When I was a kid in Sunday School we sang things like this:
Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within his favor,
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord.
Hearing the message that happiness and faith were one thing was enormously problematic for me, because I was not an especially happy child.
I was reminded just how problematic this was, when I went to YouTube just a few minutes ago, thinking I would plop "Happiness Is" in here, just for grins. By the time I was 18 seconds into it, I was developing serious anxiety symptoms. Medication was going to be necessary if I didn't exit quickly.
That, boys and girls, is what we call a trigger. An emotional allergic reaction.
I had to listen to some Mumford and Sons to recover.
Isn't that the weirdest thing? The song that tells me to be happy is a crazy-maker.
The song that says, hey, it's tough, it's painful, let's hang on to hope in the darkness? That song gives me peace.
Jesus said, "In this world you'll have trouble. Take courage, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Both of these things are true: we're going to have trouble, and God's got us.
Happiness may or may not be part of the equation, at any given moment. And that's okay, because I've learned that:
My faith is not equal to my feelings.
My feelings are not the measure of my faith.
Sometimes we think that it's not very spiritual to feel sad or mad or scared.
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying he's sorrowful to the point of death, takes care of that for me. (Matthew 26:36-46) Jesus didn't lose his faith, but He was overwhelmed with sorrow. If Jesus can feel that sad, I think it's okay for me to feel how I feel, regardless of the songs I sang in Sunday School.
We think we can control our world by controlling our emotions.
For many years, I was doing all the right things, trying to feel all the right ways, so that if a Bad Thing ever happened, I could cash in my spiritual chips and get a miracle. I didn't know I was doing that. I didn't know it until I was in the middle of The Bad Things, wondering why God wasn't doing what I wanted, when I had been so good.
Maybe not everybody feels how I feel.
My husband Andy is great in a crisis. He thinks first and he keeps thinking. At some point, he may feel. When a crisis is over, for him, it's over. He's ready to go on. I am nothing like this at all. I feel first and I keep feeling and I feel long and hard. In a crisis, I have to shut my emotions down so I can function. After the crisis, I need a lot of time to recover my emotions and process through them. It's taken me a long time to be okay with being the way I am. I've had to separate myself from how others feel, and allow myself to feel how I feel. I've had to be willing to be myself. It's a little scary sometimes.
Sometimes my surface feelings aren't my real emotions.
We all know how easy it is to be irritable. It's easy to think, "She made me so mad," or "I just need to straighten him out." It's a lot harder to dig down into the depths of my soul and realize, "I am terrified, and I am taking my fear out on the people around me," or "I am furious at God for letting the unrighteous prosper while I struggle to make ends meet." Sometimes it takes a while to get down to Real.
Feeling sad, mad, or scared is never a picnic, but what I've found by experience is this:
My true, genuine, honest emotions deepen my faith, because they deepen my relationship with the Faithful One.
The more I bring my real, true self wholly before Love, the more Love I find, to carry me through.