Nov 11, 2020 • Written by Rachel Boulos
It's Okay If You're Not Okay
After one very long year, I’m ready for a bit of cheer. With anticipation running high, we’re eager to usher in the happiest season of all.
But what if you don’t feel very thankful? What if your season isn’t bright?
More than ever before, there will be pressure to put the happy in our holiday this year. Cancellations, illness, financial hardship, and family tension can easily turn your mood into the most primitive bah-humbug.
So if there’s one message I want you to hear, it’s this:
It is okay to not be okay. You do not have to be happy for the holidays.
Rest assured, Hallmark and Facebook will tell you otherwise. Our culture bombards us with the message that personal happiness is the highest value in life. Being happy, we are told, is what gives our life meaning.
When happiness holds the key to a better life, those who are painfully unhappy are suddenly exempt from having a “good” life. Because a good life, we are told, does not include pain and suffering.
And perhaps that’s why this year has been so hard.
When you’re in pain, it’s hard to live in a world where happiness is king. There is pressure to fix your pain. We hide, deny, avoid, stuff, numb, suppress – anything to make ourselves feel better.
Instead of understanding fear, grief, and depression as a normal human response to suffering, we are quick to label and marginalize. We tell each other to toughen up and put on a happy face while we are broken and bleeding all over the place.
Sadly, the church isn’t always different. We buy into this idea that “good Christians” are the ones who are happy in all circumstances. Who stay positive and retain their optimism no matter what. That “real Christians” don’t struggle with anxiety, depression, or fear.
But that’s not Christianity. It’s Stoicism.
Biblical Christianity - more than any other religion - allows and even encourages expressions of sorrow, suffering, and lament. It fully admits that life is hard, this world is broken and trouble is certain (John 16:33).
The Bible never tells us to put on a happy face. Instead, its pages are filled with people questioning and struggling all over the place. David, Job, Jeremiah, Paul - all men of faith who were not ashamed to express their emotion and sorrow.
If hope deferred makes the heart sick, then hope is the key to making it whole again (Prov 13:12). Circumstances change but God remains the same. Our hope comes – not in being happy – but by contentment in being in an intimate relationship with the One who understands our pain.
What sets Christianity apart from all other religions is that our God is both a sovereign and suffering God.
Our God knows first-hand what it is like to be in pain - to be hungry, thirsty, weary, poor, tempted, betrayed, rejected, abandoned, stressed, anxious, abused, and murdered by His own creation. When faced with the horrors of the cross, Jesus didn’t try to avoid, fix, or hide His pain. He wrestled with it. He prayed about it. He walked with the Father through it. And now He can walk alongside us through ours with love, understanding, compassion, and strength (Heb 4:15).
God understands our pain because He has been there. He doesn’t command you to be happy or condemn you for being depressed. Instead, the Bible says He is a “God who comforts the depressed” (2 Cor 7:6). While weeping lasts through the night, joy comes in the morning. Joy is cultivated – not with positive thinking – but by staying connected to the Vine. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, joy is the heart’s response to hope; a hope that can only be found in Him (Prov 10:28).
Suffering can be a meaningful chapter in our lives, but only when we stop trying to eliminate it. Hardship is beneficial when it drives us to God. In the presence of God there is room for the downcast and heavy-hearted. Jesus calls all who are weary, broken, sick, weak, and hurting to himself. He is Emmanuel, God who is with us in both the good and troubled times.
As this crazy year comes to a close, it’s okay if you’re not okay. You don't have to fake it with Jesus. Instead, you can go to the God of all comfort who understands your pain. He invites you to cast your cares upon Him while He cares for you (1 Pet 5:7). And while God works all things for your good, He gives you permission to be human in the process. May we be quick to love and slow to fix those who are hurting. May we find greater joy in Him while creating room for transparency as we walk with each other through the painful seasons of life.