Books, Just Write, Mental Health, What I'm Reading Wednesday

Happiness isn’t the goal.

“Happy” ≠ “healthy”. They are not synonyms. But I think we act like they are.

I’ve been trying to use my lunch break to enjoy some reading and recently just finished a book called “Why Emotions Matter”. The middle section of the book spends six chapters looking at each of the six most basic emotions we all experience. Each chapter focuses in on the value of one emotion, where we see it talked about in scripture, when that emotion can become an problem, and how to navigate each emotion with wisdom. While looking at these things in regards to shame or fear or sadness was helpful, when I got to “happiness” I started to realize how little I actually know about how emotions work.

We go through a day or a week and someone asks us “How are you?”. Generally speaking, if the primary emotion we’ve been experiencing lately is something along the lines of happiness, we respond that we are good. However, if any other emotion has raised to the top, our response indicates that we are not good. (Well, at least if we’re not just acting “fine” even if we’re not… but that’s an entirely different blog post.)

We chase happiness as the ultimate defining factor of life being “good” or even “healthy”. In reality, happiness is just another emotion that CAN indicate things are going well in our lives, but happiness can go wrong too. Each emotion has its place where it adds value to our lives AND has potential to become a problem in our lives. I think I see this easier in emotions like anger or fear or sadness, but I’ve never considered this with happiness.

The authors of the book described well the main challenge happiness can bring:

“Happiness is wonderful, but it’s also tricky. We want happiness to last, to be the default, all-the-time feeling in our bodies, even though that simply isn’t possible. It’s not how we’re made. Yet like addicts we chase the high, never permanently satisfied. We’re also pretty terrible at knowing what makes us happy. Again and again we fall into advertising traps or cultural narratives that tell us stories about what will make us happy, yet every time we end up hungry for more.”

Later on it in the chapter they remind the readers that happiness is just one of many emotions, one “voice in our body’s communication system” and that “all of our emotions matter”.

Suddenly it all made sense. Happiness doesn’t automatically mean “good” and something like shame or sadness or fear or even jealousy aren’t inherently “bad”. I can be sad and yet deal with that in a healthy way while wrongly chasing happiness as the ultimate goal.

I saw this play out in my life over the last few weeks. January into February really provided space to find some healthy rhythms for my life. In addition to physical health, I was finding an emotional and mental health better than I had experienced in years. So I got a little frustrated when that seemed to all suddenly change a few weekends ago.

Grief has a way of sneaking up on you and suddenly my generally happy day-to-day life was overwhelmed by sadness for a while. As the one year anniversary of a certain event approached, I began to grieve so many things, loss of dreams, loss or changes in relationships, a desire for some areas of my life to be different. As God would have it, I happened to be reading this chapter on happiness RIGHT in the middle of that time. What a helpful reminder that just because “happy” wasn’t my primary emotion didn’t mean my whole life was suddenly bad or unhealthy.

While that weekend brought grief and sadness and opportunities for perfectionism to take my heart captive, looking back I actually responded in good, healthy ways.

I processed my grief and sadness instead of ignoring it, letting it show me where some healing is still needed in my life.
I celebrated the realization that perfection no longer has the same hold on me that it once did.
I rested when my body signaled its need for that.
I did some work to figure out why fear was popping up in my life more than it was actually helpful.
I reached out to friends and chose not to be alone even when I felt alone.
I enjoyed the few happy moments that did come along even if they were shorter or less prevalent than they’ve been in recent days.

While many of those emotions are less enjoyable than happiness, life was (and is) still really good. One challenging aspect in all of this is that after my thyroid surgery and in the 18 month process of finding the right amount of medicine my body needed, often my emotions or experiences did indicate something was really unhealthy and out of balance in my life. Sadness could so quickly lead to depression. Increasing fear often indicated that worry that anxiety was around the corner once again. Fatigue or muscle pain could be a signal that I had too much or too little medicine. These hyper-sensitive signals trained my brain to think any time some of these things popped up it was bad… because for an extended period of time that was true.

I’m thankful for a season now of re-training my brain… of enjoying a happy moment without fear of when it may end… of letting shame draw me into exploration of where my identity feels threatened… of sitting in my sadness realizing some things in this sin-stained life are just hard and worth grieving… of truly celebrating victories and growth and health in grace without over-focusing on areas I still need to grow.

All of this and more is helping me re-define the true, abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10, not necessarily a life filled with only happiness, but rather a life of health and joy and peace despite what hard things may be happening around us or difficult feelings rising up in us.

happy

Bekah's Heart, Uncategorized

Blessed are those who mourn…

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

This verse was the basis of our sermon this past Sunday.  Unfortunately, the concept of mourning also seems like it could be a theme for this week.   Just to remind us all, here are just a VERY SMALL list of the some of the things that happened THIS WEEK locally, nationally, and globally:

Even closer to home, I’ve seen families torn apart by abuse, children grieving the loss of their parents, teenagers starving themselves or injuring themselves to deal with life’s struggles, and more. 

And the list could go on and on and on and on and on.  The mourning for lost lives and lost innocence and lost hope is great.  

I’m thinking about how we learned Sunday that to “mourn” in this sense captures both mourning the loss of something but also mourning over our sin.  Both are true in my heart today.  I grieve the beautiful people this world lost this past week.  I grieve the way we all humans have such ability to hate.  I grieve the way our sinful nature pulls us apart, pulls away from God, pulls us into violence, pulls us into murder.  Yes “us” (not “them”), all of us, every single one of us.  I grieve our sinful acts and the things that happen to us as a result of sin in general in the world. 

I grieve today.  I mourn.  I hurt for all that has happened.  I’m saddened by the reality that next week the names or places might be different but the headlines likely will repeat.  I find that all I can say is Lord, have mercy and lean into the One who promises comfort for those who mourn.  May we mourn not with worldly sorrow which leads to death, but Godly sorrow that leads to repentance and life.  

And that is the key… Yes, we want justice (and God does too!) But when we grieve in our worldly, human way, “justice” can quickly become synonymous with “revenge”.  Revenge mixed with grief never seems to end well.  When we grieve in our human way, it always leads to more death.  We’ve seen it happen this week.  Yet, when we grieve the injustices of this world in a godly way, a way that starts first with us on our knees on the ground in repentance for our own misdeeds, a way that takes action but does so out of love not hatred, a way that is focused on the comfort and peace of Christ, that kind of grief and mourning leads to life

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in death.” 2 Corinthians 7:10

This verse may be talking about spiritual death but looking at the events of this week, it seems true that it might apply to physical death as well.  Our cities, our nations, our world must grieve and do so in repentance.  And it must start with me and you.  It may seem crazy, but the truth is that we are just as capable of committing these huge acts of injustice and violence as the next guy.  And there is not one but of hyperbole in that.  Believing we are above the violence and pain and hurt we’ve seen this week makes us all the more likely to fall in Satan’s trap.  And so, on behalf of our entire world, let us come today in prayer, in humility, and seek the face of God, the only One who can lead us into true life, can bring about real justice, and can provide comfort and healing in the midst of our brokenness. 

Borrowing (and slightly adapting) from the prayers of Daniel and Nehemiah, we pray:

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 

We have not listened but pray your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants in this world. I confess the sins we, including myself, have committed against you.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame — the men and women of Buffalo and people of America, and all the world, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us.  O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All have transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong.  Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the world that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.

O, Lord, have mercy.