I’d Rather You be Whole Than Happy.

My soul and my brain are currently sitting together in a waiting room: twiddling thumbs, reading old magazine articles about celebrities I don’t care about, watching crappy day time TV on an old television set hanging in the corner. My body, however, is still going to work, doing errands, having small talk, writing things like this blog post, and going about the day as if I wasn’t waiting on news. As if I wasn’t waiting to find out if the months that follow will be filled with fervent prayer, or fervent rejoicing.

That’s just the way of things, really. The world goes about errands and small talk but all of us are holding really big things on our shoulders. Big concerns, big hurt, big heartache. And it’s interesting to me how our culture worships the idea of happiness as if permeant happiness is an achievable goal. But it isn’t. Not here, not in our fallen world. Not when children pass away. Not when cancer runs rampant.

One of the most beautiful acts of friendships that I’ve experienced was being given the freedom to fully feel. When I was sad, she let me be sad. When I was scared, she let me be scared. When life was hard, she remarked “You know what, this is hard.” Because cheering people up is great and all, and sometimes absolute necessary, but I think before we worry about the cheering up part we should instead validate one another. We should call a spade a spade and acknowledge that growth comes from the painful things almost always. Did you just have a romantic relationship end? You know what, that really sucks and I’m sorry that when you allowed yourself to be vulnerable you were hurt instead. Did you lose one of your parents or siblings or best friends? I can’t begin to fathom the pain that you’re carrying. You’re really, truly, brave. Are you lonely? My friend, I am so so sorry that you are. Did you find a closed door from God when you were expecting an open one? God loves us enough to leave some doors shut, but that doesn’t mean running into them isn’t really arduous. I myself have broken all my fingers trying to claw open locked doors in the past and while I learned about God’s goodness after the fact, first I screamed in pain.

I am giving you my permission to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling. Because I think God gives you His permission to fully feel whatever you’re feeling.

God knows that things are hard. I believe the fact that He gives us the most extraordinary gift of community is proof of this. You aren’t being a disobedient child for being sad or angry or hurt. These feelings aren’t the antithesis of trusting God. Trusting Him doesn’t mean being indifferent to hard things. Walking with my Father doesn’t mean that when a man breaks my heart it won’t hurt. It means that I am allowed to be hurt and sad and confused as to why I had to experience something so crappy. And then, I’m allowed to be hopeful and joyful because I’m the child of a King who works all things out for good. We don’t have to mourn as if we have no hope — but we don’t have to pretend we’re above mourning, either.

Hugh Mackay wrote some of my favorite words on this subject:

“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that – I don’t mind people being happy – but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position – it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”

Sometimes loving well means picking our loved ones up off the ground and taking them out to lunch or to Oxford Exchange to get a warm salted caramel vanilla latte (I’m having withdrawals from my Oxford, ya’ll). With everything, sadness is best in moderation. I’m not suggesting a complete surrender to despair and sadness. Or not allowing ourselves to focus on anything other than the miserable. God is a God of resurrection and therefore we don’t get to surrender to despair. Sunday came and that tomb was empty and that changed everything.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re not allowed to feel the emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum as happiness. Don’t think that those feelings are reserved for the pessimists or grumps or unbelievers. Don’t make the mistake of going out to lunch with a bazillion people after church on Sunday when you instead need to go home and weep to your Father. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that your role as a friend or brother or sister is only to be a cheerleader — to see how quickly you can move them away from sadness to happiness. That part will come. First be part of their growth, their morphing into wholeness.


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