Oh, how fleeting our happiness can be! It seems as though lately I have been bombarded by the idea that nothing in this life can truly satisfy us. No person, job, condo, vacation, clothing item, accessory, toy, can ever cause us to be completely happy. For a little over a year I’ve been praying for a job and simultaneously living in a state of minor terror. When September rolled around and I wasn’t working, I was shocked and fearful. As the year went on, I went through varying degrees of fear but deep down I told myself that once I had landed a job– all of my problems would be solved. I believed that true happiness would be found in gainful employment.
And so, one day in early March, I received word that I had indeed gotten myself a job! I was ecstatic! I was thankful! I could see God working in the details that made this happen for me! I was finally able to sleep at night and wake up in the early morning hours without worrying myself into a dark hole.
BUT – that happiness rather quickly disappeared and my worry for a job was way-too-quickly replaced with my desire for a really great boyfriend. It had only been a couple of days! My employment dream had come true. The key to my supposed happiness had been given to me and I so quickly forgot. I figured I had at least a couple of weeks before I was yearning for something else to make me more satisfied but no.. we are strange creatures that way.
I know that should I ever meet a tall, bold.. wait that’s my coffee order.. but should I ever meet the right man, I will be happy but then inevitably I will be wanting for something else. We are never satisfied. I feel like such a brat but I also recognize that this is what C.S. Lewis was talking about.. this is the very “desire that nothing in this world can satisfy” and the indication that “we were made for another world“. Or as Paul David Tripp wrote in his book New Morning Mercies: “Of course you haven’t been fulfilled in this world. It’s a sign that you have been designed for a world to come.”
So I will continue to be thankful that God has blessed me with a job and when I feel that annoying longing for something new, I will tell myself that this is just a symptom of the human condition. Sure, those things may bring some happiness but they will not stop me from wanting more. Only God can satisfy our hearts and only He can bring us to a place where all of our yearnings and desires will be completely met.
When I was younger (OK maybe only a couple months ago), I would lie awake in my bed at night and wonder if I could be happy. I would go over all of the things happening in my life and look for the one thing or maybe two things that were getting in the way of my happiness. I would pretty much always find something; a friend acting strangely, an approaching science test, an upcoming meeting or presentation, an illness.. and then I would look forward to that thing being done with or resolved because then I could be really and truly happy.
Almost two years ago, I was recovering from a breakup and starting to feel like myself again. I can remember distinctly thinking.. “Give me a couple more weeks and then I can be totally happy”. Everything was going really well in my life and the bruises on my heart were starting to heal up nicely. I figured that I was on the brink of being able to be happy again. But then, I found out that my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and so the idea of being able to be really happy quickly faded away. I remember thinking: This is it. I will never be truly happy again. How dramatic!
Anyway, miraculously, my father is recovering brilliantly, the stresses in my life seem to be at a bit of a low, life is pretty good except for… well there is always an except for. And that’s what I’ve learned. As long as I’m living on this planet, there will something less-than-ideal going on. Because we are humans. Because we have bodies. Because we are living on this planet with other complicated humans. Because we need to grow. Because we need to stay in constant communication with God. The list goes on…
I’ve also been really tuned into the fact that I don’t need everything to be going perfectly well to be happy. Because it’s not the little fleeting emotion of happy that I’m after, it’s the much more powerful JOY that is the goal, the command. It seems like over and over I’m confronted with the idea that we are called to rejoice in all of our circumstances, to be joyful, to seek joy. Realizing that I don’t need everything to be going well to be able to find complete joy in life, in God, has been a bit of a wake up for me.
And so now when I go to bed, instead of looking for the one thing that is blocking my happiness, I’ll focus on the things that bring me joy.. the One who brings me joy. It works out much better this way.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV)
This post was supposed to be a more trivial one about running and relaxing. Originally I was going to write about the time I spent at a cottage and how each morning I liked to “torture” myself a bit (a hilly run followed by a dip in the lake) all in the name of taking the rest of the day off in the most delightful guilt-free kinda way. You see, I’m very good at relaxing but we can talk about that another time. Anyway I was going to write about the idea of needing to experience the pain in order to enjoy the pleasure later and how great pleasure feels when you went through a bit of pain prior. I had drafted out something about the idea of putting yourself through something bad to enjoy something good. It was pretty decent actually but as time went on and I didn’t press the Publish button, I started to think a little differently.
