Happy Unhappiness

It’s funny how my happiest moments come when I’m at my lowest.

Sure, I like being caught up in the busyness of life, jumping from one fun thing to another, living in a whirlwind of goodness. But in the midst of this, I find myself looking back to a time when things weren’t going so hot – depression or tragedy or suffering – and in a way, I miss the darkness.

Happiness makes me feel hollow in a way pain never has. Why do I close my eyes after a day bursting with life, and my first thought is of sleep, not a prayer of thanks? Why do I spend my weeks with more joy than I have ever known, but when all is dark and quiet, I say, “You are not good, You are not gracious”?

I rail at my Creator, I struggle against the fence of the pasture He gave me – demanding answers, demanding light, demanding more, more, more, more.

Why?

WHY?

What is pain? Why in misery am I not miserable, and why in happiness am I not happy?

But then life goes around and I fall, as all mortal things do, and I fall hard, and there is no peace in the impact, no joy to soften the blow. Only jagged shards of my own mind sharpened into daggers to bleed my soul.

Hurtful, hateful mind. What a weapon to destroy myself with.

In these moments of heaviness, when the world becomes bitter from the poison of myself, I think back to times of happiness and ingratitude, and wonder why. Why did I want this? Why did I think that any good could ever come from this despair, from this uncertainty? Where is the joy in my trial, the purpose in my pain?

I read a book last year called 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Among other things, it’s a book about blessings and gratitude and simple grace in simple things, in simple words and simple lives. She talks about something called the ugly-beautiful. The unexpected wonder of living a broken life, of beauty in fractured edges and joy in despair. Eucharisteo, she names it. Thanksgiving.

I’ve always believed in the ugly-beautiful, at least in some small way. My quest to find true joy started two years ago, and through it, God taught me more than I could ever share, grown me in ways I’ll never be able to explain, stretched me to lengths you couldn’t fathom. I have known pain, and I will know it again, and this is the remedy, this is the answer to my soul-hurt – this, I thought, would change my life.

And it has. It is. But I am still me and pain is still pain and sometimes no matter how many blessings I count, the day is as dark as night and there is no relief in sleep, in oblivion or the promise of sunrise. David sought God in the morning, but night is when I stare into the darkness of my room and search for His presence there. I lay awake when the world is blind, counting my sadnesses instead of my joys.

Sometimes I think I must be seeking Him wrong. Sometimes I wonder if I’m praying at all, or just ranting to the image I see in my head – my idea of God, overlaid on the corner of ceiling I stare at when I talk to the One who hears all things. Who am I, that I should know Him? Who is He, that He should care? And where is He really, when I think He’s listening – why do I ask for His favor only to receive a stone?

But I pray anyway, even though I’ve never been very good at praying, and maybe it’s not a good prayer and maybe it makes no sense to anyone but myself (maybe not even myself) and maybe the entire thing is one long wail, the S.O.S. of my soul crying out for relief, for help, for joy, for something.

And it came to me, in a moment of stillness.

Not in waves of peace washing over my soul, not in tangible happiness you breathe and taste. But the miserable not-misery, the unhappy happiness, the stillness that comes in the dead of night when your heart is stripped bare of everything but this raw, aching, cry of GOD, I NEED YOU

Ugly-beautiful.

I can’t describe this in any way that makes sense. Isn’t it backwards to say there isn’t joy in pain, but the joy is the pain? Is this part of the Curse, that sin-covenant made when Man’s teeth sunk through skin and juice and touched the sweet flesh of a fullness he was never meant to know? The path back to my Savior leads through the stripping of my own heart, the tearing away of home and happiness and all the things that make me feel safest. Only then, when I am empty, do I understand what I’ve always known.

Emptiness is fullness and pain is joy and there’s a dichotomy there, somewhere just beyond my grasp, somewhere I don’t yet understand—

Only then, when I am empty—

Ugly-beautiful.

