My Dad started cooking when my mother was in graduate school at the University of Kentucky. I would walk in the back door famished from swim team or basketball practice and see Dad at the stove and let out an audible groan. If it was meatloaf or beef stroganoff I headed past the chef without criticism or thanks. If Dad was making salmon patties or worse yet “Tuna Hot Dish” I groaned and sighed aloud “oh no, dad is cooking.” Dad often greeted my ungrateful groans with an equal annoyance. If dad was in a good mood he responded with a gravelly wicked witchy laugh, EEH-HE-HEE-E-E-E, that made me wonder if Dad relished fixing dishes I hated. I am sure that mom loved Dad’s cooking. At some point I realized Dad was way ahead of my friend’s fathers in helping around the house. After I heard a few “oh gross” remarks from my own children, I remember my adolescent ingratitude in a new light. I suppose Dad’s sarcastic witch laugh was a more loving response than I deserved!
My father was a deeply religious man and a fan of the Psalms. If you complained to Dad about not having the latest something, my father would launch into a litany. The liturgical call was, “Who do you think puts a roof over this house?” Our prescribed response was “You and Mom do.” You had to look at the cantor, because Dad might offer the call and the response saying “Your mother and I that is who!” Hear “a Psalm for the Ingrate” by my father, Robert Louis Purdue.
Who do you think puts a roof over your head? You and Mom do.
Who do you think puts food on the table? You and Mom do.
Who do you think puts groceries in the pantry? Your mother and I, that’s who, and you clowns can eat.
Who do you think puts cars in the driveway? You and Mom do.
Who do you think puts gas in those cars? Your Mother and I do, that’s who.
Who do you think insures those cars? You and Mom do!
Who do you think provides heat in the winter? You and Mom do.
Who do you think pays the electric bill so you can leave on every light in the house? You and Mom do.
Who do you think drives you to swim team practice and meets? You and Mom do.
Who do you think bought you those new basketball sneakers? You and Mom did.
Who do you think paid too much for those jeans? You and Mom did!
Who do you think paid for camp this summer? You and Mom did.
Dad could go on like that, rattling off “who do you thinks” for the rest of dinner. Sometimes Dad got creative: “Who do you think puts deodorant in the bathroom so you don’t stink your girlfriend right out of the car?” Dad kept at it until you surrendered by waving a napkin or by offering formal terms of surrender stating “Thank you Father for all the good things you and dear Mother provide us poor undeserving children.”
You had to forgive Dad for listing 500 good deeds in his “Who do you think puts a roof …?” litany. My dad was a former supply sergeant and purchased everything for a big manufacturing plant the next town over. Still my dad understood something foundational. Dad knew that doing good is what matters. The Bible affirms that love is more in actions than affections. Love is not emotions but ethics. Love is less passion than principles. Love is not feeling good but doing good. Love puts food on the table even when it does not feel like it!
My dad rarely said “I love you.” This is not a big deal. Maybe Dad’s lack of speaking love was a generational thing or maybe it was related to his growing up in an abusive home. I am sure if I had asked Dad “do you love me?” he would have said “who do you think puts a roof over your head?” His Provider’s Litany speaks of a deep and active but often ignored love. When Dad said goodbye he did not reach for “I love you” instead Dad said “be good.” “Be good.” I am unsure if my dad cared too much if his children were happy. I think he did. However, I know my Dad cared if we were good. Be good. Be good is the way Jesus tells us to show love in Luke 6:27.
The modern family revolves around being happy. We crave happiness. We pursue it. It’s in our national creed. We want our children to be happy. We want everyone to be happy. We think if someone is not happy we have a grave problem. If someone is not happy we worry about it. We stick games in children’s hands because boredom must be solved. We give into emotional blackmail because unhappy makes us uneasy. We buy each other stuff so that everyone will be happy.
Friends, hear the Good News: God did not design the family to make us happy.
God designed the family to do good. God made the family to help us be good. Be good.
