Blessed Unhappiness

The mercy of God leads to discontent.

I participated in a fair amount of old school door-to-door evangelism. Back in the day, we took the gospel into neighborhoods from house to house like salesmen once did with Encyclopedia Britannica and Hoover vacuums. Sometimes I went in teams of two or three. Occasionally I’d venture alone into a bedroom community like Brunswick, Ohio, and visit fifty or so houses.

At two o’clock on a weekday, about forty of those fifty residents wouldn’t be home.  Of those who answered, eight would reject me (“Hit the bricks, jackass,” one of them once said).  Of those who didn’t reject me, one would be lonely and want to talk about her cat.  And then there was the one guy who had thought through all the reasons he didn’t need the gospel. He could name them as easily as reading ingredients off a Twinkie wrapper.  “I am already happy.” “I am not embarrassed or ashamed of anything.” “I am satisfied with my life as is, with no need for anything or anyone to be added to me.”

I found it hard to get mad at that last guy. Just eight years prior, I could have recited the same list myself.  I had been happy as a dirty guy, because in the dark you don’t see the mud stains, the marks, the blemishes, and the discolorations.  Nor do you feel much shame when everybody else in the locker room of planet earth stinks, too.  I suppose I had been satisfied with my life, though it was the kind of satisfaction in thinking peanut butter sandwiches are the absolute bomb, but only because you’ve never had anything else in your life to eat. By those standards then, yes, I had been happy without Jesus.

But then I began to get uncomfortable with my life and my world. I received all kind of advice on how to numb that discomfort. The solutions offered typically consisted of girls, money, or beer. I’m glad I didn’t waste much time on those elixirs. None of them would have worked, because they couldn’t work.

God had chosen me.  You can’t cure that. There’s no solving it with bribes or Band-Aids.  When God chooses, He doesn’t proceed to call names off a roster. If that were the case, no sinner would ever answer.  Instead, God initiates mysterious operations inside the corridors of the human heart.

Peter says, “He chose you…by the sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Another way of saying it could be, “He chose you…by the Spirit setting you apart.” When the Spirit begins to work, He doesn’t allow you to happily continue fitting into the current world; He makes you uncomfortable in it.

For one thing, you start to notice sin both in you and around you. I took a ride with a buddy who had been married less than two years and had just become a new father.  He was already cheating on his wife with multiple women and was proud of it. I thought, Is this what it’s all about—a big game where everybody deceives each other?  Then there was the empty, purposeless, trivial nature of life to contend with.  As I sat in my room year after year, listening to music and eating chips, I was often grieved with the thought I’m part of a tragedy where billions of human beings desperately try to make their fifteen minutes meaningful before it’s all over.    

From time to time I wondered if I was slipping into some sort of depression. It bugged me. I might end badly, like Van Gogh, who cut his ear off.
Except I wasn’t a genius. Or a painter. Or even Dutch.

The Spirit’s “setting apart” had begun.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my discontent was well on the way to becoming the biggest blessing of my life.


  1. I realized what you are saying when I saw what Jesus said in Matthew 5. “Blessed are they….” Not “happy” but “blessed.” It seems to me God doesn’t promise to make us happy. He promises to make us blessed, joyful, contented with Him (and Him alone).

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