A childless lady recently told me she has stopped going to church because all she heard about was “belief and trust”. She said that positivity has invaded the church and she no longer feels comfortable bearing her grief of childlessness there. My heart aches for her.
It begs an important question: Can we be too happy? In response, the happy-clappy Pentacostal part of me jumps in with a triumphant, “Nup! We can always find joy in God!” Then, slowly, the pedantic part of me kicks in: “Now Steffie, be reasonable about this. Think it through. Perhaps being too happy gets things all out of balance.”
This is followed by a sink into cynicism: “We’re all way too happy! Doesn’t anyone understand that some people are hurting too badly to do the happy thing?” Then I feel depressed that I’ve lost any sense of joy with which I began. I wonder if any of this sound familiar to anyone else. Possibly it’s just me.
Christians do have a reason to be happy. Christians can also be naturally positive people. But there seems to be a church culture going around that says we have to smile and believe all the time. It makes things a bit tricky on our bad days.
It also makes it hard to be honest at church. Here’s how a typical Christian conversation could go at a hypothetical local church:
- Them: How are you?
- Me: Oh, you know. Alright, I guess.
- Them: Just alright?
- Me: Well, I’ve been a bit down lately.
- Them: Ah, well, God’s on the throne, isn’t He?
- Me: Um, yes, yes He is.
- Them: So it’s all good, right?
- Me: Actually, it’s not alright. Things are far from alright.
- Them: Have you tried praying about it?
- Me: Yes, the thought had occurred to me.
- Them: Maybe you just need to pray harder.
- Me: (miserably) I guess I could try that.
- Them: You’ll be right! God’s good! Ok, have a great day!
Heavy hearts do not need cheering up. They do not need sunny smiles to brighten their day, as though the only thing missing was an absence of smiling. They need companionship, that authentic connection with another that says, “I haven’t been where you’ve been, but I’m willing to join you where you are now and walk with you.”
When I’m at my worst, the most helpful thing is not problem-solving, or thin reassurance, or blind positivity. It’s the willingness of a friend to sit with me for as long as it takes. We might share a lot; sometimes we may even use words. But that willingness speaks volumes to me. It says, “Steph, you are worth this time together. What you are feeling is important.”
Sometimes, in our 24/7 culture, there isn’t a chance to breathe. When someone takes the time to pause with me, to listen unhurriedly to what is really wrong, without leaping in to judge or give advice, it is priceless.
Being “happy” is not always a given in our lives. I reckon it’s more of a bonus. In the meantime, there is heartache and suffering that can be lightened by sharing the load. Can’t be too happy about that.