I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who said they wanted to live a mediocre life. Most people I know would say they want to live their best lives, doing what they love and loving what they do. However, most people I meet and talk to—mostly the same people as before—would say they are not living their best lives.
If you were to ask people what it would take to make them happy, most of the answers would include factors like “having lots of money,” “living in my dream house,” “being married to my dream spouse,” or “finally being debt free.” But those are not the things that make human beings happy or fulfilled.
A 1938 Harvard University study with 734 participants set out to discover what makes people thrive. Eighty-five years later, the study includes three generations and more than 1,300 descendants of the original participants. Subjects have been followed from their teen years to old age, with researchers gathering everything from their exercise and drinking habits to marital satisfaction and their biggest worries.
Researchers regularly collect their health records for markers of physical and mental well-being and meet them face-to-face to observe their behavior and living conditions. Participants rate their lives by answering questionnaires that ask whether they’re happy, if their life is meaningful and if they have a reason to get up in the morning. They undergo brain scans, blood tests and checks of stress hormones.1
After 85 years, researchers found that good relationships were the deciding factor in most people’s thriving and happiness. I would have to concur. Being married to the right person is glorious, and being married to the wrong person is devastating on many levels. The people in our lives can tend to make or break our happiness, but as Christians, we do not live for mere happiness.
Makarios was a common Greek word, appearing 50 times in the New Testament. We can translate it as “happy,” if we recognize that it means more than just a frothy feeling of well-being or a transient good mood. This word describes a person who enjoys a special privilege, a desirable position we recognize as a good reason for happy feelings. Some translate it as “privileged, fortunate.”2
I’ve heard many Christians say that happiness shouldn’t be pursued or desired, and that serving the Lord won’t bring you happiness, but I would have to disagree. Is serving the Lord always easy or convenient? No, it’s not, but when you are walking out the will of God for your life, you will be happy. I feel very privileged and fortunate that God chose me to give my life to the cause of Christ. Has it always been fun, easy or painless? No, but it has been so rewarding and so fulfilling. I believe Scripture gives us the right to be happy, and happiness is a reward for serving God.
Happiness is one thing, but living out of purpose is where we find fulfillment. I will turn 55 on January 22, 2024, and I can honestly say I have been living my best life—but only for the last ten years. I gave my heart to God when I was eight years old in a Southern Baptist revival, and I have loved the Lord with all my heart since then.
I married my college sweetheart, Ron Carpenter, in 1990, and we dove headfirst into ministry. We moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to help start a church with another pastor and his wife. After a year, we moved to Greenville, South Carolina, to start Redemption Outreach Center (now called Redemption and a thriving church with two locations in Greenville and San Jose, California).
I was raised in a Christian home, but there was abuse and constant strife, and what happened on Sunday was not congruent with what took place the other six days of the week. I was raped when I was 15 years old, which led me on a downward spiral of anxiety and people-pleasing. I had no idea that going into ministry would force me to live on a treadmill of performance, which prevented me from being honest about my childhood trauma. I had to sweep that under the rug so I could smile and be the “perfect” pastor’s wife.
Wearing this mask of perfection continued throughout my 20s and early 30s until the beautiful, perfect house I had constructed collapsed from its cracked foundation. I had a lot of things that made me happy: my husband, three healthy children, a growing church and so on. But I was not running my race with my eyes fixed on Jesus because I was too preoccupied with my pain.
Unresolved pain will eat away at your heart and mind like a slow-growing cancer; the only antidote is to stop and deal with it. My life came to a screeching halt in 2013 after years of stuffing pain and seeking things to make me happy to try to numb the pain. I loved Jesus, but I had no idea how to walk out His plan and will for my life and live this abundant life that He said was mine in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I love how the New Living Translation words it: “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Who doesn’t want a rich and satisfying life? Not rich as in “tons of money in the bank rich” (that would be nice too), but wealthy as in full and rewarding. But how? How do we walk this out on a daily basis when we are terribly broken and have been hurt, abused and mishandled? Church has not always provided a safe place for the hurting to come and be honest so that we can be really healed and free.
I decided in 2013 to become honest with my brokenness and pain, and that is when my healing journey began, and my abundant life started. Most of us are so afraid to be laughed at, judged, abandoned and canceled that we continue to wear our masks, living in our private pain, wishing, hoping, wanting a better life but never attaining it.
God is not a genie in a bottle. You can’t spout off three scriptures and a prayer and erase your memories. We remember. We feel. We hurt, and salvation does not delete our memories, feelings or pain. Pain and trauma must be dealt with, and the Bible calls this renewing our mind so that we can occupy every promise that the cross has afforded us.
Occupying is an interesting concept. On March 20, 2003, President George W. Bush announced that U.S. forces had begun a military operation in Iraq. The war continued until December 18, 2011, when the last U.S. soldiers left Iraq, ending a nearly nine-year military mission.
It’s been more than 20 years since the war in Iraq ended, but we still have troops in Iraq. Why? They are trying to occupy. The war is over, and the victory has been won, but we are still trying to lay hold of everything we have rights to. It’s the same way in the spiritual realm. The battle for our victory is over, but it will take the rest of our lives to occupy what is already ours. This is what fighting the good fight of faith looks like.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Because of the finished work of the cross, we have great and precious promises, but they are not floating around in the air. We must fight the good fight of faith daily to occupy and obtain them. This, my friend, is work. Most of us are buried in our pain and bitterness and would rather hold onto that than crucify our flesh, forgive those we need to forgive and let the pain go so we can be free.
Others of us are extremely casual or lazy in our walk with the Lord, and we are content to go to church now and then and keep our “get out of hell free” ticket in our wallet. That’s all we want. If that’s the case, we will never experience “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matthew 6:10)—the full life, the joyous life, the peaceful life that is rightfully ours.
I was determined to dig my way out of my pain and mess and peel back every layer of sin, unforgiveness, bitterness and shame until I met breakthrough face-to-face. Am I a perfect Christian? Absolutely not, and neither are you. (Aren’t you thankful for grace?) I am so grateful for a place of honesty, even if it cost me so-called friends and so-called honor. I’m on a journey to discover the abundant life of God that not only gives me happiness but also fulfillment and life as I’ve never known it.
I didn’t know that I had it in me to be able to do the work of freedom, but I’m so grateful that our bodies are on a clock that ends each day, and we get to close our eyes and rest so that we can begin fighting to occupy when we wake up. The fight of faith gets weary at times, but we can start over every morning, kissed by mercy. Aren’t you thankful that we don’t get what we deserve?
God does have an amazing life planned for each of us, but it will only be found in cooperation with him. We are all called to run our race with our eyes fixed on Jesus. My race, life, past, issues, victories, and calling look different from yours, so I can’t compare myself to you and vice versa. That is also why I can’t judge yours and vice versa.
Run your race, and I’ll run mine, but don’t stop short of running to win. According to Jeremiah 29:11, God has no bad days planned for you: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (NLT). Don’t let your past, your haters or your mind talk you out of the good life that can be yours if you’re willing to occupy it.
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