotional state that fluctuates, not a static destination. Worse, many do not realize it fluctuates according to the moral state of our heart.
Surprised to hear that? Notice that when you help someone you feel light, you can fly. It is like saying the flip side of happiness is holiness, whereas sin weighs us down.
There was a merchant who asked his best friend to build him a house. But the best friend used subpar materials to build. When the house was done, the merchant gave it to this best friend as a surprise present. Pretending to be happy, he thanked the merchant profusely. But inside, he was drowning in shame and regret. “I am a big fool!”
As the good Book said, “The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man builds it on the sand.” It is like building a make-believe world. So, to build a life of happiness, wisdom should inform and tame our emotions and lace our decisions and actions. If life is a house, I will wisely build it on moral foundation. Would you then agree if I say the ubiquitous thief of happiness is foolishness, and not failure, friends, or fate?
The fool speaks before listening, acts before thinking. He says, no one will find out. It is okay, everybody is doing it. He says, “there’s a lion in the street,” but he does not check it. He might be sleek and eloquent, but only seeks his own opinion. The stomach is his god. My rights and interests equal justice. Oh, and my needs and sufferings make me above reproach. He believes the end justifies the means even if he robs others or sells his conscience. He enjoys the company of fools for after all, the fool is morally blind.
How then do we pursue happiness? Not without a moral-makeover for sure. It is more like crafting a jewel– carefully. We can learn from God who did not just throw away Adam and Eve to start all over again. Why? Happiness is not about changing our past or circumstances, but about crafting good hearts in the present which will ultimately change the way ahead to one’s benefit. It is a labor of love much like how going thru the wilderness for 40 years, God prepared the people leaving 400 years of slavery in Egypt behind to enter the promised land. Are there things weighing you down from the past? Are you a work in progress? In due time you will be rewarded. Don’t give up.
Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him. I Cor2:9
Want More questions for a happy heart? Here you go: Ask yourself– what fills your heart? Which ones would Jesus want you to let go? Are you living by and in your emotions? What do you fear most? Do you have the fear of God? When was the last time you set some moral foundations? On what basis do you choose your friends? Are you controlled by something immoral? Are you aware that you are building a house you will live in forever? Are you easily offended and act on it just as easily? Do you eat your pain away? What is eating you? Instead of feeding your emotion, what do you feed your body and soul?
Do you want to be happy? Of course, we all do. Happiness is so good even our Declaration of Independence says we have the right to pursuit it. We know it is not referring to just feeling good. It is more like having a blessed life where you feel cheerful contentment, attaining, and high-spirited, but also enjoying simple pleasures. Overall, it is more long lasting when it is not dependent on the surrounding circumstances, but emanating from within your heart.
But sadly, people often behave differently in its pursuit. Maybe they would forget, compromise, or even sacrifice people and principles that stand in their way. Is that necessary? How does one find happiness?
First of all, is happiness promised to all? Just like many other good things, it isn’t. If not, why do we act like it is then conclude that life is unfair? This misconception easily breed resentment. Still others develop a crab mentality saying: Why me? If I am not happy, neither can you. If I suffer, so should you. Until I am happy, dare you. As expected, this mindset is behind counterproductive, harmful behaviors that create more unhappiness.
I also wish everyone can be happy. But you and I have lived long enough to know that happiness would not just appear on our plate. Should happiness come to us or should we create it? I am greeted every morning with a ray of sunshine but the rest is mostly up to me. Creating happiness is not just possible, it is a must.
In the Bible, we are told it is a personal choice and responsibility, not somebody else’s. In that case, rather than waiting or relying on others, picking the right meaning of happiness, the right goal and method make a difference. It is aiming for peace and fulfillment without involving foul play. It is about who and what we are and become, and what we do with our lives.
To put it in a nutshell: Loving and being loved, united in harmony and security, no longer conflicted nor separated, especially from God, you experience wholeness is such peace. Growing up, realizing a dream, delivering a duty or promise, building strength, dignity and justice, overcoming obstacles and weaknesses is such fulfillment.
Yes, we would meet failures. But is failure really incompatible with happiness or a part of it? We might think the happy story of Adam and Eve ended miserably. It didn’t because they had redemption, not just punishment. Receiving a blessing we don’t deserve is “grace.” The same grace offered them transformation. Thus they experienced another kind of happiness after overcoming their sin. It was no longer an idyllic happiness, but they had the joy of overcoming, of learning, of growth. It’s also more personal. Such becomes the conquests we celebrate, the love songs we sing, and the unforgettable stories we leave behind.
What would happen if my life is not yet what I expect it to be? But does it have to always be the best for us to be happy? If that is the case, the best has become the enemy of good, preventing us from enjoying the good, the present blessings. It is so sad to forfeit so much of what could be better because we only want the best to feel happy. And if happiness relies on one big shot of a lifetime, we would be paralyzed at the thought of missing out.
Does it have to always be the best for us to be happy?
Truth is happiness is made of many “grace moments” as we hit and miss. Isn’t it smart that failures can be useful like firewood on the stove? By grace we can create different kinds of happiness out of trouble, and that without turning ourselves into demons first. Grace trickles down like dew that nourish the land, rejuvenating it. And like the tide that goes in and out shaping the landscape, at times if we just give it some time, we regain from our losses, reach our goals and become happier.