In emptiness I cling to God because God is all I have and God is all I want and God drowns out my soul-sickened cry of more, more, more because God is enough, enough, enough. In my loneliness I find a deeper communion than I have ever known. In my despair He gives me hope. In my lack of self I am more than I will ever be, because He is in me and I in Him and He, the Creator of the Universe, who tinkered the stars and wove the grass and spun the ocean from silky nothing, He gave His identity to me.

So I sit, and I wonder – why in happiness am I not happy, and why in misery am I not miserable, and is this the strange paradox of joy, of thankfulness, of love? To stare at an empty future and feel more secure than when I knew each stone of the path, because the path led only to myself while the emptiness isn’t empty but full of Him?

Ugly-beautiful.

And when I stand in my yard crying as I watch a sunset, when I look through darkened windows and marvel over fireflies, when I touch the wind and wonder how I can feel sound – this mystery is all the answer I need.

~Sarah

11 thoughts on “Happy Unhappiness

  1. I deeply relate to the concept of “ugly-beautiful.” I’m generally a pretty happy person who doesn’t have a lot of trouble finding things to be grateful for, but I *do* have trouble being content with the blessings I have. And as much as I love the days where everything goes my way, there’s a kind of beauty, a kind of realism, that ordinary happiness forgets all too easily.

    “Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence; yet it is often withheld from our great Benefactor simply because His goodness is so constant and so abundant. It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events. It is not felt because we daily experience it.” -A. W. Pink, “The Attributes of God”

    It’s sometimes hard to hold onto God with our fists full of other lovely things. So, times of longing, wistfulness, loneliness, or soul-deep sadness remind me that as blessed as I am to live in this marvelous world, I’m not home yet – and there’s something far better on the horizon. As you put it, only in emptiness can we truly be full of God.

    Something a previous pastor’s wife spoke about has stuck with me for years: we are not human unless we can hold joy and sorrow in the same hand. To hold only sorrow and hatred belongs to the demons, to hold only happiness and love belongs to those who live in the presence of God forevermore. To live only in the joy of the Resurrection cheapens the awe and worth of the sacrifice that occasioned it. To live only in the agony of the Cross, however, is to perpetuate a death He died once for all time, to be the antithesis to the living act of Hope Jesus Christ came to be for us. So there it is – what other way is there than joy and sadness?

    Because isn’t that the gospel? Isn’t the gospel the epitome of “ugly-beautiful”? A naked Savior, stripped of all divine and human dignity, utterly alone and hated for a burden of sins He had never committed. But bared of all but His love, that love shone bright enough to conquer all the darkness in the whole world. When I am broken open and poured out, let me be full of that Light.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. (I would like to collect this comment and keep it for myself, thank you very much. You said so thoroughly everything I’ve been learning for a year, just as Sarah did in the post. Gahhh.)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. My WORD, Allison, I could not have hoped for a better or more eloquent extension to this post. Honestly you said in five paragraphs what it took me 1,500 words to figure out. This is beautiful and SO well said. I want to hang the last two paragraphs in particular on my wall.

      As a side note, my mom read your comment and immediately looked at me and said, “Can I be her friend?” 😂

      Like

  2. Thank you for putting this into words.

    I hadn’t planned to share this, but when I picked my focus word of the year, I really wanted to pick “joy” because I wanted more of that happiness you were describing. After some time in prayer, I found that a better word to focus on this year was “awe.” Awe is worship and lets me see what God is doing in good times and bad. I think awe has been a much better thing for me to focus on than fleeing joy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My soul was ready for this punch.

    But just…this is so truly and exactly what I’ve been learning. Especially that “emptiness is fullness” and all that goes with that, and Him. I think this is the most relatable post to me that you’ve ever written.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I didn’t know I needed to hear this, but wow. Just wow. That was so eloquently and beautifully expressed, putting the feelings I’ve had so often in words. It touched my soul in a way I can’t describe because finally, finally this sense of ugly-beautiful makes…sense. So thank you. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

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