Monday, February 3, 2014

The Year of Joy, in Review

"Here's to feeling good all the time."
~Kramer, "The Sniffing Accountant," Seinfeld 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. ~Jesus, Matthew 5:4

In mid-December, on a day that fell in "that time of the month," I had breakfast with my friend Gina and I asked her an important question. 

"Gina, do I seem normal to you?"

Gina, God bless her, did not laugh at me, but, in her quiet way considered it, seeing in my eyes that I was serious. "Yes, you do," she answered.

"Do I seem like I'm doing okay? Like I love God and am happy about my life?"

"Yes, you do."  

"Okay, well let me ask you something else then. Do you feel happy for a couple of hours in the day and then for an hour feel bad? Like bored or discouraged or irritated?"

"Yes. That's life."

Oh. Yes. I believe I've heard that concept before. Why has it not sunk in? 

Well, part of why I didn't know this on that particular day was because of hormones, which make my brain whisper, "The reality is, you're nuts," about two days out of 30. (My cousin Kelley posted on facebook recently that she didn't know which was the real her: the PMS version or the non-PMS version. I wanted to send her a box of chocolates.) But really, deep down, even during hormonal stability, I would really rather not have emotional ups and downs and do my darnedest not to.When I experience "negative" emotions, I jump to bad conclusions about myself, the state of my life, and even the state of my standing with God.

In January of 2013 I heard God say: This will be your year of joy. I wrote a blog about it a year ago (, and I wondered how that would shake out in reality. The Bible often says that joy will come through trials and suffering. I learned that lesson this year, but in a different way than I expected.

Here is the number one lesson I learned about myself in 2013: I want to feel happy all the time.

The number two thing I learned: I don't. And when I don't, I feel both guilty and afraid that I don't.

Number three: Being preoccupied with feeling good all the time makes the moments of good less satisfying and the moments of feeling bad much worse.Trying to feel good all the time also really hurts my relationship with my heavenly Father, who tells me that He wants me to be truthful, all the way down, even in my emotions: "Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within." Psalm 51:6.

I was raised by a dad who had great faith and always seemed to be happy. Having observed him and misinterpreted his example and teaching (as children of even the best parents are apt to do), I thought trusting God meant always feeling good and being grateful. Hence, the guilt when I don't feel good.

And having a history of anxiety and depression (which could be partially caused by the fact that I often felt guilty any time I felt bad growing up), I fear sadness. What I learned this year through study and experience is that sadness -- unlike clinical depression -- is productive. Sadness is an indicator that something is not right -- in a relationship for example -- and may lead to change and healing in the relationship.

Or sometimes, when sadness is caused by something unchangeable, like an incurable illness in a loved one, a loss, or a death, sadness is a necessary part of healing. Fearing that sadness in those instances is destructive. When I push sadness or mourning away from me, it crops up in other ways as anger or irritability or numbness. I can't feel compassion for others if I'm afraid to feel sad and so I cut myself off from others. But, when I allow myself to feel grief,  I've found it to be true what Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

One of the funniest scenes ever in the Seinfeld series is when Kramer goes "undercover" to try to find out if his accountant (who always seems to be sniffing)) is doing cocaine and squandering his money. Kramer sits next to him at the bar and assumes what he assumes to be the attitude of a drug user. With a cigarette hanging from his mouth, he looks at the sniffing accountant, holds up a pint of beer and says, "Here's to feeling good all the time." Then he chugs it down in one take.

As much as this scene makes me laugh, it also makes me think of some sad realities. Trying to feel good all the time is what drives us to addictions: drugs, alcohol, business, eating, excessive exercise, work-a-holism. We end up in those places running from sadness and loss. God can't comfort us when we have numbed out our pain.

As far as boredom, frustration, anger, apathy, jealousy, anxiousness, fear, insecurity, and all the other less-than-blissful emotions that I experience on a weekly basis go, the more I'm willing to name and recognize them, the less scary they become and the faster I get over them. And here's the most radical concept I've discovered in the Year of Joy. Sometimes a little wallowing doesn't hurt. A little sitting around feeling kind of crappy doesn't hurt you once a month.

When I was depressed, I had all kinds of tools to make myself get out of bed and keep moving, be productive, active and social in order to keep from sinking. I would sing to myself Dory from Finding Nemo's refrain "just keep swimming, swimming, swimming." That was right and necessary at that time.

But now, five years later, in a much healthier place, if I wake up with the blues -- hormonally induced or otherwise -- sometimes I haul my sad butt off to the gym and salsa dance, and then shower and blow dry my hair. The fake-it-till-you-make-it approach.

But sometimes I put on my yoga pants, don't do yoga, and watch three hours of "Downton Abbey" while eating cereal with my greasy hair in a ponytail.

Whichever approach from above, I also include simply telling God how I feel. "Lord, I'm so anxious right now. I think [insert name of friend] might be mad at me." Or, "God, I am cranky and sick of housekeeping." Or, "Lord, I have very hurt feelings. I feel angry and misunderstood."

Never, never, never is God's response, "Come on, Amanda, suck it up." Never is it condemnation. Instead, always it is comfort. Sometimes in the form of a brotherly pat on the head. Sometimes, on the level of strong arms wrapped around me. Sometimes, a surge of courage or well-being. And always, always, a sense of restored joy.

Negative emotions do not disqualify us from a life of faith. Adverse experiences don't separate us from God's love. But honesty in the inmost parts: this is my path to joy. This is the wisdom and freedom God gave me in 2013. The year of joy indeed. 

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. 
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. ~Psalm 30:5