Are you designing your family with the end product or ultimate objective of making each other happy or do you strive to help each other become good? Do you pursue happiness or godliness? What you strive matters. If happiness is what drives behavior, you may sacrifice what is good for what is expedient. Do you organize around feeling good or cultivating ethics, principles? Do you seek to feel good or do good?
The question of family design and outcomes is addressed in Deuteronomy 6. It follows right after Moses offers the Ten Commandments. Listen as Moses speaks to Israel: “Now this is the commandment—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all God’s commandments so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you… Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. …diligently observe these commandments before the Lord our God and be in the right.”
Moses does not tell us how to be happy or how to make our kids happy. Moses says the Lord commands you to be good. Talk to your kids about the rules God has for us. Repeat the lessons. Recite them. Know them. Explain them. Observe them. Put up signs around the house. God’s goal for your family is not to make you happy, but holy, whole and good. God’s goal for the family is not to be happy but to be good. Now, the result of being good is usually longer term happiness. Things “will go well with you.”
The current parenting and family culture may be hamstrung by our desire to produce happy people especially happy kids. That is the wrong goal and likely ends up with unhappy adults. Years ago, Caleb and Lewis spent a week with Connie’s parents. Now Joe and Nancy loved (had fondness for) a certain Buffett. The boys liked it too because of the huge dessert bar with every pie, cake, cookie, brownie, ice cream and sprinkle imaginable. Driving over Nancy kept saying to the boys. “Now you have to eat one fruit or vegetable before you can go to the dessert line.” When they moved through the salad bar line, next to the various salads sat some chocolate pudding. Why do they put pudding on a salad bar? Sweet little Caleb turned up his smile batted his eyelashes and asked “Nanny, can I have pudding? It’s on the salad bar?” She caved. He was pretty cute. He was happy until his stomach hurt that night. A week at Nanny’s will not kill you! A lifetime of pudding as your salad will kill you. Often we like feel like we need to make everyone, especially our kids, happy. That is the sermon in two weeks. This week let’s just ask, “What is the goal of your family? What life product are you making in your home? Do we strive to do good or being happy?”
It is simple with children. If a parent thinks the goal is to make a child happy, well they might not make the child nap, try a new food, stop hitting their sister, brush their teeth, stop playing x-box, do chores, go to school or go to church when they don’t feel like it. At times we must make children temporarily unhappy so that they might have all their teeth, know how to read, know how to work, and know how to navigate a complex sinful world. We sacrifice temporary happiness so that children can come to enjoy a good life.
If you try to make your spouse, your cousin Wanda, or your mother happy then know this fact- you can’t really make anyone happy. Repeat after me, you can’t really make anyone else happy. You see, happiness resides inside another person’s soul. God does not allow us access to the happiness thermostat inside another person. Each of us controls our own happiness setting.
For example you might give an envelope with one hundred -hundred dollar bills to three family members. One might become distressed or even jealous wondering what you gave to the other two. They might watch the others count their money instead of enjoying your gift! One might refuse your gift insisting on giving it back saying it’s too much or not wanting to be socially indebted to you. The third might joyously hug your neck right off. The three reactions are rooted more inside your family members’ souls than due to your gift.
Our happiness thermostat is locked inside each soul, and we cannot adjust another person’s setting. It is not that we do not care or that we try to make people unhappy, but that being good supersedes trying to making another person happy. I realize this is pretty counter cultural! People use emotional blackmail all the time saying, “you make me mad” and “I would be happy if you would just”… and lovely sounding half-truths like “you complete me” and “you make me so happy.”
Psalm 62 affirms the soul as the deepest place of rest, contentment, joy and peace. Psalm 62 hints that our happiness thermostat resides inside each of us. Externals like the happiness of riches or the pain of mistreatment do not set our soul’s response. Externals do matter, but ultimately faith, hope, love, peace and joy reside within each person’s soul. Consider Psalm 62:
“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from God. Truly God is my rock and my salvation; God is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
How long will people assault me? Surely they intend to topple me…
Yet, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from the Lord.
