Man holding phone smiling

Why do I need a relationship with Jesus to be happy?

Dear Fr. Joe: I feel like I’m a pretty happy person – why do I need a relationship with Jesus?

I often find it helpful to start by agreeing on our terms, so let’s start by looking at the word “happy.”

The dictionary defines happy as feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. I want to clarify this because of that word “feeling” in the middle of the definition. Often, that is where I get stuck. Most of us can’t help our feelings; they come, they go – some we can explain, others we can’t. To put it bluntly, as a general rule, we cannot control how we feel, only how we act. At the same time, certain things can certainly encourage happy feelings and I’m going to proceed on the assumption that this is what we are talking about: “Why will a personal relationship with Jesus encourage happy feelings in me?” With that in mind, I am going to share with you why being in a personal relationship with Jesus makes me happy.

To me, the first thought that came to me is rather simple: I believe I need a relationship with Jesus to be happy because I was made to be in relationship with him.

Let me break that down a bit. I am a Catholic, a Christian. Because of that, I believe that God is my maker. I believe that I am not a random occurrence, but an intended creation of our God.

What was I created for? Well, as the catechism puts it, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” If I do what I am made for, I will feel the rightness of it right down to my bones. I personally have experienced this and often meet others who have as well. I was made to know Jesus, to love him and serve him. I was created by love to be loved and I can’t be loved outside of a relationship.

The second truth about a relationship with Jesus that makes me happy comes from Jesus’ talks and stories about the day of judgment. On more than a few occasions, Jesus gives an image of the moment of our judgment and in that, we learn that Jesus knowing us is the key. Let’s look at the example from Matthew 25. In this parable, Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven as being like a wedding feast. At the end of the story, there are people who do not get into the wedding feast, and the reason they are turned away is simple – Jesus, the bridegroom, says to them, “I do not know you.” (Mt 25:12)

This makes me happy for a lot of reasons. Obviously, I’d like the moment of judgment to go well, that’s just common sense. But there is more to it than that. Look at what isn’t there at judgment – my rightness or my correctness. It’s about relationship and that makes me really, really happy.

I mess up a lot. I have held ideas about God for years that I find out are wrong. I’ve been wrong in my words, in my actions and even in my thoughts. For each of these, I’ve asked God’s forgiveness, but I’m also aware that I can’t get to heaven by myself. Until Jesus gets me there (God willing!), I will always be more wrong than right about him.

Imagine my relief, then, when I recognize that faith and happiness are first about embracing and maintaining a relationship with God. Then I will naturally grow (through his grace) in knowing and understanding him better.Until my judgment, though, I will always be more wrong about God than I am right. I can’t control that, because I’m a fallible, fragile human. What I will be judged on is what I can control – my effort to dedicate time and energy to knowing him better, to loving him and being loved by him and that makes me very happy.

(Sidenote here: I do not intend us to read this as an excuse to stay intentionally ignorant or stop growing in our knowledge of God. I hope that is obvious — if I don’t make the effort to know someone, I cannot deepen my relationship with them. It’s true for people, and also true for God.)

Every day, every second, Jesus is extending his hand out to us and asks us to take it, to be in a relationship with him. We foster that relationship through personal prayer, the sacraments, reading about him, talking to him and listening to him.

The more I learn of Jesus, the more I realize how extraordinary it is to be loved by him. The more time I spend reading of him, sharing my pain and struggles with him, the more I become convinced that we were made by love for love. St. Catherine of Siena put it this way: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’”

I pray we all embrace this wonder: the Author of love wants to be in relationship with us. May God bless our efforts to respond well to this call.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.