Maybe it’s my other life as a therapist, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy, what it means to be depressed, what it means to be sad, or lonely, or anxious, or excited. Feelings are a funny thing. They’re not something we can easily control, and as I say very, very often, there are no wrong feelings. You can’t help how you feel.
We can, however, use those feels to do something. If it’s a good feeling, we can use it to encourage us, we can dwell in the happy. We can sing a little louder in the shower and smile a little more readily.
If it’s a “bad” feeling, a sad one or an angry one or an anxious one, we can use it to motivate us. If all we had were utopian feelings, we could get stuck into some pretty unhealthy patterns. I don’t have to think about the scary horrors happening in other parts of the world…or the city. I can tune it out, avoid paying attention to the news, and just be happy and settled and content in my happy, newly-wedded bliss of a life. But when I do listen to the news on my way to work, or read up on what’s happening outside my little circle of life, it’s harder to ignore the bad stuff. I feel anger and outrage at how a people are being treated, and I do something about it. I can’t fix it myself—I know that—but I can be a part of something trying to make a difference. I can contact my congressional representatives. I can participate—or even organize (yeah, right) a rally or demonstration. I can canvass a neighborhood, write a blog post, update my Facebook status, say a prayer. We can turn those uncomfortable feelings we have within us into something useful. We can do our part, whatever that may be, to make a difference.
I get a daily quote and reflection in my email from an organization called Peace on the Inside. It was this one that probably set the tone for today’s sermon; it was still ringing in my head long after I read it:
To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of life. –Jill Bolte Taylor
If we expect the outside world to be our consistent source of comfort, peace, and joy, we will be chronically disappointed. Life is richer and more complicated than that. Today I nurture an inner wellspring and develop the capacity to touch joy.
It came a few minutes after I read a post on Facebook from Storypeople, which posts quirky drawings accompanying a quote. That one was:
Most people don’t know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable & fall asleep & miss your life.
We get settled into our routines, our comfortable lives, and we forget a little bit what it can be like elsewhere. I’m not saying we don’t need that sometimes, but I do think that we need to constantly be aware of what’s going around us and remember that it can be the harder things in life, the things that make us actually weaker or just feel weaker, that enable us to grow. It’s the things that test us that help us to recognize that there is more to us than we realized or remembered. It’s the things that challenge us that make us better prepared to handle the next obstacle we come across.
Sometimes, we need to be a little uncomfortable in order to change things around us. I find I don’t really get the urge to clean until I feel like my house is training for the pigsty competition, but when I get that urge, man, does my house look good. Sometimes it takes something hitting a little too close to home to make us want to change. When we are vulnerable, we open ourselves up to receiving new information, or at least reexamining what we already knew or thought we knew. I have a print that I bought years ago at a festival after it stopped me in my tracks. I stared at it for several minutes, pondering it, reflecting on what it meant. It came home with me, where it reminds me to pause, sit with my feelings, and then look for what might come of it.
Barn’s burnt down. Now I can see the moon.
A tragedy occurs: something that destroys life as we’ve known it. God knows about it. God sees it. God knew it was going to happen and maybe just let it occur, knowing that something needed to happen in order to shake things up enough in our lives that we’d be able to face that next thing to come our way. When we play the what if game, we figure out how a thing could have been avoided, how that thing that causes all the painful feelings could have maybe not happened. What if we played the What If? game but with a different spin? What if the dog hadn’t woken me up when she did this morning? What if that horrible sequence of things that led to me leaving the RCC hadn’t happened? Would I have found St. Sebastian? Would I be preaching here today? What if I hadn’t had car trouble last week and waited a couple of hours for AAA to show up? What if I hadn’t curled up on the couch this afternoon with my cat Sheetrock? What if I had gone to the University of North Carolina instead of the University of Maryland for social work? What if Kevin hadn’t been out of work for a few weeks because of the shutdown? What if? What if the next thing that happens in my life changes the course of everything? What if it just makes me appreciate what I have right here, right now?