The Pursuit of Happiness

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)

We are all in pursuit of happiness. It’s in the Declaration of Independence as one of the unalienable rights that have been given to all people by their Creator, alongside liberty and life. How it made its way into the list is a good question, because it isn’t the same kind of thing as freedom or life. At least, not in any obvious way. Thomas Jefferson created the draft behind this statement, and it’s thought to represent his personal philosophy on life, but it was left in place in succeeding drafts. I think that something about it resounded with the other writers who were involved.

It’s designated as a right, but really, it’s a response to a need. It’s a need that we all have. An emptiness inside us. The way we typically explain it is the need to be happy; and so it seems as if the pursuit of happiness were something intended for us by the Creator to meet that need. At least, it appears that the authors of the Declaration reasoned that way. We do all have an emptiness inside us, that’s for certain. The question is what that represents, and how we fill it.

It’s been shown in research that placing a great value on being happy often results in mental health issues like depression. It’s easy to see why that would be the case, if the emptiness inside us was more than a need for happiness. If you try to meet any need with a substitute, you’re likely to leave yourself more needy than when you began. It’s even more the case with the pursuit of happiness, because it can be temporary or illusive. Life is filled with heartache, disappointment and pain; all of us are just one unfortunate turn from loss and sorrow. If we build our life on the pursuit of happiness, we will find ourselves on the rocks, again and again.

Jesus is on his way to Galilee from Jerusalem, and takes the shortest route, through Samaria. The Samaritans were not friends of the Jews, but they had a relationship of necessity. Jesus finds himself at a well with a Samaritan woman, and we come to understand that this is a divine appointment. He asks her for a drink of water, but really, he is there to offer her something. This woman had been in many marriages, and was currently with a man to whom she was not married. It’s not hard imagine her emptiness, and her quest for true happiness. Perhaps she envisioned that it was always one relationship away, and each time was disappointed. Jesus knows this woman’s secrets without being told.

When Jesus tells her that it is she who should ask him for a drink, he offers physical thirst as a metaphor for the yearning in her heart, and water for the thing she actually needs. She has a thirst that she cannot quench. She is in pursuit of happiness to meet her deepest needs, and has failed to reach it. She will never find what she looks for, along that path. Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah she has waited for her whole life. He offers the thing she needs. It is a drink of the living water. It is life itself. But it is not physical life. It is a life that pours forth and never ends, no matter what heartache life brings us. It is the thing she’s been looking for. It is the thing we’ve all been looking for, to fill the emptiness inside us.

I spent many years in pursuit of happiness, and failed to reach it. I’ve written of it here many times. But I found the thing my soul yearned for. One drink of the living water that Jesus offers to the spiritually thirsty and brokenhearted. The living water is new life in Him. It is his life, poured out for us. It is not happiness, but joy. Not pleasure, but meaning and purpose. It is a transforming power. You were made by the Creator to receive this life. All of us were. Nothing else will fill that need. And if you have it, you have everything you need, no matter the circumstances of life, happy or sad.

Jesus intersects all of our lives on a divine appointment, with the very same offer he made to that woman. To give, to the one who asks, a life that will never end—a life that quenches a thirst that the world cannot satisfy. Whatever it is that you’ve used to fill that spot, it won’t work for very long. The pursuit of happiness will always leave you back where you started. Ask Jesus for a drink of the living water.

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