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.
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—
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—
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?
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.