Wednesday, October 24, 2012


I recently watched this documentary.  You can see the trailer here, the entire thing if you get netflix.

In this documentary called Happy, researchers make a case that you can, in fact, measure happiness much like you can diagnose depression.  The movie follows people from around the world and touches on a few main factors for "happiness".

Being that I'm in a job where I run into people all the time who are experiencing the happiest of happy days- like weddings- or, the saddest of sad days- like funerals- I was interested in what this filmmaker had to say.

The most fascinating things about the findings were probably the simplest, too.  Happy people practice what this researcher calls "flow".  Flow is usually exercise or something you do where you get in the grove and derive energy and satisfaction that is felt deeply.  It can probably be compared to a runner's high, or the peace one feels after practicing yoga.  I think it's also possible to achieve it from making art or writing- if that's what you love.  The movie makers spoke with a surfer, who had basically lived a very simple life in order to be able to surf everyday.  He loved it, and felt totally fulfilled.

Another thing the documentary described was proximity to family and/or close friends.  Those who had people around them who they trusted, and loved, were ultimately more happy.  I'm sorry to say that I live far away from family, and it does get to me sometimes- probably when I don't even realize it.  However, I think the researchers also described the importance of deep and meaningful relationships, which I believe I get to have in my job.  One woman, in particular, a Danish woman, who was recently divorced, moved herself and her children into a community living situation.  She described it as the best thing she had ever done- to live and commune, cook and share with a closely-knit network of people.

One more thing the movie said.  Happy people tend to love what they do, but they don't do it too much.    Hah.  I think this is probably the thing Americans get after the most- people in the United States confuse vocation with money and success, and it does not make them happy.  The documentary "confirmed" that this was the case, as well.  And, apparently, it's true in Japan, too.  They even have a word for it over there- karoushi- and it alludes to the idea of working so much for something you think you want, and it ultimately leads to death.  Yikes.

I suppose I knew most of this stuff already.  But, it was neat to see it from a worldwide perspective. People living in what we would consider to be absolute poverty, loving their lives more than I probably do on a daily basis.  But, it wasn't just this idea that material wealth does not bring happiness.  The movie focused on relationships- real, lasting, honest, authentic relationships.  And, I wonder if this is where I (or, the church?) can step into this world of UNhappiness.

On Sundays, all I have to do is look around at the children playing freely in classrooms, singing songs and being loved on by their teachers.  Children understand that at church relationships exists without boundaries- between them and everyone they encounter, young and old.  They get that, at church, they are free to be themselves, that it doesn't matter how big their house is, or how cool their backpack is.  At church, they know it doesn't matter what their parents do for a living- in fact, they enjoy sitting next to them in worship, and being around them during coffee hour.  Children also get to see happiness that is created by real things, filled with grace and truth- baptisms of babies, singing that is not performance-oriented, hugs between friends in the hallway, money being freely shared for mission.  And, our children sense the Spirit, they pick up on it, I know they do!  They pay attention and believe.

All this to say, I'm not sure the church is a place where happiness springs forth.  In fact, I've always been taught that happiness really isn't the goal- if there is a "goal" in this life, to speak of.  What we find in the community of faith, in the body of Christ, is joy.  We do joy around here.  Joy isn't happiness, friends.  Joy can be experienced in good times and in bad.  Joy comes from finding the peace of Christ that passes all understanding in the midst real of life- it's about noticing and sensing and feeling God's presence with you in gratitude, in thanksgiving, in sorrow, in fear, in anxiety, in... whatever.  Joy is deep, profound trust that God does not let us go, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.  And joy is knowing that there is a future for us- all of us.

Colossians 1:11-12

"We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul - not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

takin' care of me.

Fall is definitely here with chillier temperatures in the 50s!  You can smell the crispness in the air, leaves burning in piles, and chili bubbling in crockpots.  You can see the leaves changing (at least, they are just starting to here in St. Louis!), and the sunsets look just a bit more vibrant.  It’s a great time of year to get outside, pick a pumpkin or apple, bake a pie, and go shopping for a few fall essentials!  You know you want to…

I had a pretty busy week, last week.  I had an expected wedding rehearsal and wedding on Friday/Saturday, with a training dinner to host on Friday night.  But, I also had an unexpected funeral to plan for on Friday.  It was made more difficult because I didn’t know the man, though he was a prominent person in St. Louis- just a little more pressure, but that’s okay.  Those things on top of usual craziness made me ready to usher in Fall in smalls ways when I could find time for them. 

Little ways I’m finding “me” time:

I’ve decided to buy an inordinate number of pumpkin candles, because they are calming and make my office and home smell delightful.  I also invested in a fall plant to hang outside until I bring it in for the winter.  The florist assured me it would live.  She doesn’t know me, though, nor my history with plants.  Here’s hoping it lives because it’s got a beautiful leaf that’s green-striped on the top, and purple on the bottom!

I also decided to make my version of beef bourguignon this weekend.  It’s actually Ina Garten’s recipe, but I leave out the Cognac- tastes fine without it.  It’s way less complex than Julia Child’s recipe, and tastes divine!  Total crowd pleaser, but not diet food.  Here’s the link to the recipe:

I managed to clean my house, however it was in a bit of a manic panic, because I didn’t want to spend too much time cleaning this weekend… you can’t rationalize with crazy.  And, I also woke up early to squeeze in a run on Saturday morning around Lake Creve Coeur.  Probably the most beautiful morning run I’ve had in a while, and I didn’t even drink any water beforehand- I felt great though, and give credit to the non-fat latte I drank beforehand, instead!  The bagel afterward didn’t taste too bad, either.

Then, to top it all off, Saturday evening, we did have a fire in the backyard.  First one of the season.  It crackled and warmed us up, which was nice since I’ve become cheap in my old age and have refused to turn on the heat. 

All in all, it was an intense, yet wonderful few days around casa Hande/Brouwer.  And I think it’s because I decided to make it that way.  Earlier last week I was starting to let the fact that my day off had been overtaken by responsibilities consume me and make me angry.  I don’t like when I start to feel a taste of bitterness in my mouth about work, but it happens, sometimes.  At some point, though, this week, I realized I did have some little moments to enjoy ushering in the fall season.  And so, I took advantage of them.  I ran, cooked, bought plants and candles, and it reminded me of something really important.

Sometimes the line between what I do, and who I am can get really blurred.  I am a pastor, but being one doesn’t define me, nor does it (gasp!) totally satisfy me.  Yes, I get to share sacred moments with people, and share their most profound joys and pains (wonderful gifts!), but ultimately, it’s not who I am.  And I think most of us- not just pastors, but everybody- can get so wrapped up in what we do that we allow it to define us, our time, and our gifts… maybe we even allow what we do to limit our enjoyment of life, and of God, himself (herself). 

So, what did I do this weekend?  I practiced little moments of Sabbath.  Buying a candle can remind you of the light of Christ, cooking a meal can feed your stomach and your soul, and running can definitely give you time alone with your Creator. 

What’s more, though, is that I realized something.  I may BE a pastor.  But, I AM a child of God.  And this child of God needed some time to herself this weekend to be reminded of it.  Even though my job is such a privilege, and a true vocation in every sense of the word, it is, simply, what I do.  Who I am, though, is something much better.  I am known, loved, created, called on, restored, cleansed, comforted, and made whole by God.  I am a child of God, and, I’ll tell you what- you’re one too.  Don’t forget it, and don’t forget to make time to remember it (does that make sense?). 

Take to heart, these words from Isaiah 43:
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Remember to make time for yourself, you little children of God.