I don’t know there’s ever been a Christmas before where I’ve know so many of my friends struggling, either with being ill themselves or they’ve been looking after someone else feeling well under par. Covid, Flu, Step A, Scarlet Fever, wicked coughs and colds; this post pandemic winter feels hard work on our immune systems.
We were fortunate that, as a family, on Christmas Eve and Day we all felt well enough to enjoy the ourselves despite my two boys coughing their lungs out periodically. But the week running up to it, my youngest was on and off running a pretty high temperature and was far from his normal bouncing self. He turned down going to several different fun Christmas activities we’d had planned and chose to curl up in bed or on the sofa instead. My sister and niece had come down to the island for a few days and as a result of Toby’s illness I didn’t get to see them as much as I would have liked.
After an autumn term of one virus after another it can be tempting to feel defeated and declare ‘it’s just not fair.’ (In fact I have). And it’s tempting to ask when we’re going to finally get a run of good health? (Again I have done just that!). It’s tempting to wallow in despondency. (I’m doing my best not to do that!).
I’m sure we all know at least one person (if not ourselves) who just seem to go from one ‘disaster’ to another and regularly asks when they are going to get a smooth run at life? Socrates declared that true wisdom is to realise that you know nothing. But increasingly I wonder if it is also true wisdom to accept that life will always contain a challenge and that everyone is carrying a burden of some sort, either personally or with concern for another close to them.
Some peoples burdens are bigger than others, but once you get past the positive social media posts and spend quality time with anyone, you’ll find that there’s at least one thing in their life, and probably more, that is challenging them. It may be health worries, or concerning finances, practical challenges with property woes, death of a loved one, relationship discord, caring for parents, work stress, weight management, time constraints. And then there’s just the day to day stuff that can cause us to stumble; forgetting a coat when it rains, over cooking the dinner, stubbing your toe, the washing machine breaking, scratching the car, kids squabbling.
We may be able to look back, and with hindsight, identify periods of our lives where the waters were calmer but, even then, there would still have been lower level difficulties to navigate. And even if we had a period of dead calm we may well then have been struggling with the fact that life wasn’t exciting enough!
So if we accept this to be true; that life, for everyone, is a series of challenges, big and small; then why do some people seem to cope with it better than others? Well there’s many scientific and research based articles we could read to truly explore the answer to that question but two things strike me.
The first is that other people aren’t necessarily coping better than us – some are just better at hiding their struggles, like the serene swan that is paddling furiously under the surface of the water. The second is that some people have found true wisdom – they recognise that they are not alone, that everyone has struggles but they also recognise that struggle doesn’t exclude finding happiness.
If you’ve read my previous posts you will have probably realised I’m a fan of Nightbirde, an American singer, poet and prose writer who sadly died in February this past year. She came to fame through her appearance on America’s Got Talent where she performed already knowing she had stage 4 breast cancer with a survival prognosis of just 2%. When questioned about how she could give such an incredible performance given her situation, Jane replied that she had discovered that ‘you can’t wait until life isn’t hard any more before you decide to be happy.’
It’s a phrase that could be considered quite trite by those who don’t know Jane’s story. However, if you’ve read her blog posts, or followed her social media, then you’ll know that her decision to seek happiness was in the face of and amidst great sadness and suffering.
I’m aware for some, the choice to choose to find happiness is far from easy, especially for those who are in the depths of grief and for those wrestling with depression and anxiety. Although Jane chose not to wait for life to stop being hard before she chose happiness, she was the first to admit that some days are just damn hard and you will find yourself on the bathroom floor crying out to God – and that’s okay.
But it’s also okay even in the midst of personal mental pain and grief to experience moments of happiness. I know that when I was at my worst with my mental health battles that happy moments were actually frightening. I was afraid to acknowledge them and allow myself to experience them, in part because it would be overwhelming, but also because to do so might somehow be saying that how awful I was feeling before that happy moment wasn’t just as real or valid. If you’ve never suffered with depression then you’re probably reading this wondering what on earth I’m talking about – it seems so ridiculous that you wouldn’t want to allow a happy moment. But I’m guessing if you have suffered with depression you’ll know exactly what I mean. And if that’s you right now I just want to say I totally understand, I’ve been there. But if a happy moment comes your way then do try and be brave and let it shine a light into your darkness if only for the shortest of moments. It doesn’t invalidate the reality of what you’re going through, but it might, just might, be a small step towards one day banishing the darkness.
Nightbirde’s relationship with God and her faith in Jesus was a significant source of strength and inspiration to her and I’m sure she was familiar with these words of Paul.
I am not saying I need anything. I have learned to be happy with whatever I have. I know how to get along with little and how to live when I have much. I have learned the secret of being happy at all times. If I am full of food and have all I need, I am happy. If I am hungry and need more, I am happy. I can do all things because Christ gives me the strength.The Bible. Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)
In other translations of The Bible the word happy is translated as content. And maybe that helps because to be content doesn’t require us to have a massive grin on our faces at all times in the way that being happy might. And it’s notable that this choice to be content, to be happy, doesn’t have to be done in our own strength either. Paul’s ability to be content whatever his circumstances (and be sure he went through some rough times – see the book of Acts in the Bible) was founded in his deep certainty of the love and forgiveness of Jesus and his calling to share that love and forgiveness with all he met.
As we head towards 2023 with a world full of fear and heartache, and a husband full of the virus Toby has so kindly shared with him; I guess my New Year’s resolution is:
- With God’s help, to proactively recognise, celebrate and even create moments of happiness amidst all the ups and downs of life this year.
Life is undoubtedly hard at times, but to wait until it isn’t hard to seek and enjoy happiness means to miss out on the ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus promised. But like all resolutions – it’s easier to keep them when you have people holding you accountable and supporting you to fulfil them – so over to you! 😉