The Father Challenge

This post is a little longer than most, but it ties yesterday’s post with Father’s Day

A favorite author of mine is John Ortberg. He once wrote about his three small children that when they would go out to eat, there was only one place they ever wanted to go, and it was “the shrine of the golden arches.” His children seemed to be convinced that they had a McDonald’s-shaped vacuum in their souls. The kids always want the same thing: a combination of the food — about which they really don’t much care — and a little prize. It’s not much of a prize, really, just some cheap little plastic thing, but in a moment of marketing genius, the folks at McDonald’s gave it a particular name: the Happy Meal. It is “the meal of great joy.” You aren’t just buying chicken McNuggets and a plastic princess, you’re buying HAPPINESS.

Every now and then he tried to talk them out of it. He told them to order whatever they wanted and he would give them a quarter so they can buy their own trinket and everyone would come out ahead. But the chant went up, “We want a Happy Meal. We want a Happy Meal.” Other customers stared at the skinflint of a father who won’t buy his kids the meal of great joy.

So, he bought them the Happy Meal. And it makes them happy –for about a minute and a half. The problem was that the happy wore off. The contentment did not last.

You never hear of a young adult coming back to his parents and saying, “Gee, Dad, remember that Happy Meal you gave me? That’s where I found lasting contentment and lifelong joy. I knew if I could just have that Happy Meal, I would be content for a lifetime, and I am. Thank you. There’ll be no need for therapy for this boy.”

You would think, kids being fairly bright these days, that sooner or later they would catch on to this deal and say, “You know, I keep getting these Happy Meals and they don’t give me lasting happiness, so I’m not going to be a sucker any more. I’m not going to set myself up for frustration and disappointment any more.” But it never happens. They keep buying Happy Meals and they keep not working.

Of course, only a child would be so foolish. Only a kid would be so naive as to think that contentment could be acquired through some kind of external acquisition. Only someone very young would have a high enough stupid quotient to believe that lasting happiness could come by a change in external circumstances. Right?

Ortberg’s final reflection is this: The truth about human beings is that as we grow up, we don’t get any smarter; our Happy Meals just keep getting more expensive. The world around us tells us that happiness is always just one Happy Meal away. That new car, new boat, new deck, new lake cabin will somehow meet our need for happiness. Our ever-growing pursuit of happiness rarely seems to make us happy.

Perhaps we need a whole new perspective. A perspective Jesus offer for us.

“If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose themselves?” Mark 8:34, 36

Where do you find your source of happiness?

Lord Jesus, show me your path to joy.

1 thought on “The Father Challenge

  1. Sarah S.

    I really like John Ortberg’s perspective, and I so admire him as an author and preacher. This reminds me of a scene in our kitchen years ago, when the boys wanted to buy Pokemon cards – daily it seemed. Jon explained the marketing behind it all, and the economics of producing these inexpensive cards but then selling them for far more than their actual worth, supply and demand, etc. Peter nodded, agreed, and appeared to understand. When the conversation was done, his first remark was, “Now can we go to the store to buy more Pokemon cards?” I catch this in myself more often than I’d like (ipad envy!), but time definitely teaches. And cleaning closets of things that seemed to promise happiness, but quickly became clutter, helps too. My father-in-law becomes emotional, with joy, whenever his family gathers, and that is very inspiring to me. I find such happiness in family life, great music, beauty in nature, times when my prayer life is stronger, good Bible studies (thanks for getting us into Jonah in a new way), and ice cream ;). For me it has so much to do with my mindset – and when I can turn my focus away from the tchotchke of the moment – there’s a lot more room for happiness.


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