When we are children, our happiness is made up of small things. We love watching a balloon. We enjoy petting a dog. We laugh when someone playfully pokes us in the stomach. As we age, we begin to enjoy other things: a relationship with a friend, an experience traveling, or a job well done. A good marriage brings its own happiness, the birth of a child another, and seeing an old friend yet another. These are joys we never could have anticipated as children.
The older we get, the more “adult” our happiness becomes. We no longer experience joy in the same way that children do. We still enjoy small things, such as seeing a balloon or petting a dog or the surprise of opening a gift. But, as an adult, small experiences like these become associated with other experiences. The joys become deeper and more complex. A balloon may remind you of going to the fair with a dear friend. A dog may bring you fond memories of the dog you had growing up. An unexpected gift may remind you of your dad’s warm gestures. As a result, every moment becomes more and more weighted with meaning as we age. Memories build on memories. Happiness becomes deeper and more complex, relating to many different things.
We realize that happiness consists in more than a balloon or a dog—in more than simply individual experiences. For example, a good marriage is a joy of many interrelated parts. It consists of numerous interlocking moments of humility, love, and self-sacrifice. Our joy even becomes bound up in the joy of others, such as in the joy of a spouse or a friend.
But childhood is the place from which we start. As we look back on our life, we remember those first simple lessons in joy, whether few or many—the lessons learned in childhood. The Apostle Paul remembered his childhood too. Upon becoming a man, Paul put away “childish” things. Speaking of eternity, Paul said that now we see “in a mirror dimly” what we will one day see clearly (1 Cor. 13). He said that the sufferings of our present life shouldn’t even be compared with what God is going to reveal to us (Rom. 8). In other words, this life is just the beginning. There are joys we haven’t yet experienced—a new life awaits that can’t even be compared to this one.
The last image God gives us in Scripture is of a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21). It is a place that has no pain, no sorrow, and no death. It is a place where God wipes every tear from our eyes (v. 4). It is a place where we experience “fullness of joy”—the joy of God’s presence (Ps. 16:11). This is our destination, and we’re already on the road. For Christians, this life is merely the childhood of our eternal happiness. We wait to enter the gates of that eternal city, where we will enter into the joy of our Master (Matt. 25:21).