It Is Okay to be Happy

“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.

“Why?”

“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.

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If There Is Any Other Way

cup

“As we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly carefully, but fully.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Suffering is one of the only things that is guaranteed in this life. Some say that Christianity is a spiritual crutch that makes life more bearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is not about making life easier. Christianity is about an eternal, unconditionally loving, intimate relationship between a Creator/Savior/Father and the created/saved/child. The price of this relationship is costly, for both sides of the relationship. In fact, the Christian life could by almost all accounts be considered unbearable (outside of God’s grace), especially when we look at the boundaries God has put in place for us with which modern society views as backwards-thinking and intolerant.

Many people feel free to warm themselves by the fires of all their desires. By contrast, Christians are called to acknowledge and see the good, God-given longings in these very real and sometimes desperate desires and then to be willing to lay them down if necessary in order to pursue a greater love, a higher truth, a more fulfilling calling. We are asked to do this daily, not to save us from eternal damnation, but to have the honor of walking the same road as Jesus did, so though we also share in His sufferings, we too can share in His inexpressible joy.

On the surface, especially from an outside perspective, a Christian’s life may look like self-inflicted torture.

On the contrary, a Christian is called to choose to live in God-inflicted grace.

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus pleaded not just once but three times in this one desperate evening for His Father to take away the suffering He had been asked to endure. Like Jesus, we beg of God to take the cup of suffering from us. If there is any other way to obey You . . . please, Daddy, let me have what I want, what I think I need . . . please, Daddy, don’t make me carry a grief I don’t understand . . . please, Daddy, there must be a different, less painful way . . . 

Like Jesus, we weep and try to say, but You know what’s best. You have my ultimate good in mind for me. Help me to trust You. Help me to follow through with what you want me to do. Jesus fully embraced this truth, and the reward was this grace: untold millions destined to enjoy an eternal intimate relationship with God and with those who love Him. 

Who knows what grace will come if I, if we, choose to follow the paths God has laid out for us, heartbreaking and confusing though they may be?

The cup of suffering I have been asked to drink has stifled my joy with nauseous disappointment. I have been holding this cup for nine months, tears dropping into what looks and smells like liquid death. This is not what I thought I signed up for . . . but this is what I have been given . . . cycles of grief and anger and death and acceptance and surrender . . . how can this possibly be worth it? Oh, God . . . if there is any other way . . . 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1b-2