Happiness and the Blues – not mutually exclusive

[From the archives.]

***

For Lent, Keri Wyatt Kent is blogging through her book Deeply Loved – 40 ways in 40 days to experience the heart of Jesus. On Day 15 I took Keri up on her invitation to reflect on The Blues.*

Keri starts Chapter 15 with a passage from The Message:

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God. (Psalm 42:11.)

Here it is in the NIV:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Keri goes on to recount some songs from her childhood when the Sunday School class would sing about being “happy, happy, happy, happy, happy” all the time in Jesus. It reminds me of a hymn we used to sing as adults too:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight and now I am happy all the day! (Isaac Watts, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?, ca. 1707.)

Now I’m sure that when Watts first wrote those words back in the dawn of the 18th Century everyone understood that he meant “happy” not as an emotion but in its more classical sense of contentment or enjoyment of good fortune. Nowadays, though, the word usually means nothing more than the opposite of sadness and, with that limited definition, admonitions to be happy in Jesus just set us up to feel like failures: our feelings become a barometer of our spiritual condition.

What a load of hooey.

Singing the Blues

From Job to Paul, the Bible is full of examples of God’s people not possessing a single smidge of happiness. What do we do at those times? The Bible speaks to that, from the Old Testament:

Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you. (Psalm 55:22.)

and the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

Keri points out that these are times – just like our happy times – when God wants us to speak to him honestly. And we should also remember, along with the writer of Psalm 42, that God constantly watches over his own:

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. (Psalm 42:6.)

When our hearts are troubled, when we’ve got the blues, Keri points to this passage and suggests:

So you could pray, “God love me.” Or “God, sing over me all through the night.” You could simply reflect in wonder on the fact that God looks at you with love 24/7, and that he adores you and there is not an ounce of shame or guilt in that love, pure and constant. (Deeply Loved, p. 81.)

Still, it’s when we are feeling down that we might have the hardest time accepting that there is never any shame or guilt in how we appear before God. Yet it’s so blessedly true!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1.)

God never condemns his people, you included. Why should you try to lay a guilt trip on yourself that God never lays on you. Who would know better about this anyway, you or him? Sure we might be facing hard times. But then again, we might be feeling happy.

Say Goodbye Feelings and Hello God

Solomon said:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1.)

And get this – neither feeling happy or sad is a reflection of your standing with God. Both are possible for God’s people, and in either situation there is a perfectly appropriate response:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (James 5:13.)

Your feelings don’t define your relationship with God. That relationship is defined instead by the finished work of Jesus Christ:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23.)

Seasons Come, Seasons Go, God remains

Feeling happy or feeling the blues, the truth is that God is with you right where you are now. He always will be.

Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5.)

And I’m happy about that.

***

*Of course, this post is only about the transitory experience of feeling down, what people commonly think of when they say they have the blues. There’s a big difference between this feeling and the medical condition known as clinical depression. Believe me, I know.

***

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13 Responses to Happiness and the Blues – not mutually exclusive

  1. David Hirstius says:

    The gift of being “old and full of years” helps establish this perspective. It is difficult for young people to see suffering in a larger perspective. It is so very important for young people to have at least one older person in their life who is somewhat reflective and wise. Like my own father before me, I try to be that point of stability and understanding for my son and for the young people I meet.

  2. Laura Droege says:

    “Your feelings don’t define your relationship with God.” Of all the encouraging things you said in this post, Tim, this is the statement that speaks the most to me. With all the wild mood swings I have had (and probably will have in the future), it is comforting to know that no matter how elated or dejected I become, my relationship with God is constant and stable. I know you were talking about the blues and not clinical depression, but there’s a lot here that’s an encouragement for either those who need to be cheered up from the blues and those who need to be hauled from the pit of despair with love and medication.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad this post spoke on more than one level, Laura. God’s constancy in our relationship is something I trust in, even when I am not feeling it.

  3. Christine says:

    Thank you for posting the link to WebMD about clinical depression. Sadly, there is still so much ignorance about this illness. Even more disheartening is the lack of knowledge and compassion and understanding in “the church”. I have come to view my previous battle and now pharmaceutically-assisted coexistence with the illness as something that could have destroyed me or something that I could use. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to start and lead many conversations about the realities of clinical depression with believers. It’s been positive to see healthy changes in people’s attitudes about depression. Having the diagnosis myself gives me a certain “credibility” during these conversations.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Tim and Keri. I don’t know where this idea came from that being a Christian must involve feeling and appearing happy all the time but it sure isn’t my experience. It’s so good do know God’s love, and His presence with me, are deeper than my feelings and my circumstances.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    Balance, glad someone will take the time to bring it out.
    (You did intend that, right?)

  6. EricaM says:

    I’ve noticed people in church tend to put on a particular “Christian” face-perfect home, perfect family, perfect smile. I have to say, it’s rather refreshing to hear people talk honestly of their struggles. Being a Christian doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but that God will carry you through whatever is happening.

    On a sillier note, I was also reminded of this:

    • Tim says:

      I’ve seen a lot of Silly Songs with Larry, but I’ve never seen that one with Blind Lemon. What a hoot! Who’d have thought of doing a blues/polka mashup?

    • Pastor Bob says:

      “Being a Christian doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but that God will carry you through whatever is happening.”

      WELL SAID!!

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