I’ll probably make this one short and sweet, but this is something that the Lord has continually been laying on my heart in the season of life I’m in, and I wanted to share it with you.
Yes, you. The beautiful soul reading this at this very moment.
First, I want you to be real with yourself. How are you feeling? You don’t have to give the rote “I’m good.” Here, you can be utterly honest. It is absolutely valid to say, “I’m not really doing ok.” Because sometimes, life is really hard.
Happiness is something that all humans, whether you believe in Jesus or not, desire. It feels good to be happy. It’s sometimes uncomfortable, and sometimes really scary, to feel sad. But this is important–BOTH HAPPINESS AND SADNESS ARE EMOTIONS. They are not ultimate truth. I don’t know about you, but I go through just about every general emotion there is in a day. I noticed it yesterday–I was excited in the morning for a new day, then became anxious in the afternoon, which then made me feel really down, and then I spent some time with friends that was really refreshing, and I felt happy.
Emotions change. A LOT. They can’t be clung to in the midst of a storm. Here’s what happens when I’ve tried to.
When I try to cling to happiness in the midst of a breaking heart, I look back on days when I felt happy and a wave of nostalgia washes over me, leaving me feeling bitter for where I am now. I believe this lie from the enemy that I did something wrong to get to where I am now, and that I need to try with everything in my power to get back to being happy. For me, sometimes that means running away from my pain in the name of “adventure,” looking for something to soothe the ache in my soul. Sometimes it looks like retreating from the people I love because I also fall prey to the lie that I need to figure it out myself, even though its with the people I love I feel the most safe.
We have a very real enemy who loves to see us hurt. He’s crafty as heck–it’s difficult to recognize his lies because he knows how to make them sound so much like truth that we believe it. One of those lies, I believe, is that to be joyful means to be happy–that if you’re not happy, you’re not rejoicing in the Lord. That if you’re not ok, you did something wrong to get there.
I believe this is why so many people, myself included, are afraid to be truly honest about how they’re doing. Because when you’re hurting and say you’re feeling blue, and are met with out-of-context bible verses about being joyful (interpreted as happy), it only creates shame for not meeting the (nonexistent) mark.
I’d like to make clear a very important distinction: happiness and joy are NOT the same thing. I don’t believe they’re synonymous.
When I was in Orlando doing the Disney College Program, I started seeing a counselor (which I HIGHLY recommend to ANYONE, regardless of where you’re at. I once heard a therapist define trauma as “anything that wouldn’t have happened in the Garden,” before sin and brokenness entered the world. We all bear wounds and scars). One day, on my way home from counseling, I was crying as I talked to God. I told him how I wanted to feel joy again, how I didn’t want to feel as broken as I was. How I wanted to feel happy again.
And then Hebrews 12:2 came to my mind;
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”
And while I was sitting at a stoplight in Orlando, I felt Jesus’ love+a connection to Him in a way I never had before.
Jesus did not go to the cross skipping and laughing and smiling. He was in DEEP pain, and He didn’t try to mask it with a fake smile. In fact, before going to the cross, He asked God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done…And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:42, 44). I just did a little research on that, and basically, Jesus was experiencing a medical condition called hematidrosis, which is a rare condition where, under extreme mental distress, small capillaries in the sweat glands actually burst, literally causing one to sweat a mixture of sweat and blood. All that to say, JESUS WAS NOT EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO THE CROSS. But He knew it was the price for our adoption into the family of God, and that was the joy set before Him–that God so deeply loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to endure that pain for us. But Jesus DEFEATED the grave. He rose in victory. The joy set before Him was the knowledge that by His blood, the sinners in front of Him would be loved by God the way He was loved by God.
A few days after that, I was actually trying to find the Hebrews verse (because I couldn’t remember the reference), and while I flipped through pages, I stumbled across Philippians 3:10-11.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead.”
I froze when I read that. I was actually stunned. This was EXACTLY what I felt in the car at that stoplight.
It was then that the pieces started to connect. Jesus invited me in to that feeling, that I could know Him better, and to remind my weary soul that HE IS STILL GOOD+HE IS STILL VICTORIOUS. That even when I’m not “happy,” He is still at work molding me more and more into His likeness, because Jesus wasn’t always “happy.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Joy can look like laughing and smiling and dancing, but it also can look like continuing to press on in a difficult emotional journey. It can look like crying over things that are genuinely sad. Jesus wept!! Don’t forget that!! Sadness is a God-given emotion, too.
I believe it’s that in all things, we can firmly cling to the hope that the Lord is a God of restoration, a God of making all things new, a God of healing. A God who deeply loves His children and is making each one of us a new creation, molding us more and more into His character, into His love.
It’s this that we can rejoice in–no matter the circumstance, He has the victory, and we can rest in the God who fights for us, even with tears in our eyes+shaky knees.