And when you finally noticed your “grace moment”, savor it like wine, sniff it like fresh bread, with gratefulness. A grateful heart quickly turns it into happiness, whereas grumpiness and malcontent spoil it. Jesus said those who are faithful in little will receive even more. That way, you CREATE more happiness, much much more.
Quick start: What’s that towel in your hand? To wipe dirt, clean your face, or wrap around your body? Are you grateful or did you just miss “happiness”? When was the last time you chose to be unhappy? To be happy? Do you have a quick start to share? Welcome to send it in.
1 The government is my shepherd, I need not work 2. It allows me to lie down on good jobs. 3. It destroyeth my initiative; it leads me into paths of the parasite for politics’ sake. 4. Yea, tho I walk through the valley of laziness and deficit spending, I will fear no evil; for the government is with me; it doles its vote-getter, it comforts me. 5. It prepareth an economic Utopia for me by appropriating the earnings of my grandchildren. It filleth my bologna; my inefficiency runneth over. 6. Surely the government shall care for me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in fool’s paradise forever. (New Psalm Parrsboro Record, Nova Scotia in Oct. 1950. Original source not confirmed.)
A person under God — Psalm 23 when I hear God speaks instead
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
You heard it said, we cannot allow the cure to be worse than the disease. In the same way, we cannot allow fear to be greater than the problem either. Add anxiety to it and fear becomes panic. When the problem of pain comes, we ask, what to do now? What will happen to me now? We would seek where it comes from but rarely ask what pain is and how it can benefit me. Pain is a sensation with a message. It can turn into good or bad suffering depending on how we understand it and use it.
When crisis comes, we can choose to be happy up to an extent until physical or emotional pain overwhelms, whichever comes first. Job showed us his resilience till his mind could no longer fathom as his body was exhausted. But before you conclude it’s over and this is a reason for despair, note that Job’s inner perspective was restored first which eventually led to the healing of his body.
I know that not everyone has the same good ending. We heard of people under duress took their lives. We need to take human pain seriously for we have our limits. Pain will reveal that to us quickly. As the story of Job shows, he went through the experience with the support of his friends who mourned with him, listened and talked to him as he processed his sufferings for days. In the end, what the well-meaning friends could not deliver, God came to the rescue. The road to our deliverance always involves God, never human alone. Pain asks: Am I alone? Is the unlimited God in my support system?
But you may say, I asked for help and He was silent. Believe me, there are many who blame the Healer than team up with Him. You mean God is with me? You mean the sun is still there when it’s pouring rain? Well, aside from thinking we suffer alone, this really pains me that we can’t see through our pain. Job was in the same situation. I have been there too. Doubting, angry and resentful. But we need not stay there. Pain has a message that can be a door opener.
Probably, Easter will mean differently this year. It is time we see the meaning in Jesus’ pain. He gives us the full human experience through the cross. He shows us even the way to glory is through the death on the cross. To ditch this pain, this cross, only enshrines the flesh that kills the spirit, not just the body. The invisible darkness inside is the one killing us. It blinds us. What do you do when the enemy is invisible? So, pain makes it visible. Our true color shows in times of crisis. Our dependence or a.k.a. addiction, insecurity, selfishness, arrogance, hatred, ignorance, etc. But then we need not rot there. Jesus did not just make our suffering His by suffering for us and with us. Best of all, Jesus did not remain defeated. He overcame death (due to sin) by resurrecting to life and opened the door to those who followed. Pain asks: has it uncovered what is rotting in you?
Thus, the greatest pain is the one that has no meaning because one misses the point. Every year we celebrate Easter, but we only learn of new ways to dress up the Easter Egg? I hope not. Easter is about hope, that there is life after a crisis. But not before taking out the bad guys first. Not at all difficult to understand. You remember seeking dental help once your tooth hurts? That in turn saves your tooth.
So whether it is physical or spiritual, there are times when pain is necessary or we would have destroyed and be destroyed. Pain also forces us to examine our perspective, priorities, and purpose for living. As an added value, be changed. After the pandemic, many things will no longer be the same, including your values, plans, even politics. Like the world after the Flood, pain can be a new beginning. Pain ask: what would your new world be like? Maybe a world more attuned to the suffering of others? More appreciative of what you already have? Less wasteful, and more prepared? Less demanding and more forgiving?
But woe to the one who takes advantage of pain for greed, to manipulate, to “educate” others for selfish ends. Those who believe in using “fake” struggle to weed out the weak for the survival of the fittest justify it. They create fear to control others. But it is never God who’d do this. God wants us to be healed, happy and holy. In God’s economy, those who make even the little one stumble, He will make them pay, in a way that only He can. Wow. In the meantime, He calls the fittest to help others to survive, to suffer with those who suffer, to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to spread truth and good news, not deception and doom. Pain clarifies. So pain asks: on whose side are you? Are you part of the solution or the problem?
Lastly, this too shall pass. So you can breath now. Jesus spreads everlasting life, not everlasting problem or pain. It runs on faith, not fear. In fact, a faith as small as a mustard seed will do. What if instead of fear, we react with faith in face of pain? It would be as epidemiologist Jeff Levin’s study shows how one’s “ongoing faith commitment” increases resilience and yields better medical outcome.” After all, real faith always benefit your soul though you suffer physically. Faith in God is life enhancing, not fatalistic. Fear and freedom are opposites. Faith gives us the land of the living and the free. Pain forces us to think, reflect, examine and presents us with a choice. Pain asks: what’s will it be today, fear or faith?