The Cure for Most of Your Unhappiness
The noise level in my car was deafening. Five of my grandchildren were all talking at once. Then above the noise I heard one little girl’s voice. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw my seven-year-old granddaughter with her hands clapped over her ears. Trying to be heard over her noisy cousins, she was repeating, with ever increasing volume and emphasis, “I need ear muffs. I need ear muffs. I NEED EAR MUFFS!”
The noise level in our lives can be pretty deafening, too. So many voices, all talking at once. Family, friends, co-workers, and, perhaps most noisy of all, the digital voices on TV and social media. Then there’s our own internal dialogue running in the background. And the enemy of our souls takes every opportunity to insinuate his lies into all the noise. It’s like being in the car with all your crazy cousins. Where can I get me some ear muffs?
The Cause of Most of Our Unhappiness
Here’s the thing: not only is a noisy life annoying; it’s disruptive to our emotions. God created our minds and emotions to work together. The noisier our thought life, the more volatile our feelings. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed a noisy life was the source of most of our troubling emotions: “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself?” Or listening to others? Or to Satan? I dare say the answer to his question is “No,” most of us don’t realize how much the noise in our lives feeds our unhappiness.
The truth is, all the chatter we listen to, entertain, chew on, and replay generates many of our unhappy emotions. The voices that penetrate our minds may issue forth in the shape of anxiety, frustration, or discouragement.
We hear about a tragedy or read breaking news, and we feel anxious and afraid.
We berate ourselves for failing again, and we feel guilty and ashamed.
We rehearse the slights or insults we’ve received, and we feel angry and bitter.
We scroll through our friends’ social media updates, and we feel envious.
We absorb Satan’s lies about God, and we feel despair.
The Cure We Need Most
We need to put on our spiritual earmuffs, if you will — turn off the TV shows, delete the distracting apps, resist the devil, and shush our own internal musings. And we must listen to God’s word. This is the cure for most of our unhappiness. The more we listen to truth, the happier we will be.
“Happy,” says the psalmist — for this is what “blessed” means and more — is the one whose “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates [listens] day and night” (Psalm 1:1–2). In other words, godly emotions flow from a continual habit of meditating on God’s word.
It’s wise to start first thing in the morning. After all, isn’t that when the noise starts? C.S. Lewis wrote,
It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes [and fears] for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. (Mere Christianity, 198)
If we harbor any hope of true happiness for our days, we need to choose — first thing — to shove back all the noise and “listen to that other voice” by reading God’s word.
Carry the Cure with You
But this is only the beginning. We should also choose to listen to our Lord by meditating on his word all day long. It’s so basic that we often forget how important it is. We wonder why we don’t feel joyful much, but if we spend twenty minutes in our devotions and then the next twelve hours choosing to ride around with the noisy cousins, is it any wonder we feel unhappy?
Now, of course we can’t shut out every voice, but we can and must choose to put on our spiritual earmuffs during the day, so that we can listen to God’s voice. Maybe we use our mental free time to memorize a passage of Scripture. Maybe we turn on worship music or sing a hymn. For me, it is as simple as writing a verse on an index card and carrying it around, reading it often as I go about my tasks. Remember, happy is the one whose day is spent in meditation on God’s word.
Then in the evening our mental noise level often ramps back up. As my husband, CJ, likes to say, “The devil does his best work at night.” And so, we must sleep with our spiritual earmuffs on. We must choose to end our day meditating on God’s word. This, says the psalmist, is the key to all-night-happiness, “My soul will be satisfied . . . my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:5–6). Listening to God leads to happy rest, which is why I often choose one verse to mull over as I fall asleep. I want my first and last thought of the day to be of Christ.
The choice before us is simple, really. We can choose to listen to all the noise and be filled with anxious, fretful, unhappy emotions, or, by the grace of God, we can choose to listen to the Lord through his word and experience a full range of godly emotions. When we stop listening to ourselves, the world, and the devil, and choose to meditate on Scripture, God’s powerful word will renew our hearts. More and more, the unhappiness that arises from so many voices will be displaced by true happiness in Christ.