Choosing to be happy or not

In a spiritual work I was reading recently, the author implied that God loves us to the extent of needing us. Having just taught my students the truth that God in fact did not need us, I was disappointed by the article.

The truth is that God does not need us. He never did need us, and He never will need us. He is perfectly happy and complete within the Trinity. He Himself is all He needs, just as He is the one we ultimately need as well. Nothing and no one could ever add anything to God that He does not have on His own; otherwise, He would not be God!

To some people today, these statements may be off-putting, because they seem to contradict a loving God. But this betrays a misunderstanding of what it actually means to love. Romantic stories and movies give us the idea that to love someone is to need them desperately. But while we do have legitimate emotional needs, this kind of neediness is far from true love. Ultimately, if my happiness depends on what another person can give me, I am using that person, not loving him or her.

God does not need us, but He still chose to create and redeem us, so that we could be in union with Him. My existence adds nothing to God, but He still wanted me. And that is the freedom of not approaching others in a needy way; we are able to choose out of love to want them to be a part of our lives. Rather than having our happiness depend on them, we are able to share our happiness with them.

When I was teaching my fifth-grade students recently about Divine Providence, we discussed the fact that God made us for union with Him and is guiding our lives to that end, and that we choose how to respond to the grace He gives us to make that union possible. One of my students responded with great insight: “So basically, we get to choose whether we’re happy or not?”

God made us not because He needs us for His own happiness but because He wanted to share His perfect happiness with us. Love that is truly self-giving, and thus truly worthy of the name of love, seeks to share itself, not to hoard the generosity or goodness or presence of the other. To view others as necessary to my happiness and thus to be unable to stand separate from them is to force myself to need them and use them rather than to be free to want to share my life with them.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel

Perhaps this gives us a small insight into how to live as Jesus commands when He tells us to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12b). This kind of love does not seek its ultimate fulfillment or happiness in the other; it finds these only in the Father. Then, it shares that love of the Father with the other. Those who truly love each other do so with the love of God Himself, the God who wants us and has chosen us, though He does not need us. May we love all those in our lives as Jesus loved, “as the Father has loved” us (John 15:9a). This is what it means to choose happiness.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.