Prosperity vs. Providence: What You Want Isn't Always What You Need

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I’ve mentioned before that for me, when it comes to relying on God, I like to think more along the lines of believing in providence rather than prosperity.

The word “providence” comes from the word “provide,” which means “to make available” or “to supply.” The word always takes into account what is to come. Prosperity means “successful, flourishing, thriving.” Not that there’s anything wrong with having a life that’s successful, flourishing, or thriving, but at the same time, meditate on this Bible verse: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

We live in a society that doesn’t understand the difference between “Need” and “Want.” Blimey Cow did a video on this:

Let’s apply the strategy from Messy Mondays to the things that we want.

Would we really be in serious trouble if we didn’t have the perfect house or a nice car or a million dollars? Pope Francis lives in what is basically an apartment building and only rides in the Popemobile once a week. Not to mention that since he’s a Jesuit, he’s taken a vow of poverty. Would we really be in serious trouble if we missed an episode, or heck a whole season, of the latest hit TV show? I get by pretty fine avoiding How to Get Away With Murder and Game of Thrones. Would we really be in serious trouble if we didn’t get the job we wanted? Well, that’s a bit of a gray area, but honestly, it’s not like getting the corner office is the end-all be-all. It’s good to have a job, but not at the expense of everything else.

We will always want things. It’s part of being human. We may think that we “need” things, but in reality, we may just be wanting something that’s not the best for us right now. Like, hypothetically speaking, say that there’s a girl who always whines about needing a boyfriend. It’s not exactly the end of the world if she doesn’t have one. The trick to figuring out what we need versus what we want involves learning what we can reasonably live without. You may want to go on a trip, but you can’t exactly afford to do so because you need that money for the rent or to pay off the mountain of student loans you have hanging over your head. Although I didn’t exactly make all 30 days of Leah Darrow’s “The Closet Challenge,” the task made me realize what clothes I don’t really use or wear. In other words, it made me learn what kind of clothes I needed as opposed to clothes I wanted but may not wear all the time. It also kept me from asking for new clothes, even though I had the opportunity to get new clothes if I so wanted to.

When we look at our lives and plan for the future, it’s better to have realistic expectations of getting the things that we need. The Gospel of Happiness says that it’s better to have realistic expectations in the long run. The good news is that while we can plan for the future, we can bring God into it by asking Him to provide for what we need. “Give us this day our daily bread,” as it says in the Our Father.

And sometimes, the Lord can give us what we want. I didn’t exactly need to go to Comicpalooza, but I still did and ended up having the time of my life. The way to have realistic expectations about what we want, though, is understanding and accepting that we don’t always get what we want all the time. We will always have what we need. Just that we can’t always get what we want.

The Gospel of Happiness: A Book Review

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Interesting fact: I first met Christopher Kaczor, author of The Gospel of Happiness when he was giving a lecture at Cafe Catholica. His lecture focused on “The 7 Big Myths About the Catholic Church.” One of the myths he mentioned was that the Catholic Church doesn’t care about earthly happiness and he mentioned this book in his lecture.

The Gospel of Happiness looks into how the practice of positive psychology can be incorporated into a Catholic lifestyle. In spite of the preconceptions people have about psychology  and religion and the seeming incompatibility of the two, there are aspects of positive psychology that complement the teachings of the Catholic Church and these aspects are what the book chooses to focus on. The book is divided into seven chapters that look into how happiness, the theological virtues, prayer, gratitude, forgiveness, the practice of virtue, and willpower contribute to a person’s overall happiness and well-being.

One major issue people have with Christianity is “prosperity gospel.” And yes, I had a prosperity gospel phase. In recent events, however, my idea of happiness in Christianity is that it’s not so much of “prosperity gospel” as it is “providential gospel.” The difference is that prosperity gospel has unrealistic expectations of what God will give people and puts what people want ahead of what God wants, when taken to the extreme. Providential gospel is taking a cue from Mother Teresa: The Lord will provide for what you need, not necessarily what you want. The Gospel of Happiness takes a more realistic approach and cites research studies that show that unrealistic expectations contribute to overall unhappiness. It also looks into how to be happy even when enduring suffering.

One issue with prosperity gospel is that it tends to ignore suffering or just play it off as just part of having a negative mindset. The Gospel of Happiness, on the other hand, has a whole chapter about the benefits of forgiveness and the chapter on gratitude talks about how God can bring something good out of something bad. The book also goes against the secular mindset that people have to focus on making themselves happy as the number one priority. While a healthy self-love is definitely important, putting one’s ambitions and desires over the needs of others ends up leading to bad things in the long run. In the chapters that focus on virtue, Kaczor shows the benefits of kindness and doing good things for other people.

There were a lot of new things I learned from this book that I didn’t get from my phase of reading self-help books and listening to prosperity gospel. I know I use the word “depth” a lot when I talk about movies or books, but yeah, this book is full of depth. It goes deeper than just making goals or having faith. It actually lays out plans of action.

I highly recommend this book to people who want a different take on the self-help genre. Protestants can easily enjoy this book as much as any Catholic. I would even take a chance and show it to people who see themselves as spiritual but not religious. Because religion, despite what people think, isn’t a rigorous set of man-made rules. It’s a relationship. Religion is a relationship that a person has with God as well as the community of the world at large. Religion keeps a person grounded and humble. Or at least that’s what religion is supposed to be. And I think that’s what The Gospel of Happiness is really about.