“Lindsey, is it okay for you to be happy?”
You’d think that would be an easy question to answer my counselor. Of course it is okay for me to be happy! I love being happy! Why’d you even ask that question? Instead, I felt my expression turn doubtful and anxious. A heaviness settled in my heart. I had been accustomed to ignoring a deep desire of my heart for 24 years, and in the past year had wrestled with God in sadness, bitterness, confusion, anger, and resignation – but never happiness. I surely must be doing something wrong. My over-analytical mind frantically searched for the problem.
“I don’t know. It feels wrong,” I finally answered.
We talked of the well-worn path of grief I had walked in for so long, how it didn’t make sense to me that the grief felt more right to me than the happiness did.
But familiarity, however painful, can feel more comfortable than happiness.
And that’s what is so dang confusing. Counter-intuitively, we are all drawn back to unhealthy habits, addictions, relationships, patterns of thinking, etc. not because it brings us joy, but because it feels like “this is just the way it is. This is reality.” We have succumbed to lives of mediocrity and pain because it is easier, safer, and less disappointing.
“You know, happiness is one of the most vulnerable emotions,” my counselor said.
At this point the trashcan was getting very blurry (during our sessions my gaze has an inexplicable tendency to wander to the trashcan instead of my counselor). I hugged a pillow closer to myself and tried not to burst into tears.
“I’m scared,” I whispered.
“Because the more happy I am about something, the sadder I’ll be when its gone.”
“That’s true. They’re linked, aren’t they?”
I thought of the movie Inside Out; of Joy and Sadness becoming inextricably connected by seeing each other’s incalculable worth in the final scenes.
“It’s easier to just stay sad. Then I won’t – ” I choked on a sob and took a moment to take a shaky breath, “be devastated.”
My counselor nodded in understanding. Or at least, I think she did . . . I could only see her through my peripheral vision, as my eyes were still firmly fixed on the trashcan. Finally, I let out a small chuckle.
“What is it?” asked my counselor, curious.
“I was just thinking…its kind of like waiting at the doctor’s office to get a shot.”
This was clearly not enough explanation. “Yeah? Tell me more,” said my counselor expectantly.
“I can’t spend my whole life in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, holding my breath for the next time pain and sadness comes. I’ll miss out on so much of what goes on outside the hospital.”
My therapist is used to me speaking in metaphors and caught on quickly. “So its kind of like in life there will be times when you have to go to the doctor’s office to get a shot . . . when grief and pain will hit you . . . and you’ll have to deal with it then . . . but there’s so much more for you than just anticipating the sadness.”
All my life I continually have had to remind myself that it is okay to be sad. Now, I’m slowly learning that it is also okay to be happy. Happiness is sometimes scarier than sadness, but that does not mean it is any less real.
I have a long way to go. I often run back towards the waiting room in trepidation and doubt. But I’m taking baby steps to dare to trust in the goodness of the Lord. Happiness is a gift from His hand, and I am to hold it with open hands, fully aware of the potential brevity of the emotion and the circumstance; fully aware that my enjoyment of His good gift brings absolute delight to my good God.
Its okay – its truly and blissfully okay – to be happy.