Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Joy Project- The Struggle Is Real

This week, I got to sit down with a young lady who has also been struggling with unhappiness. As we talked, she shared that she feels guilty about being unhappy because she has a lot of really good things going on in her life. Nice home, loving family, access to good education, etc.

I could relate. The same type of guilt creeps up on me. I have a precious baby, the most loving husband, a family I love and friends who have stood by me through many life challenges and changes. Seems that I don't have a good reason to be unhappy.

There were hard things going on in her life, too, don't get me wrong. But she could still see the many blessings, and questioned her unhappiness. 

When times are hard, it's easy to think that we just need to get through the current circumstances to find happiness.

If I could just lose weight...
If I were just married...
If I could just pay off ...
If I could just get a new job...
If I could just move into that neighborhood...
If I could just get her to understand where I'm coming from...

But what about when we maneuver through those difficult places and still find ourselves struggling? I've been in and out of a lot of challenges. I'm still unhappy sometimes. It seems that no matter where we find ourselves in life, the struggle always catches up to us somehow.

After our conversation, I remembered this C.S. Lewis quote.

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

I was made for another world. If I'm honest, if my life were any happier right now, I'd never think about eternity. If the bitter didn't come with the sweet, my sweet would satisfy and distract me away from the Eternal King. Here's an example of how that happens...

Every holiday season, I always want to commit to focusing on the true reason for the season. I want to be grateful to the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17) during Thanksgiving. And I want to honor the Holy Baby who was laid in a manger (Luke 2: 16) during Christmas. But I usually get so distracted by the festivities, that these things occupy the minority of my time during this season. Don't get me wrong, I am usually very happy during the holidays. I love decorating and singing Christmas songs and baking and shopping. I am thrilled to get to travel home and spend time with friends and family. It's just that sometimes this happiness pushes my worship to the margin of my life.

But neediness and pain, unhappiness and frustration? They push me towards the throne room. They make worship the center of my life.

When I approach God throughout the day, I'm usually not "happy." I'm often sleepy, regularly frustrated, and every now and then anxious, angry or defeated. But these needs are actually just the right posture for entering the throne room. Because what I need to do in there is worship. And true worship comes when I acknowledge His perfection and my need. Right now in BSF, we're learning about what God looks like on His throne in heaven. It's intense, resplendent and a little terrifying. I won't physically enter that place during this life, but I'm invited to come in prayer at any time. I don't have to feel guilty about the emotions that drew me in. I just get to exchange them as I press into the truth that He is in control, and He has what I need.

At the end of our conversation, I prayed for the young lady and asked God to give her freedom from the pressure to feel happy all the time. As I prayed for her, I realized that's what I wanted for myself, too. But I don't want either of us to embrace unhappiness for its own sake. I want it to serve its purpose in helping us bow humbly before God, as we seek Him and ask Him for joy instead.

Sounds strange, but thinking through these things has me valuing the idea of an "unhappy holiday" just a tiny bit. I'd honestly rather have the true worship in the throne room over the exhaustion of chronic pursuit of happiness through constant entertainment. Sounds like food for thought for this week of rest. :)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Joy Project- What is joy?

I've been contemplating joy since my last post. I started by looking up the word "joy" in the dictionary. Here's what Google said: "a feeling of great pleasure or happiness."

Google's definition of joy reminds me of going to the yogurt place near our house. You get there, and there's a stack of tiny cups on a tray that you're allowed to take for free. You can go to the different yogurt flavor stations and try any flavor you like. Then, when you're sold on one, you can get a big giant cup and fill it up. So, according to this line of thought, happiness is sort of like the tiny cup and joy is like the deeper one.

But, after really thinking about joy, I've decided that joy is different from happiness. It's not just more of the same thing. For one, I think that happiness is an emotion. I think it's a great feeling that is created in your brain when positive stimuli makes certain neurotransmitters dance around in your synapses. Happiness is fun, it feels great. But does it come from God?

And what about when something really negative happens? We have completely different brain pathways and neurotransmitter dances that respond to the really hard stuff in life. Some of the emotions that come along with that include sadness, depression, defeat, anxiety, etc. And yet, I think that God expects us to be able to weather those tough times, and to even be joyful in them. "Be joyful in hope," he says. We don't really need hope when we're feeling happy. We need hope when it's hard. And yet, he says, "be joyful."