You see, in a few days I will be heading back to Japan after 9+ weeks in Canada. It hasn’t been an easy summer but it has been so good to be home. In taking things one-day-at-a-time, I have learned so much about valuing moments and really living in them. I have learned that pain is temporary, tears come and go as does laughter. I have learned that through tears there is joy. I have become increasingly aware of the link and co-existence of joy and pain.
I have learned that to experience pain or hurt or sadness does not mean that I’m doing something wrong or being punished or missing a part of life, it means that I’m living. It means that I’m loving. It means that I’m able to be joyful and I’m able to be sad and so I am able to experience what it really means to be alive. It’s not always great but it’s life.
I read a lot of C.S. Lewis this summer and he so clearly understands the link between joy and pain and between bravery and fear and hope and despair and how all of these human emotions are coursing through our veins and making us alive. There is that great line from the film Shadowlands where, in discussing her upcoming death, Lewis’ wife says: “The pain then, is part of the happiness now. That’s the deal.” And not only was that a highly emotional cinematic moment but there is truth in seeing that pain and happiness and joy are so completely connected. We can be happy even when we know that sadness is coming. We can experience pain and yet search for joy and there always is some, even if it takes some searching to find it. That’s the deal.
Back in January I was reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and copied this quote in my journal:
“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” She gets it. She knows the deal.
And so, as I think about a summer that was filled with laughter and tears, I think about the pain that most likely does lie ahead of us, I remember that it’s all part of being alive and living.
Sorrow and Joy.
Pain and Happiness.
To experience these things is to be truly awake.
“We are just going to have to take things one day at a time,” my mother said to me, shortly after I arrived in Canada for the summer. She was referring to the fact that this summer is very much about my dad’s sickness and helping him get through treatments and all the ups and downs that go along with such business. We had been having a bit of a “what if” conversation which always seems to have the potential to derail us into a bit of an emotional frenzy. But this is not the time to do that because as we all know.. we cannot determine the future. That’s not our job, and if it was, we’d stink at it.
And so we have been taking things as they come. Looking at what is on our plate for the day and dealing with that alone. And you know what? It’s been a good way to live. As a girl who loves to have a one week, one month, one year, five year plan always running through my head, this has been a new challenge but it’s been very helpful. I find that I’m learning to be mindful of my time and to think of my life inside one day instead of freaking myself out about the future and all the scary “what ifs”.
In May I bought a 365 journal (like this) and every night I write something in it to remember the day I just lived. Sometimes it’s a list or random thoughts or a meaningful quote. It’s been helpful to look and note all of the good moments and happy things that have happened. Sometimes the day isn’t that great but there is always something little that happened… words spoken, little treats, happy moments and I do think it’s important to keep track of those things. Sometimes I write about sad things too, as they are still part of life but I must say, that it has been a good exercise to really think about my day in detail. It also helps to keep all of the days from blending into each other.
This brings me to another idea.. which is the idea that even when you are going through something really difficult, it’s important to look for little silver linings and happy moments and things that can sweeten up a fairly dire situation. My dad was telling me a story about how he was needing to take public transport in the dead of winter and how waiting for a bus to show up in Canadian temperatures could in fact be quite miserable, until he realized that if he timed it right, he could get a Starbucks and stand sipping that while waiting for the bus. That little thing made the whole experience quite a bit better. Looking for ways to make miserable times semi or completely enjoyable is a skill. It’s called having a talent for happiness and I believe that it’s something I need to continue to incorporate even more. Just because life isn’t 100% happy these days, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the little things. I need to be awake to all that is going on in my life. Maybe I just need to enjoy a conversation with a friend, or a few words exchanged with a family member, maybe I need to let myself really love the taste of a vanilla latte or be excited about how great it feels to wear a new shirt. Maybe I need to let myself enjoy reading a good book and sipping on tea in the waiting room of the clinic. It’s okay to do this. It’s okay to look for happiness in little, somewhat trivial things. I think it’s part of being awake and alive.
And so I work at concentrating on the now, the whole now. I look at all the things in this one day that make me happy, I deal with the things in this one day that sadden me and I trust God to be exactly what I need Him to be for me today. All the while, I am firmly believing and trusting that He will be everything I need tomorrow and the next day too.