Sometimes I feel sad.
(“I feel ya, sister,” says the internet personality in my head, chipper to the last. “Sometimes I feel like giving up on life and drowning my sorrows in ice cream and memes.”)
Sometimes I feel lost.
(“It’s rough, sister. It’s rough.”)
Sometimes I forget who God is.
(“Been there, done that,” says the person who is me.)
And sometimes, I don’t want to be that person — always cheerful and sarcastic and brutally unfeeling. Sometimes I want to admit that I feel sad for more reasons than Sydney Carton’s tragic fate, or human stupidity, or other silly quips like that. Because life is a roller-coaster with ups and downs, and sometimes — sometimes — God takes you on so many loop-de-loops within the span of twenty minutes that you can’t even make sense of your head, let alone your heart.
Yep. That’s me.
See, I go through phases. Moments of goodness, days and months where life is a galaxy of uncharted hopes and dreams and plans. Those are the times when things are okay. When it’s nice to be alive, for no other reason than existing, and breathing, and feeling laughter bubble like warm sunshine inside your chest.
And then… then there are moments that are not so great.
Moments of struggling.
Moments of pain.
Moments of fear.
Moments of staring into the abyss of your utterly confusing, utterly foreign soul and whispering, “What the heck is all this?”
So I go in phases. Sometimes, life is good. Life is really, really good. And sometimes, without warning, the world shifts, and circumstances change, and challenges arise, and life is bad. Life is really, really bad, even if no one knows it but me.
2019 was like that.
In 2019, I made friends and lost friends and met friends I’d known for years only through a screen. I pushed myself and hurt myself and healed myself, sometimes within a dizzyingly short span of time. I laughed more than I’ve ever laughed in my life. I cried myself to sleep with an ache in my chest and the taste of a prayer on my lips, an endless plea of, “Lord, why don’t I understand why I hurt?”
God taught me a lot. Other things I’m still learning. And maybe — yes, maybe still — there are things I’ll never know. (Maybe.) But in the quiet moments when my heart is open, really open, I realize the lessons He made me learn were things I’ve always known, deep inside my soul.
“Who am I, Lord?” I whispered.
And He said, you are Mine.
“Who are you, Lord?” I asked.
And He said, I AM.
“Where are you? Why do I feel so alone?”
And the Psalms said, Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. (Psalm 139:7-12)
I still don’t understand, not completely. Maybe that’s part of the lesson. But He is God, and that is enough. That will always be enough, for the darkness and light are both alike to Him, and my darkness is only a passing shadow compared to His light.
And I wonder: Why am I sad, when He’s given me so much to be joyful about? Why am I sad, when the heights of the sky and the depths of the ocean are the same shade of blue? Why am I sad when turtles exist, and orange peel comes off in curly strips, and people know how to turn dictionary words into poetry?
Humans romanticize happiness as a feeling, a surging emotion that sweeps through your soul and leaves shivers on your skin. I disagree. Happiness is a state of existence. A remembrance and a knowing and a prayer. Happiness is in small moments of contentedness, all linked together like a paper-clip chain. Happiness isn’t what we feel, or say, or what’s done to us. Happiness is what we think it is. Happiness is what we allow it to be.
Happiness is what we choose.
So I started a journal. Not the kind where I chronicle my life in all it’s extremes, the messiness and anxiety and pain. I have those kinds of journals hidden in the back of my closet, and even now, years after they were written, I still can’t look at them because I know the pages are covered in every bad thing that’s ever happened to me.
I hate that.
So I started a new journal. A different kind of journal. My “100 days of happiness” journal. And everything good that happens to me, every moment of joy or peace, every tiny thing that makes me smile — I write it down. Even if it’s only a little moment. Even if it’s running and sliding down a Walmart aisle in my shoes with the slippery soles. Even if it’s eating a graham cracker at 12:04 AM because I’m hungry. Even if it’s a co-worker telling me she loves the look in my eyes when I think of something funny.
Because I have a theory:
If God gave us brains that can think and learn and be taught, and if we can train those brains to respond on instinct to certain sounds, or wake up at the same time every morning without an alarm, or associate feelings with colors just by looking at them — if our brains can do all that, then can’t we retrain them to be happy? If we start looking for the little blessings God throws our way, won’t it become easier to find them? And when we focus on those moments of joy, won’t they stay with us longer, and the memory of them, and the knowledge of them, and maybe, just maybe, one day when we need that kind of joy, won’t the memory be enough?
So yeah, I have a journal now. It isn’t very long, and it doesn’t make much sense to anyone but me. One of the entries just says “unicorn bunnies” and nothing else. Another says “Got locked out of the bathroom at work and Nehemiah had to pick the lock for me.” Yet another says “Had the whole house to myself and puttered around in my ugly slippers doing Shakespeare reenactments.”
Some days when I sit down to write, my mind goes blank and I have to think about it for a long time. But I’m okay with that. Contemplating the day and judging it, not by what happened, but by what blessings God sprinkled throughout. And sometimes, even then, I can’t think of anything particularly noteworthy. So I write down the first random thing that flies into my head. And suddenly, something else pops up. So I write that down too. And before I know it, I have a whole list of good things that happened that day filling up the page.
That’s how being intentional about joy works.
And I know, one day when I’m down again, when another phase of sadness hits, when I’m struggling and hurting and God hasn’t revealed answers yet — when those days come, I know I’ll have a purple notebook with llamas on the cover just waiting to be picked up and flipped through and read. A book filled with all the moments I didn’t deserve, but the Lord in His mercy and love let me have regardless.
Because that’s the kind of God He is.
Irrationally, illogically, unreservedly good.
And I think — I think — that is enough.
Well this is a weird little post. I felt like my New Year’s post just didn’t do justice to the spiritual journey 2019 took me on, so yeah! Here ya go! Dark ramblings and pensive thoughts and all the fun stuff.
Also, please keep in mind that true, TRUE joy comes not in feelings or little moments, but in the knowledge and salvation of Jesus Christ. That’s the real gift of happiness. This post is just about the wrapping-paper, I guess.