Maybe it’s just my temperament…after all, God made me to be that 3 year old who could skip happily through the house singing my made-up song of “Life is miserable!”…or maybe it’s my oblivious non-attention to detail that keeps me from seeing every imperfection and flaw…or maybe it’s being raised by parents who modeled gratitude rather than whiny complaining…or maybe it’s because so much of my early childhood was idyllic and happy…or maybe it’s because a friend once encouraged me to look for a blessing every day…or maybe it’s because I’ve never grown up enough to completely lose my childish sense of wonder…or maybe it’s because I need joy and beauty so much, almost as much as I need food and water…but it takes a lot — as in a LOT — for me to remain in a constant state of unhappiness for very long.
Yes, it seems contradictory. After all, I am no stranger to grief or sorrow. I am the same person who once penned reams of poetry with lines like, “melancholy has stolen my heart”, and who described myself as a “child of sorrow” in a never ending gloomy rain. I’ve experienced clinical depression so severe that it made me overcome my extreme aversion to antidepressants. Despair has almost killed me. Literally. More than once.
But joy always broke through.
The darkest of nights has always, eventually, been followed by a morning when joy came. That “eventually” may have taken excruciatingly long. Sometimes it was a somber joy. Sometimes it involved some initial teeth-gritting followed by an amazement that such great sorrow, and such heights and depths of joy, could exist in the same heart and mind in the very same instance.
But maybe it’s not me at all. Because the bottom line is that I can’t praise God for very long — I mean really praise Him rather than mouthing words — without remembering what kind of God He is. I find my perspective changing from “woe is me” to realizing that, even in the most horrific of circumstances, I have reasons for thanksgiving, even if I can’t think of one beyond, “Heaven will be better than this nightmarish horror.”
But then I remember Jesus. And He melts me. And He opens my eyes. Gratitude comes trickling into my spirit as I begin remembering Scripture passages that speak to whatever pain it is that I’m currently suffering. It may not happen quickly enough for me, but gratitude re-orients my thoughts and feelings. Maybe I am just unusually blessed, but it is rare (impossible?) for me to sit in God’s presence for very long without feeling enormously thankful for His extravagant, scandalous grace and generosity towards me.
Eventually more of my feelings follow. There have been valleys in my life, even valleys of the shadow of death. But, as Corrie ten Boom loved to remind us, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.
Today, incredible as it seems even to me, I thank God for the pits that threatened to consume me, because God’s love won out, every time. Even when I doubted or denied Him, when I wandered or ran away, He never gave up. Besides, for every pit there have been mountaintops — a few times, I have felt joy so overwhelming, so extreme, so powerful, so beyond description, that I thought if it lasted any longer with such intensity, my heart would give out and I would die. Seriously.
Because I choose to be grateful, today I choose joy. Today I choose happiness. Today I reach out with trembling, eager if still somewhat inhibited, weak and puny little hands towards the abundant life God keeps showering on me. How can I walk with Him, talk with Him, and listen to Him without — once in a while — experiencing a joy that spills over into a happiness that at least borders on giddiness?
A dear friend of mine promised me that, when I first recognized my true freedom in Christ, I would feel almost giddy about it. He was right; I still remember the moment it hit me and I wrote him an email that ended with, “Excuse me while I go out and dance in the streets.”
I know, I know. Happiness should not be our goal. It is a fleeting emotion. In many circumstances, it would be completely inappropriate to feel happy. We should be sober-minded, seek holiness, die to self, etc., etc.
But today I choose to celebrate. I probably won’t dance in the streets, because I’m still too shy and inhibited, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s somehow more spiritual to ignore all of God’s present blessings and put on a serious face just because I’m not in Heaven yet.
Little 3 year old me had it right. Life is miserable. Or at least it can be sometimes. But that’s no reason not to sing and dance some of the time — because God is good.
This is an adapted version of a previous post.