Though riches may increase, do not set your heart on them. Trust in the Lord at all times, pour out your hearts to God.
God is our refuge.”
Listen again to Moses calling to our families. Hear the key words. They are not especially happy words. They are the words of spiritual effort and work: commandment, teach, observe, revere, keep all God’s commandments, commanding, hear, observe diligently, keep in your heart, recite, talk, bind, sign, fix, emblem, write, observe, commandments, be in the right. These are the words of ethics not emotions, principles not passions, and integrity instead of intoxication. This is striving to do good before feeling good. Happiness will not arrive by striving for it, but by a deep commitment to doing the right things. We need to do the right thing in order to truly feel good.
Christian parents, your job is not to make your kids happy. Teach them to be good and they may find happiness. Daughters, your life work is not to please your mom. Her happy-meter has its own setting. Be Good and maybe she will appreciate your Christ-like life. Husbands, your job is not to make your wife happy. Be Godly- “love her as Christ loved the church,” but know you can’t make her happy. She must choose goodness and then find her happiness. Only God can get inside our souls and make us happy.
I love the charge in the 1956 EUB Marriage Vows. It reminds us that our relational happiness flows not from romance but from following God and doing the right things. We build joy by loving ethical actions. Listen to the charge:
“I charge you both, as you stand in the presence of God,
to remember that love and loyalty alone will avail as the foundation of a happy home.
If the solemn vows you are about to make are kept faithfully,
(for better for worse, love, cherish, comfort, honor, keep, be faithful,)
and if steadfastly you endeavor to do the will of your heavenly Father,
your life will be full of joy, and the home you are establishing will abide in peace.”
Friends, you can’t make those you love happy. They have to choose that for themselves. They must choose goodness, for in goodness comes joy and peace. Instead of striving to make others happy, let us treat others with the Golden Rule. Be Good! Treat others in the way you want to be treated. From goodness deep bonds emerge and deep joy comes into lives. Happiness flies away quickly when hard times press in. Goodness endures and has a response to evil. Happiness flies in the face of evil, suffering or loss. Goodness endures amid worse, sicker, poorer and other less than happy times.
The Good News is that goodness often produces deeper happiness. The child who learns to brush their teeth enjoys better health. The hard work of reading opens a whole new world of opportunity to us. Doing good produces Christ-like character. Being good produces inside us a font of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Hear Moses’s call: “Observe the laws diligently so that it may go well with you…” Happiness is a lovely byproduct of goodness.
Jesus said “But seek first God’s kingdom and live righteously, and all these everyday human concerns will fall into place as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
Will we organize our lives around being happy or doing good? That is Life’s foundational family question! Will we live selfishly for our own happiness or shoulder the impossible task of trying to make everyone happy? Or will we will we strive above everything else to be good… to do the will of God before anything else?
Will we heed Proverbs 3? “Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
God is the one who will keep you on track.
Run to God! Run from evil!
Honor God with everything you own;
Give God your first and your best.
Then friend, your barns will burst and your wine vats will brim over.
You’re blessed when you meet Wisdom, when you make friends with Insight.
She’s worth far more than money in the bank; her friendship is better than a big salary.
Wisdom’s value exceeds all the trappings of wealth;
Her manner is beautiful! She’s the very Tree of Life to those who embrace her.
Hold her tight—and be blessed (and become happy)!”
Proverbs 3 adapted from “The Message”
Oh friends, let us not strive to be happy- let us seek to be good. God designed us to be good. Let us strive to be Godly, to do good, to be Christ-like, to become spiritual, ethical, principled and righteous. When we do good our souls may not always be happy, but they know a deep abiding peace and joy. We cannot make another person happy. We cannot move the happiness needle of their soul’s thermostat. However, if our families choose to do good with us, then they can come to know better the peace, presence and joy of Christ through us. Let us be good. Amen.