When you don't feel happy.
Sometimes I struggle to give permission to myself to not feel happy. I am not an advocate of being grumpy or condoning a fleeting bad mood. But bigger than that, I truly believe that my life overflows with blessings. At this very moment I could look at what I am surrounded by and feel very, very blessed. And not just with material things, but deeply blessed by the other lives my life has the pleasure of doing life with. I feel rich in life.
So if I truly feel this way, why is it hard sometimes to end each day feeling happy? I blame myself for this most often. Chalk it up to being too focussed on myself or my feelings, or wasting precious life moments by wanting what I do not have. A trickle of guilt weaves its way in usually, whispering to me that I wouldn’t be feeling this way if I was really all in and fully focussed on the plan and mission God has for my life. So while I turn up the tunes a little louder in the car which remind me of lyrics like, “Christ is Enough for me!” or “You are all I want!,” in reality I find my heart is actually pulling away from Christ a bit, as if I could hide the fact that I’m not feeling too hot about the place He has me in life. I tell myself that I can sort through some of my feelings in a few days, and then I’ll be back and ready for action, and maybe He’ll never even know.
This morning, as I pulled myself out of bed at an hour I still feel is too early in order to get myself and my Kindergartener ready for our day, God hit me right over the head. But you know what’s cool about how God gets our attention? Often times it is gently.
I do my best to not miss little whispers or gestures from God in life, though I’m sure I’d be devastated to know how many have flown right by me in the past. But today, every song I heard, every thing I read and every word shared with me seemed to repeat the same, soft message that God wants me where I am at. He wants me when I feel sad. He wants me when I feel 100%. He wants me when I feel I am drowning in responsibility. And He wants me when I feel bored. He wants me when my heart pounds with mission. And He wants me when I feel completely lost.
And more than that, I felt He laughed in that all-knowing, fatherly kind of way that only the Creator of all mankind can chuckle as He said, “Well of course you are not always going to feel happy.”
1 Peter 4:1-3, 12-13 says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding - because the one who suffers in the flesh is finished with sin - in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the Gentiles choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry… Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when his glory is revealed.”
Of course you are going to feel sad. The Christian life is guaranteed to be marked with hardship rather than ease.
Ok ok, I know it seems I’m getting a little dramatic here. But follow me…
First of all, please know that I do not consider myself as being persecuted in this present moment. In fact, I know others who legitimately do suffer on a daily basis for Christ’s namesake, and I do not compare my current, American life to be anything close to what they are experiencing. And second, often times when we read about Christ’s “suffering in the flesh” we immediately think of the big one - of our Savior giving His life on the cross. That moment of suffering pretty much encompasses the most devastating form of suffering in every category: physical pain, relational betrayal and spiritual abandonment.
But I think in the book of 1 Peter we also see a more subtle form of suffering being referenced. I can see a life dedicated to Christ, and disengaged from living for the desires of the flesh, as being described as one that shouldn’t be surprised as encountering suffering or hardship. Look at the life of Christ, for Pete’s sake. And not his death, but look at his LIFE. What did his life look like? It definitely was not marked by prosperity, material blessings and ease.
But I think the point here is that He wasn’t focussed on living FOR earthly prosperity, material blessings and ease. His life was focussed on and dedicated to his mission of spreading the truth of the Gospel and preparing to take the sins of the world to the grave.
His purpose didn’t align with the world’s purposes, which revolve around the desires of the flesh. His life doesn’t look like the world. This is part of the reason He faced suffering, and why we are told to expect it as well.
1 Peter 4:4 says, “They [the world] are surprised that you don’t join them in the same flood of wild living - and they slander you.”
Sometimes living for Christ brings direct pushback from those around us. And in times like that it is easy to pinpoint our pain, and to cling to the direct promises we are given about the blessings that come with suffering for Christ’s name.
But at other times, living for Christ can just make us feel like strangers here. Our purposes and mission in life don’t align with the reasons the world tells us to live for, or the places in which we are told to seek happiness.
My journey to becoming an adoptive single mother definitely was not based on how my social life and amount of sleep each night would be benefitted, and the reality is that although my heart beats with fullness and deep conviction with the calling that I am living out each and every day, my days are still hard. A lot of the time. And even at the end of good days, there are times I am left feeling less than happy, worn out and stretched thin.
But God wants us when we are sad just as much as he wants us when we are happy. And he can only use us when we are real and open to be used where we are at.
We are promised contentment, fulfillment and joy when we follow God’s will in life, yes. But we are not promised that we will receive 24/7 happiness or material prosperity - at least in the the way the way the world would define it. It is a lie that tells us that following God’s will is a predictable algebraic formula: if God calls me to do (A), and I do (B), then the result will be (C). And I believe most often the result of an obedient life is usually far from what we would expect. HOWEVER, I think the results are way better than the outcomes we could have hoped for - even and especially when the blessings we receive are not how the world would define a blessing.
Believe me, God’s blessings, goodness and kindness come in just as big of outpourings as hardships can seem to come in, but that doesn’t mean that we can expect when or how God will pour those blessings out to us.
It’s ok to be in a hard season. And if you find yourself in one, God surely won’t be upset with you if you do not feel happy all the time. In fact, you should talk to him about it, though it may challenge you a bit on what you are living for. Where are you seeking your fulfillment? Where are you seeking your contentment? What are you wishing for that you do not have? Are you wishing away the hours and minutes in the place that God has put you?
It’s ok to dream of an easier day, but don’t miss the moments God has carved out for you right now. And as I am learning, seasons that are hard often become the most powerful part of your testimony.
1 Peter 3:13-15 says, “Who then will harm you if you are devoted to what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
I have heard the final line of those verses so many times in terms of being ever ready to share the Gospel, but when you really look at the context in which it is said, you gain a bit of a different perspective. As you are suffering be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you.
And you know what I have found? You learn a lot more about hope once you have suffered. And I will be honest, after believing in Christ for 21 years, it has only been over the past year that I feel I have come to understand true, desperate hope for the first time.
And you know what else I have learned? The Gospel becomes a lot more clear when you understand hope amid suffering. And the answer you live your life by (Jesus) becomes more obvious as the answer that every life around you needs.
Christ truly is enough. He is the only sure footing. He is the only true provider. He is the one who can comfort and restore. And He is the only thing worth living life for.
He is the constant on days when it is easy to smile, and He remains good on days when my heart feels sad, or tired, or lonely.
He wants you when you are sad, and he wants to use you wherever you are at.
1 Peter 4:10-11, 16, 19
“Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything… if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in having that name…. So then, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.”