So I kept poking around on the internet and found a blog that opened up the concept of joy a little more. The blog was written by Kay Warren, a woman who most definitely has walked through some of the toughest stuff life can throw at a person. If you're interested, here's the link: The Definition of Joy

In the blog, Kay writes that people usually classify their life in seasons. Seasons of sadness, happy times, "the good, old days," that type of thing. But in reality, in every season, there are good things and bad things going on at the same time, and we experience the emotions that go along with those things throughout each stage of life. She says to think of the experiences and their emotions like parallel train tracks.

I really liked this line of thought. So, just in the past day or so, I've been thinking about the "train track" experiences I have had. Here are just a few:

Happy Track:

  • scored a soccer goal 
  • steaks with Andy on Friday night 
  • texts from friends 
  • students getting really excited about our creation vs. evolution "Great Debate" 
  • Story's little red coat hanging on the wall
  • getting ready for Thanksgiving guests 

Sad Track:

  • students asking "when will you have that posted/graded?" 
  • knowing I've hurt someone I love 
  • Story's first cold 
  • car troubles 
  • students who don't pay attention 
  • exhaustion 

So where does joy fit in? Kay doesn't say this in her blog, but one of the things that I've been wondering is... is joy a connection between the tracks? Could it be that both the happy and the sad can meet and have greater significance than just the emotions that the circumstances evoke?

I don't know, I've got a lot more thinking/digging in to do. But, I will say this... the experience that I would consider the most "joyful" in the past 24 hours came when I was driving home after picking Story up yesterday. I was feeling really defeated. Something about the day just had me feeling like a failure, like I hadn't communicated or loved well throughout the school day. Story was in the back of the car and I felt like I had no energy for my sweet one. And yet the rain was falling gently, and the prospect of a cold, rainy weekend snuggled up at home with my favorite humans sounded amazing. In that moment, the two tracks of my life had equal input, and I needed help sorting them out. I told Story I needed to talk to Jesus, so I did. I just told him about how I felt, how I felt like I hadn't done a good enough job teaching, how I needed his help in my relationships. But I thanked him because, no matter how I perform, he still loves me. And I think that he gave me some joy in that moment. I ceased worrying about the day. I didn't do something to generate more happiness (like shop or have a glass of wine or get something sweet to eat) I just stayed in the moment with Jesus until the bad connected with the good, and I could see that I would be okay.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Joy Project

When my mom was here over my birthday, I felt really happy. At one point, I texted BFF Lacy just to mark the moment in time- "I feel happy." I've sent her a lot of stressed out/overwhelmed texts over the past few months, so I thought I'd change it up a bit.

This morning, I sat down to journal about this. Why was it such a big deal to be happy when my mom was here? Because, as I wrote down in my journal this morning- "I am not happy."

This might sound strange. Or whiny. Or ungrateful. Maybe it is. But it is, nonetheless, true. I'm not happy. I haven't been happy in a long time. A mixture of chronic homesickness, stress and loneliness has made for an undertone of unhappiness in my life.

Here's the twist, though... is being unhappy actually a big deal? I don't know, but I don't really think so.

I wonder if Jesus was happy. I think as a Christian, we think we have to be happy. Like we're not being spiritual enough if we aren't happy. In fact, I feel like I'll be judged just for putting down here that, most of the time, I'm not happy. It's sort of shocking to hear a Christian say something like that. But Jesus was a "man of sorrows," was He not? He wept over his friends, He grieved over Jerusalem, He suffered a lot of rejection and misunderstanding. I'm not saying Jesus was never happy. But maybe happiness was a part of His life's rhythm, not the goal of it.

Sometimes I feel a lot of pressure to be happy. Just yesterday I heard someone say that "happy teachers make happy students." Sorry. I cannot promise that. And I think that's okay. The Bible doesn't promise me happiness... how can I guarantee that I'll be happy for my students if the Bible doesn't say that God will provide it for me? If I'm learning anything right now, it's that trying to conjure up anything that God hasn't said that He will provide is an absolute drain.

Anyway, getting to the point. The Bible doesn't promise happiness. God never said, "Follow me, and I will make you happy." But He does say that knowing Him, and being filled with His Spirit will fill me with joy.

So, the holiday season is approaching, and I'm going to try something out. I have no idea how- this is just in the fledgling stages- but I'm going to seek out joy. Because it's a promise.

"You will fill me with joy in your presence." Psalm 16:11

"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace..." Galatians 5:22

So, hopefully there will be some more finite thoughts about how to seek joy, and where I'm finding it, coming soon.

p.s. I must say that Story is a tremendous source of joy and happiness. But, I'm away from her for 40+ hours a week, and that right there makes most new mommas unhappy :(