“Why do we often assume someone is being honest when sharing their crap and assume someone is being fake when they are joyful?”
My insightful, and hilarious, friend Joy posted this question on Twitter last week, and it’s been bouncing around the walls of my brain ever since. As a person who has a hard time being unhappy for periods of time extending beyond twenty minutes, I’ve been accused of “being fake” on more than one occasion. There’s an attitude, albeit a quietly-whispered-behind-your-back-instead-of-told-to-your-face attitude, that in order to be truly deep, truly honest, truly real, a person must be contemplating the misery of their darkness generally all of the time. Bounce around a little, proclaim a love for something silly like Disneyland, seem generally content, and soon enough someone somewhere will dub you shallow, vapid, ignorant and unenlightened, or just plain dumb.
Don’t get me wrong: I wildly appreciate the value of honesty in community. I know that the place where most of us struggle to be open is the place our thoughts are darkest. Favorite put it well in the car the other night: “People don’t have a hard time sharing their joy, it’s the difficult stuff that they hide.” Being in a community that allows me and encourages me to share my messes is an invaluable gift. There’s a power in sharing your failures, and strength in admitting your struggles. It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.
But I’ve also seen it get competitive. Have you ever been in a room where someone shares something really difficult, and suddenly everyone else is sharing really difficult stories, and the whole thing seems to spiral as folks compare darknesses and emphasize hurts and reopen their wounds so they can bleed with the cool kids? I have. I’ve also watched as someone reports that things are good and they’re generally really happy, only to have that statement picked apart by well-meaning friends as though it was a veiled confession to murder or some sort of incredibly cryptic suicide note. Sure enough, if you pick at someone long enough, you can convince them that their life is pretty screwed up. But, dare I say it, what would Jesus do?
Have we trained ourselves to focus on the sin in our redemption stories instead of the healing? Are we more impressed by people who will proclaim that they are miserable than those who strive to be joyful? Do we have a personal responsibility to focus our efforts on gratitude, even when things are incredibly difficult? Is there a way to balance honesty and optimism? Are we telling the wrong story?
I’m aware of the slipperiness of these questions. I know that it’s incredibly difficult for folks to feel safe enough to open up, and I would hate to sound critical of that fragile process. But once we’re there, once we’ve shared those things we’re afraid of and learned we won’t implode, once we feel safe in the knowing that our community will surround us in hard times, I believe we have a responsibility to be grateful. I believe we have a call not to wallow. I don’t think we should be self-indulgent, hurtful, or whiney under the banner of honesty. The word honesty shouldn’t trump familiar words like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that are meant to be the fruit of the Spirit within us. If we’re being mean, or accusatory, or belligerent, or lazy, or ungrateful, or straight up rebellious, and we’re justifying it by slapping on the old I’m just being honest label, I submit that we’re missing the point. I’m guilty. Are you?
I’m not trying to come down on folks who are having a hard time, who struggle with depression, who are trying an failing and suffering. There is nothing wrong or shameful about legitimate pain. I just pray that no one stays in that place longer than they have to because they feel like it’s the only way to have their community rally around them. I pray that we are obvious about our desire to celebrate the joys as much as we communicate our ability to walk through the fire. I pray that we aren’t teaching anyone that healing would be a hinderance.
I’ve always been the girl with the rosy colored glasses, but I’ll confess that I’ve often wished I could be more serious. I’ve played up my dark stuff and cynicism in certain circles so as to be considered deep or intelligent or, shamefully, cool. My bouncy brain doesn’t make me any better than, say, my husband, who sees the world from a much more grounded perspective, but it doesn’t make me lesser, either. Some people are wired with optimistic, Pollyanna spirits. Others are built of more contemplative, melancholy stuff. Both are valid, both are important for well-tempered, effective conversation, both are necessary to make life interesting and educational and balanced. But let’s stop dismissing the folks who feel that life is beautiful and God is good and the sun is shining, even though they might be annoying in their cheeriness. Let’s lay off the judgment for those who don’t seem to fully appreciate the gravity of a situation. Let’s stop calling childlike joy and unapologetic faith and a propensity toward giggling an act and start calling it awesome. Let’s start embracing what we can learn from the folks who are honest about their struggles and the folks who are honest about their joy. And let’s make sure we’re encouraging each other to tell the right story, a story of a life that, while full of human failure and shortcomings and tragedy and sadness and pain, is curated by a big, beautiful, wildly reliable and generously good God. And let’s let our joy be full.
Joy is great at asking questions that make you go on long rants like this one. In need of a thought catalyst? Visit her rad blog at www.joyeggerichs.com.