O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Question of the Day: Happiness

Jim Palmer is one of my Internet friends, that special class of people with whom I have an online relationship but hadn’t ever met in real life. Jim is the author of Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces — two excellent books, by the way — and is a fellow triathlete/endurance athlete. He has a great blog, too.


Anyway, he’s in the Amarillo area today, though, speaking at WTAMU and I got to hang out with him at lunch. Several campus leaders were there, too, and we had sort of an unstructured question-and-answer session. I asked him if there was any connection between his spiritual journey and his more recent journey as an endurance athlete. As a seminary-trained minister, he talked about coming to a point, spiritually, where he didn’t feel he had to justify doing something that he enjoyed — something that truly brought him happiness and fulfilled an inner need — by attaching some deep spiritual meaning to it. It was enough to just ride long distances on a bike, or swim, or complete ultramarathons, because it made him happy. The challenge itself was justification enough.


That was a refreshingly honest and liberating answer. As Christians, often someone will ask “Why are you changing jobs?” or “Why do you write?” or “Why are you so into golf?” And our tendency is to over-spiritualize our rationale for doing it. Why take a new job? Because God is leading me to do it. Why write? To influence others for the kingdom, or bring glory to God. Why golf? It helps me build relationships with others, and maybe I can lead them to Christ.

Those answers certainly are pious, and they sound really good in church. But are they true?

I wonder. Jim talked about being inhibited because we’re living according to the “plot” we think our lives are supposed to follow. Like characters subservient to the plot of a novel, there are lots of things we just don’t do because we don’t think they fit into the story. But we’re wrong. What we need to do is free ourselves from the pious plot and instead, do the things that feed our soul and invigorate our lives.


Why do you like to go backpacking? Because I love it. Being outside away from everything makes me happy.

Why do you run long distances? Because I love how it makes me feel. It makes me happy.

Why do you watch The Amazing Race? Because sitting in a comfortable chair while watching people experience other cultures and deal with incredible stress…well, it makes me happy.


Why can’t we be honest about things instead of trying to dust them with spiritual glitter? Why can’t we just do things because they make us happy? Because aren’t happy, fulfilled, interesting Christians much better advertisements for the religious life than people who must always have a holy reason for everything?

I think so.

What about you? What would you do (big life change, new hobby, etc.) to improve your happiness if you didn’t have to justify it spiritually? And what keeps you from doing it?

(Or is this idea totally off-base and selfish? If so, let me know.)

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posted October 26, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Why do I spend hours a day reading blogs and exchanging information on facebook and twitter? Because it makes me happy.Wow, you're right, it feels liberating just to write it down.Seriously though, it is sad that we've gotten to a point where we feel like we have to justify everything – I mean, do we do this with our kids, "Tommy, why are you playing with those toys we bought you? What purpose are you fulfilling?" Sounds ridiculous. I would argue that we need to apply the same reasoning to our own stuff.OK, I'm going to check out some other blogs now…

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posted October 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I don't know, Jason. Sometimes God does call us to certain jobs or activities. That doesn't mean we don't like them. I don't think this is me trying to overspiritualize my desired career choice or anything, but I think it gives it more significance than: "I want to write because it's fun." (This sounds more ruder than it's supposed to, my apologies.)And if we do look at our careers as a calling, it can keep us from making them us-centered. I guess I'd rather believe my career is my calling than turn it into something I worship or treat flippantly.

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Rachel H. Evans

posted October 26, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Great post, Jason! I always feel a little awkward when Christians ask me why I write. The expectancy in their eyes tells me they're assuming I'll say something about God's leading. But the truth is, I write because it makes me happy. I'd probably write if I were an atheist. That's not to say I don't want to serve God with my talents. I do. It's just that I'm wary of using Chritianese to justify my all of my decisions and activities. (It makes God look bad.) Besides, if I told people that God wanted me to write, then they couldn't disagree or interact with what I say! (God TOLD ME to say it, right?) :-) I've read Jim's books and was lucky enough to meet him the last time I was in Nashville. I was all star-struck and stuff, but he was super down to earth and understated. Been enjoying your blog for a while now, Jason. Thanks for writing!

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Harlee Cooper

posted October 26, 2009 at 9:12 pm

John 10:10b says "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." For me this means that when we are doing something that truly makes us feel alive, then God is right there with us. There is no need to justify our actions besides the fact that we are enjoying an incredible gift from God.The counter balance is that God doesn't just want me personally to have life in abundance, God wants all of us to have that kind of life. So if golf is your thing, great, thank God for the blessing it is, but if you are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on equipment/fees or whatever golfers spend their money on because it is not enough just to enjoy the sport, you have to have the best of everything, well that just might be a problem.For some, life in abundance would be just to have food and clean water. Without wanting to put the guilts on everybody every cent/hour/energy we spend beyond what we need to simply enjoy that which God has given us could be robing someone else of the possibility of having the same 'life in abundance' that we enjoy.So, I am all for getting excited about enjoying the things that let us know we are alive, I guess I would want to encourage us not to forget that everyone has the same right to that kind of life as we do.

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posted October 27, 2009 at 11:53 am

I'm looking for a new job. I want to work in Non-Profit or Ministry because those are my passions. Why shouldn't I get paid for it?But it's suprising how many people are looking down on that mentality…No, God is not "calling me" to a new job, but He's not blocking it either. So until He speaks on the subject, I'm assuming it's okay to get a new job where I'm happier. Being happy is okay contrary to what some Christians believe.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 11:08 am

"What we need to do is free ourselves from the pious plot.." Love that line and thought Jason. I sometimes just want to put fellow Christians in a headlock, mid-conversation, and just hold them there until they promise to speak like a regular person again. We get so immersed in Christianese that it becomes inescapable in our daily conversation. I just wrote a blog titled I Love Jesus But I Drink a Little, just to put an Internet headlock on any Christian who dared read.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Agree with you wholeheartedly. In fact, I find myself having the 'christian template answer' sometimes.I think maybe Christians are pushed too much into obedience and discipline that everything has to be sacrificial as an act of obedience to a calling some sort. We forgot to feed out soul and just have fun.Make sense?

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Amanda Mae

posted November 3, 2009 at 7:53 am

Oh My Gosh.This post just made me tear up.I feel like I have been consistently struggling to justify my life choices. My decisions to change my major from Religion to English, and then to a double major with Art made me feel like I was failing God, and failing other people. But, I didn't want to remain in a program that I found boring, and frankly, didn't like. I'm a youth minister, and the other staff, and parents have questioned my decisions, and it's been a hard thing to try to explain. I've been trying to justify my love of writing, and photography, and painting, and this post just clarified what I've been trying to articulate all along. I shouldn't have to. If these things make me happy, then that is what matters, and I can figure out how they play into my life plan later.Thank you so much for sharing this.

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Duke Clarke

posted November 12, 2009 at 8:52 am

You are right on the mark. We Christians need to stop hiding behind "spiritual" matters and be real. Do we think others don't see right through our pious statements? Or even worse that they are sick of such religious talk? My wife and I practice "The Church of the First and Second Commandment" Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself…that makes us happy and that's enough.

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