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.




Every kid I know loves the game hide-and-seek, whether I’m babysitting for some friends or hanging out with my nieces, it’s one of the first ideas that comes to their minds when brainstorming how to spend our time together. Even just the other day I was talking with my nieces on the phone using FaceTime when my youngest niece, Maddie, suggested we play hide-and-seek. I love her childlike heart that still thinks anything is possible, even playing hide-and-seek despite being over 1000 miles away from each other. So we did. Grandma helped a little bit by scanning the room until I “found” her. She was so excited!

The enthusiasm for this type of game continues for older kids as well. Even my high schooler students at church beg to play Sardines every chance they can, a reverse game where one person hides and everyone else seeks them out. They clamor to be the one to hide.

But I don’t think it’s really about the hiding that makes this game so appealing. Perhaps we all have this innate desire, even from young ages, to be found. We long to be noticed, to be sought after, to be seen. Being pursued shows value and worth… to a toddler… to a teenager… to us adults, too.

Don’t we often play our own games of hide and seek? Whether with other people or with God, we hide behind busyness, behind masks of “fine”, behind Pinterest-perfect snacks for kids’ classrooms or behind instagram posts that only show a small sliver of the reality of our lives. We hide, and yet, it seems no one really wants to be stay hidden. No child enjoys it if they hide too well and can’t be found. It might be fun at first, knowing you did a good job, but then doubts creep in wondering if you will ever be found. Again, this mirrors real life.

Has anyone even noticed that I haven’t been around church for over a month?

Will anyone see that I’m not really “fine”?

I know my life is a mess but sometimes I just wish they’d find me out so I wouldn’t have to put on the show anymore.

I know I SAY I don’t want anyone to know what’s going on, but it’s actually pretty lonely.

Oh yes, we know how to play hide and seek, perhaps all too well. While, according to the Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society traced the origins of this children’s game back to at least the 2nd century, we’ve really been playing for much longer than that.

“When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.” – Genesis‬ ‭3:8‬ ‭‬‬

Shame was what caused these two, the very first humans–and probably many of us–to hide. They had done the one thing God has asked them not to do, they broke the one rule that He knew would keep them safe and free and full of the most abundant life. They had stepped over the line and now their relationship with God was different.

Instead of delighting in joining God on an evening stroll through the literally PERFECT garden, they hid. Behind some trees they went. Like a two-year old who hides practically in plain sight, God wasn’t fooled when He came to find them. “Where are you?” He called. Knowing what I know about God through Scripture, I imagine His tone was much like that of mine when I wander around the house searching for my nieces even when I know exactly where they already are, “I wonder where Maddie could be? Could Karlie be behind the curtain?”

He, of course, knew what had happened. He also knew exactly where they were. He didn’t need to ask them their location when “Where are you? came out of His mouth; He needed them to hear that despite what they had done, they were worth seeking out, worth finding. There, in the middle of the mess they’ve made, He would not leave them in hiding. He would come, that day, and He would come again, in the form of a baby, who grew to be a Messiah, a Savior on a seeking mission:

“Jesus responded, … For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” Luke‬ ‭19:9-10‬ ‭‬‬

So whether we’re hiding in shame of what we done like Adam and Eve, or hiding from the hurt of what’s been done to us in this broken world… if we’re hiding in “bushes” of perfectionism, pain, pressure, or pleasures… whether we’ve been here just a short time or if it feels like we’ve been waiting forever to be found, Jesus comes. He’s on a mission. He knows right where you are and He doesn’t just seek you out to shame you more or tell you what you could have done differently. No, our God rejoices and celebrates when you are found!

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’”Luke‬ ‭15:4-6‬

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” Luke‬ ‭15:22-24

Like a lost sheep found by a shepherd or a lost son found by a father, our God delights in finding us. Come out of hiding today, you have been found!

Olly Olly Oxen Free! You can come out of hiding and not lose the game! God has made a way to cover the shame and heal the hurt. Save the hide-and-seek games for fun Saturdays with the kids. Live as God’s child, found and free today!


Giving Up Guilt

Sorry for the silence over here on the blog the past few days.  I was away at a middle school retreat and then ended up super sick and in bed most of the weekend unable to even hang out with the awesome youth. Between all that and other factors, blogging just didn’t happen.  It actually seems quite fitting that I had planned to blog today about giving up guilt.

While there are good and healthy places for guilt, like when it convicts you of sin, I often find myself struggling with unnecessary guilt placed on my shoulders most often by myself. This weekend had potential for a lot of that…

… Potential to, as I mentioned, get stressed about the things that didn’t get done, like not getting the blog up or things at work that didn’t get done before I left. 

… Potential to feel bad about not being able to be a part of the retreat and potentially getting other people sick.

… Potential to block out those who wanted to care for me while sick.

… Potential to see necessary self-care as selfish

But you’ll notice that in all those things, and many more I could have listed, I used the word potential.  I saw this weekend the work that God has been doing in my heart the past few weeks in this process of “giving up”.  Each of those were areas where I could have found myself overwhelmed with guilt and frustration. Yet, by God’s grace, somehow that wasn’t the case.  Before I even declared in my mind to give up that unnecessary guilt about things outside of my control, God was already working that in my heart.

He drew me into grace that things that most needed to be done would be, and the world would go on without a few dishes done or blogs posted.

He helped me see his hand of provision and protection instead of wallowing in pity or self-preservation.

He has surrounded me with awesome people who care about me whether I ask for it or not and brought me to a place of gratitude instead of guilt.

Some things we have no control of in lofe. Let’s give up the guilt that Satan tries to use to steal and kill and destroy our lives.  And for the things where we really ARE guilty, we can give up that guilt too as we run to the cross and find our amazing God ready and waiting to exchange it for His grace. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)