Wherever you are, you might want the happiest place on earth to be there. (Instead of with fake princesses, cheap thrills, no coffee and lost children.)
After all the spiritual insights in San Francisco, we visited friends in San Diego, which was lovely and made me want to be a California gurrrrl. I strolled the beach and for half a second wondered how God could make that place home. I pictured daily walks on the boardwalk, a bike with a basket, a hot tan and real Mexican food with wonderful friends. But then I woke up out of my daydreams and was reminded that God has me rooted in Washington, maybe, because I like sweaters and coffee, grunge music and the beautiful people I get to do life with. After a few days of dreaming on the beach we headed to the happiest place on Earth…Disneyland!
But is it?
Our kids have never been to this magical place. We rolled up and had road trip stuff falling out of our car as we checked into our hotel. From bushes to waffles to legos, we were surrounded by Mickey Mouses. They were creepin’ up on us everywhere. We have never gone there as a family so I should have assumed that Rob, my husband, was going to take this whole thing seriously. He was hardcore Disneyland. Let me try and explain just how hardcore.
When you plan this type of trip, you listen to a lot of advice on what to do and what not to do. You read the web, you skim books, you listen to your friends share the places to go, the tickets to buy, the tricks to skip lines. All of it. As soon as we got out of our car, Rob was like “See those people, they have laniards. We need laniards!” So we were the dorky family that went and bought laniards because we thought we needed them for our tickets. As it turns out those laniards were for “pin” trading not for kids to hold their own Disney tickets worth hundreds of dollars! So here we were with cheese ball laniards on with no tickets in them, but of course our kids wanted to start trading. Right off the bat they wanted to use their spending money on a few pins so we could be even more Disney dork and stop at trading posts to trade. This was the first half hour of stepping foot into Walt’s world.
Rob insisted that we get up at 6 and get into the park by 7. The first morning I agreed as I couldn’t wait to see the kids faces. They had no idea what to expect. They used to say things like, “We could go to Disneyland or go jump on a trampoline”, as if they are comparable. Though I agreed to get up early, I still wanted to stop at Starbucks for coffee so I could be nice when we were meeting the princesses and not a grouchy wicked witch. But Rob was doing Disney with an iron fist and a serious bucket list insisting we get into the park ASAP. This was not the happiest place on earth, I was sure of it.
We did have a magical time watching our kids eyes light up at all they experienced from the light shows to the parade of happiness to the Cars ride and everything in between. I feel like we left no stone unturned in that happy place. We got scared in the House of Terror. Actually, to keep true to the story, Aidan wanted the “bragging rights” in his words of going. I did not want those rights. So I sat out. We got tripped out when the Indiana Jones rock came at us and we were sure for half a second that this would be the one time that ride would go kaput and that rock would finally actually kill people. People, as in us. We spun tea cups and heard “Its a small world” so many times that the world felt miniature size. We did it all and we had fun! Really, we did.
But is it the happiest place on Earth? There were long, impatient, hot lines. There were people angry and fighting with one another. There were lost children. The food was worse than McDonalds. The tickets were so expensive that they left out whole populations of people from ever entering. The princesses weren’t real. The water was the same price as that of gold. And my husband was rocking this place like it was a job. Was I happy? Is this happiness?
Happiness as I see it, is a temporary state. It comes and goes depending on what is going on at the time. Happiness is about as real as Cinderella. Happiness is the 4 minutes on Splash Mountain after the 45 minute wait in the hot burning sun to get there. Happiness is the laughter, but joy, that’s the belly laugh.
Joy is more than a temporary state. Joy is a place you stay, a place you choose. Joy is longer lasting. Joy can be found in the line and the ride. Joy comes because of something deeper. Joy sees past heat. Joy senses something deeper at hand. Joy chooses to say “Look at all I am blessed with” even if the blessings haven’t come around in awhile. Joy can be found in and out of Disneyland, on and off rides, and it costs nothing.
I get that Disneyland produces happiness. But I want more than that. And I want my morning coffee. I want the feeling of something that I don’t have to wait for, pay for, or produce. I want the joy that God gives that allows me to find happiness in the midst of any and all circumstances.
Paul who God used to write a significant proportion of the Bible, he went on some serious rides. He got on roller coasters that stopped working and ships that wrecked. He ran into mean carnies and princesses that betrayed him. He got put in real jails and almost died so many times it was nuts. He lived a crazy life. And in all of it Paul came out swinging with this statement in Philippians 4 : I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
I think joy is contentment’s cousin.I think they are so closely related. Joy brings contentment. Contentment brings joy. I want to be the girl who in the middle of Disneyland with no flippin’ coffee walks with deep joy and feels content. I want to be the family that doesn’t need to go to Disneyland to find happiness. I want to be the girl that doesn’t have to look good in a pair of jeans to find contentment. I want to be the child of a Father in Heaven who is completely satisfied with who God made me and where God has me.
And I don’t think I am that girl.
I don’t think we are that family.
And I don’t think I am that child.
But me not being that girl is not entirely up to me. This is not me having to muster up some joy off a shelf in a joy store inside of me that I have yet to find. My contentment and joy can grow into full life within me whoever I am and wherever God has me when I allow it to come from God who gives me strength to weather any circumstance, any need, any situation, any hunger and any want.
Sometimes, I think God is trying to get us all there. He is trying to get us to find deeper happiness, this joy in places we never would deem as possible. He wants us to find our strength, our all, our hope, our identity in Him and Him alone. You and I, we may not like it, but sometimes our circumstances, needs and situations are pushing our character like gravity toward this raw place of seeing our joy meter. And when we see it, we don’t like what we see. Because we see that our happiness is hiding behind all the distractions, all the plenty, all the material, all the busy, all the fake happily ever after love, all the princesses, all the coffee and all the cheap thrills. And when those things are gone and the park closes, we are tapped out of “happy.”
When we left the happiest place on earth, we got home and our family faced some things that challenged our joy. I got home and am currently going to the school of learning what it means to be content in any and all circumstances. I will share more about that soon. But in the meantime, I encourage you to participate in the school of contentment that God has you enrolled in, knowing that His strength in you is the only ride that brings actual happiness. No longer allow all the other distractions, cheap thrills and fake princesses to convince you they are what will do it. Real joy and contentment will only come from One who is longer lasting, One who is consistent, One who never lets you down, One who never closes, One who doesn’t give up, the One who Loves with a Perfect Love. May you and I be able to echo these words, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”