Monday, January 7, 2013

From Misery to Happiness

My little sister was recently married in the Salt Lake Temple.  At her reception, I saw an old friend of mine. We began reminiscing about high school.  More specifically, how it seemed we had a reputation for being happy all the time.  She mentioned that our peers often told her that her smile had helped them when they were having a bad day. Who could blame them? I love her smile too! I was given similar compliments. We both felt glad our upbeat personalities could help lift others around us who were having a hard day.  It feels good to know others feel happy around you! I think it feels even better to make people laugh! However, we talked about how we also felt like we had to be happy all the time in order to meet others' expectations. We felt pressured to keep a bubbly reputation, as though people were counting on us. During my senior year I asked my seminary teacher, "Do I have to smile when I don't feel happy?"

I don’t have to ask a seminary teacher anymore. My answer is no. I do not have to smile all the time.  I have experienced trials so difficult that I ached to feel a flicker of joy just for a fleeting moment.  I have wondered if I would ever be happy again.  We are surrounded by war, terrorism, abuse, poverty, sickness, addiction, crime, hunger, and moral decay.  With these awful afflictions, no one is expected to be genuinely happy all the time. Even our perfect God is not happy all the time. Watching how their children suffer here on earth surely causes our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to weep. The prophet Enoch witnessed this:

And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced …

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; 
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood (Moses 7: 26-33)
The Lord saw how Satan held the whole earth in a chain, veiling it with darkness. It did not cause Him to simply wipe away a few tears.  It caused the heavens to “shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains.”  If God weeps over our pain, surely we can have a good cry without feeling guilty! There seems to be a stereotype that Mormons are always cheerful. That is wonderful! I hope we do strive to have a positive attitude and it will attract nonmembers to the gospel. I think generally we are happier because of our faith. But a cheerful stereotype can also hurt us if we think we always have to live up to it. We place an unnecessary burden upon ourselves to hide our sorrow – just as I did in high school. 

Sharing our grief with other reveals we are real. How often have you misjudged people, thinking they had perfect lives, only to later discover they were dealing with intense trials? I have done that far too often. Pretending everything is all right when everything is all wrong causes loneliness and alienation – how can others offer a shoulder to cry on if they do not know we are crying? We are designed to serve one another, creating authentic relationships that can exist into the eternities. My ward is a wonderful example of this. It is full of amazing people who care about each other. We know one another’s trials. We share each other’s burdens. When one of us is weighed down, we simply have to let someone know and we are soon smothered with visits, phone calls, babysitting offers, meals, and listening ears.  I witnessed this again firsthand just a few months ago when I was having a terrible week of postpartum depression. My ward is Superman.

We should not feel guilty when we do not respond to every trial with a smile. Our eternal perspective does help us endure times of trouble, but grief is real and healing takes time. Our Savior’s grace does not shield us from pain, but it does provide peace so that we can feel joy again.  Our testimonies allow us to be happier, but not always happy.   

Our Heavenly Father knows we experience pain, sickness, hate, and despair.  He knows we must experience these things – we chose to experience these things – in order to be like Him. But He also taught, “Men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne 2:25). He wants us to be happy! He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins and sufferings so that we can have eternal joy with Him. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Joseph Smith taught, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (History of the Church, 5: 134-35).

God sent His son to provide the way for eternal happiness. I think trying to stay positive through our trials can help us. However, God does not expect us to shout hurray every time we hurt! My favorite scripture story is when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  It is tender to me because, like Mary and Martha, my brother died. I feel Mary and Martha’s pain when they fall at our Savior’s feet and cry, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died!”  Does Jesus say, “Stop crying girls. Buck up and be happy. He’s in a better place. You’ll see him again”? Of course not! The scriptures simply say, “Jesus wept.”  He felt Mary and Martha’s pain. He cried with them, just as He cried with me when my brother died. Surely He cries with all of us when we suffer. He is the only one who truly knows how we ache because he felt all of our pain in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Because Jesus atoned for our sins and sorrows, he has all power to take them from us.  He invites, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He expects us to grasp tightly to His enabling power so He can comfort us. Our trials can teach us how much we need our Savior. We cannot be happy without Him.  He is the light and life of the world and the only way we can return home.  When we despair, he brings hope.  When we worry, he brings peace.  When we anger, he brings forgiveness.

And when we do laugh again, we feel grateful for the ability to laugh.  We smile knowing that we still can smile! I believe the happiest people are those who have endured suffering with faithful hearts, and are therefore more grateful for the moments of joy in their lives. Like Adam and Eve when they were driven from the Garden of Eden, we know joy because we know misery (2 Ne 2:23). We are not just happy, we are happier.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Great post Em. You've always impressed me. Thanks for being real.