Epiphanies are always unexpected, especially around babies

Published 9:10 am Sunday, October 17, 2021

At some point in the early days of parenthood, I had an epiphany of sorts. Holding my infant son, who had just spit up on my black clergy shirt, I realized I cared more about his goodness, his growth into a human being of kindness and justice than I cared about his ‘happiness.’  In fact, I remember saying those exact words to him. Being less than a year old, he responded with grunts and a a bit more spit up. But the realization I had was worth all the soiled black shirts in the world.

I’ve come to believe that happiness is overrated. At least a happiness rooted in consumerism or pure self-interest. Over and over, we are taught that buying the newest shiny item is the American Way. We are taught to find worth, value, and satisfaction in our work, as if it’s a good thing to be reduced to what we produce. Even romantic and sexual relationships are spoken of as ‘completing’ us.

Unfortunately, we still teach these things too.  We teach people to strive for wealth as if it was a cure-all remedy. We teach our children that they should never settle for less than ‘the One’, which might just lead people into a life of unhealthy and unrealistic romantic expectations. How many times did we as children sit through the absolutely enthralling Career Day? I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my mind as I typed that last sentence.

If that is happiness, then I don’t care all that much about wishing those things on my son. Of course, I want him to have financial stability in life. And I would prefer that his job be satisfying. And if he ever found love in the arms of another, I would celebrate with him. But if those things never happen, I still believe my son can live a rich and fulfilling life.

Because he can still be a good person. He can still work to make his little corner of the world a better place. He can grow into a man who treats everyone with respect and dignity. He can make a difference through his goodness.

So that why I first wish not for his happiness, but for his goodness. Because I’m convinced that unless we make goodness and justice priorities as we shepherd the next generation, we will never be able to break the cycles of violence in all its many forms. Racism is both a system of oppression and a mindset that is taught. So too any other form of discrimination. I feel a great burden to do my part in shaping the character of my son in such a way that he will make the choice to seek goodness for himself and, more importantly, the goodness and prosperity of others.

You don’t need to be a priest to wish this for your children or the children of the world. You don’t need to be a Christian to choose goodness and justice. All that one must do to live this way is to begin with an admission that the purpose of life is not to be satisfied and happy, but to leave our corner of the world better than when we found it. Our lives are richer when we seek the goodness and happiness of more than just the one looking back at us in the mirror.

One more thing: if a baby does ever spit up on you, change your shirt before you leave the house. Speaking from experience, it’s pretty embarrassing.

Chris Adams is the rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington