A few years ago, I read a very sad book. The book told the story of a family that had experienced years of financial, medical and relational tragedies. I spent most of the week crying along with the characters in the book.
At the end of the story, the narrator has overcome. He secured a good job. He found love with his beautiful fiancée. And as he lay with her in the sunshine on the beach during, perhaps, his first vacation ever, he realizes, he is happy.
This frightens him.
This is how the story ends. With the revelation that the narrator has been living in survival mode for so long, he has no idea how to be happy. Happiness becomes a frightening experience.
This story resonated with me.
In childhood, I was poor and endured abuse. When I escaped and created my own life, it took me a long time to realize it was OK to be happy. I had lived in survival mode for such a long time, waiting for the next crisis to happen, that I wouldn’t allow myself a bit of happiness. It felt like an indulgence. It wasn’t. It was an unhealthy arrangement.
The past two years have taken a toll on many of us in this way. We were waiting. Watching statistics and the news nonstop. Pandemic and civil unrest and war occupied our thoughts for so long, we forgot how to allow ourselves to be happy. Fear attached itself to our ability to experience happiness, as did a sense of guilt. Who am I to be happy when people are dying? When others are unhappy?
But who are you not to be?
Especially as one who professes to follow Christ.
I’ve heard it said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” I discovered that this Scripture is from the Old Testament. After 70 long years in Babylonian exile, the Israelites came back to their land. They were shellshocked.
They felt guilty for their lack of faith that had put them in exile to begin with. They were mourning and weeping when the prophet Nehemiah gives them a word from the Lord:
“Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength!” (Neh 8:10).
He tells them to make a feast to celebrate the rebuilding of the wall around the Temple. The message was clear: It is time to live joyously.
It hasn’t been 70 years or even 40 wandering the desert. Just two. But I feel that call back to happiness. It has been a trial.
In the Book of James, it says, “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (1:2-3).
And in Romans it says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).
Joy can follow suffering. We should not be frightened of it. In fact, walking through pain and suffering allows us to see the disparity between the two.
How do we build a life that allows us to be happy? You wouldn’t tell a child not to be happy, would you? Neither does our Father in heaven. He wants to give us good things.
I find myself saying it aloud lately. “I am happy!” When I behold something beautiful like Seattle’s stunning Lake Washington or spending time laughing with my family. It may sound silly to say it aloud, but I feel like I need to declare it, cement it, give myself and those around me permission to be happy.
It doesn’t have to be something big. It’s the small stuff that builds a life of happiness, a good cup of coffee, noticing an interaction between strangers, cuddles with my kid. God is here in those moments.
Let God’s joy be your strength.
Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103