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~ Happy and Sad at the Same Time ~

    Our hearts hold many seemingly opposing feelings at the same time. Emotions are not mutually exclusive, though some clamor for more attention than others. No one, for example, is just angry. Singularly or in some combination, frustration, pain, despair, hurt, fear, are fueling the anger. Depression may deepen because we often get depressed about feeling depressed. We may become frustrated or despairing over a chronic depression and anger generates from out of the mix into a storm.

    The matrix of emotion can be confusing to ourselves and others who interact with us. We’re not sure of what’s going on and that leads to other states of the heart. Peace is not one of them.

    Is it possible to be grateful without being happy? Have you ever felt joy and sadness at the same time? Can you be sad and at peace? Perhaps you can remember feeling very grateful over a personal good fortune while also feeling sad or distraught that this good fortune wasn’t bestowed on others along with you. Some psychologists who study the surviving few of the many holocausts of the past century call this “survivor’s guilt.” Although a catchy and appealing term, I don’t believe “guilt” is the prevailing emotion. “Heartfelt solidarity” is not a psychological diagnostic term, but a better description of reality, in my opinion.

    How, then, is this gratitude expressed? Not necessarily by dancing since one is not inclined to dance in the consciousness of surrounding pain, however strong the inclination. Apostle Paul wrote that we ought to “rejoice with the joyful, be sad with the sorrowful,” and that can be done in gratitude just for the ability to do it.

    While we can certainly feel humiliated, I contend we cannot feel humble without feeling a degree of pride. If one feels a satisfaction in practicing humility, one is not in a state of true humility. That is another instance of a divided heart, of opposing emotional states, or rather, more accurately, mental states.

    Humility is born out of a feeling of unworthiness. But a consciousness of personal wretchedness can but doesn’t necessarily generate humility. While humility is a holy response to personal unworthiness or wretchedness, self-loathing, despair or depression may lead to self-destructive states of the heart.

    When someone who feels unworthy is loved anyway, forgiven anyway, accepted anyway, he or she then feels gratitude. I don’t believe gratitude is possible without humility. In deep gratitude, there rests an element of questioning: “Why me? How did I come to merit this among the others?” This questioning is also present in the face of suffering in humility (as opposed to suffering in indignation or anger.) Except the question of the humble is now, “Why not me? Why should I be spared and not others?”

    To revisit the question posed earlier, how is such gratitude expressed? Sometimes in a joyful dance. Sometimes in the prolonged silence of awe and wonder. Sometimes in lamentation for others less fortunate. However, the best expression is not seen in emotion or words, rather in acts of charity, in sharing one’s gifts and blessings or working to bring blessings to others who have not yet received what was gracefully bestowed on oneself.

    Dr. Luke records the passionate repentance of a woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them clean with her hair, and anointed them with performed oil that was worth a year’s salary. Jesus then had a question for His Pharisee host: “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42). His host answered the one who owed more, to which Jesus responded, “You have judged correctly.” Then Jesus extrapolated this to make a point about the woman: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (7:47).

    The woman’s love was is proportion to her gratitude. Both her love and gratitude were born out of her sense of wretchedness. Her act of honor and worship was done in a state of unconscious humility.

    Luke also records how ten men afflicted with leprosy were healed by Jesus. One “came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself a Jesus’ feet and thanked him –and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go, your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:15-19, NIV).

    This “foreigner,” a despised Samaritan, expressed his gratitude by seeking out Jesus to worship, a pilgrimage to the Source of his healing, and by his public praise.

    When Jesus told him, “Your faith has made you well,” was He just affirming the man’s healing? We cannot reason from the record that the other nine had their leprosy return because of unexpressed gratitude. Jesus’ gift was not conditional, based on getting a “thank you card”. Even we flawed humans don’t take back a gift because we didn’t get a thank you acknowledgment.

    Evidence supports that Jesus was speaking of a spiritual wholeness imparted in addition to the physical healing. When the woman who was afflicted with a bleeding disorder was healed by touching Jesus’ robe, He told her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48). In the American Indian culture, elders, regardless of blood ties, are addressed as “grandfather” or “grandmother”, a term of endearment and respect. Interestingly, this is the only scriptural account of Jesus addressing anyone in the reverse, “daughter,” and it was, in His culture of the day, as endearing as “granddaughter.”

    Jesus said the same thing to this woman, whose many sins were forgiven: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:50). Upon Jesus’ birth, the angelic powers proclaimed, “Peace to [all people] of good will.” “Go in peace” means something more than, “Go enjoy your healed body or forgiven sins.” It seems to point to the faith that made them whole as being deeply spiritual, a saving, redemptive faith that is the source of true peace.

    Paul wrote, “[we] are dying, but yet we live on...[we are] sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:9b-10a). The apostle attests to the reality we pondered earlier, that we can both be dying and living, in sorrow and joy, at the same time. There is a strange and holy joy in afflictions offered in solidarity with the passion of Christ. In the economy of the kingdom of heaven on earth, it is not an either-or matter. It is both, at the same time.

    Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who experienced unexplainable suffering as a Christian prisoner of the former communist rule, expressed this juxtaposition of emotions in an interesting way. I remember him writing that he and others were happy to preach the gospel in the prisons, and the guards were happy to beat them unmercifully for doing so, so everyone was happy. The apostle Paul spoke of his tribulations in the same fashion. How do you define “being happy”?

    Thomas Jefferson declared in the “Declaration of Independence” of the American colonies from British rule that our Creator endowed us with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Interestingly, he did not assert that “happiness” was a right, only the “pursuit” of it. Did Jefferson and the signers of this document acknowledge a reality we now overlook? Did that “pursuit of happiness” get somehow replaced by the “right to possess the American dream”?

    In the kingdom of heaven, how is this happiness “pursued”? Certainly not by the acquisition of things and chasing the “American dream.” It is pursued through self-denial and the simultaneous embracing of all the emotional states held in our hearts. We must lift these contrite and wounded hearts of ours to God in sacrifice and gratitude. This sacrifice, and that of the offering of deep gratitude and thanks, is most pleasing to Him and liberating for us.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © August 16, 2003
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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