Dwayne put this up on his FB recently but I missed it. Dr. Phil reminds parents:
“As parents, you are only as happy as your saddest child.”
Seems logical, right? Dwayne and I are each a father of four kids whom we love immensely, and we’ve experienced the sort of dependency Dr. Phil describes. You can certainly see the givenness of his description in every family born out in the experience of parents in every culture. Trouble is, it describes a codependent and dysfunctional relationship. I admit to having been there myself, and I still am tempted to outsource my happiness to my children. But I think I’ve grown enough spiritually and come to perceive my happiness as defined by God alone to say with relative confidence that what Dr. Phil is describing is unhealthy and despairing (in the Kierkegaardian sense; had to bring in SK next to Dr. Phil!). It’s not true that parental love is only love if it makes its own internal happiness dependent upon the happiness of one’s children. This does not mean you don’t care about your children, pursue their highest good, respect their freedom to make their own choices, and rush to their side when they suffer. But that I am no more happy than my saddest child? Not anymore. That we can hardly bring ourselves to imagine things differently than this (in the codependent sort of way Dr. Phil describes) attests to the power and influence of the dysfunctions that define us.
The problem here is that this same psychology attends much of Protestant Christianity, something we’ve talked about here before (see God’s Green Mile and Negotiated Happiness). If you believe you can’t be any happier than your saddest or most miserable child, naturally you’re going to view God in similar terms. That is, if you can’t conceive of your own happiness as independent of the happiness of those you love, indeed, if you conceive of love as the sacrificing of happiness as Dr. Phil describes, and you’re convinced God loves us, then naturally you’re going to conceive of God’s happiness as dependent upon us. And so it is that many Protestants and Evangelicals, truth be told (as my experience working in the Recovery community and helping people through the years have provided overwhelming evidence), view God as no more happy than the saddest of all the creatures he loves. By my math that would make God the saddest conceivable being.