“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.
Wow! You honor me. This has been something that I have thought about for awhile and your post expressed my brain more perfectly than I could have. It kind of all came to a head when I was in a yoga class recently and the instructor said, “Some of us just have the ability to be joyful and others of us don’t. If you don’t, find the people who have that joy (I think he might have even said “and light”) and do everything you can to be near them.
I remember thinking…”Woah, he is talking about Christians. No we don’t have to be fake and happy, but we do have a joy that should be attractive to people. I wonder if people would see that joy in my Christian community or are we all too busy talking about how awful our lives are?”
Then two days later Rick spoke on joy at Imago. Incredible sermon if you haven’t heard. (I think it was June 5th http://www.imagodeicommunity.com/sunday/sermon-archive/)
Thanks again for writing this!
Thanks for being so dang inspiring, lady! I did catch that sermon, and I’m glad you linked it… sooo good. Love to you!
“Let’s stop calling childlike joy and unapologetic faith and a propensity toward giggling an act and start calling it awesome.” Couldn’t have said it better!
I wrote a post a few weeks ago about being funny in church and I was told that I wasn’t serious about my faith. That it wasn’t a laughing matter. That the Bible doesn’t call us to laugh and that our lives are short and our destination is serious. I see his point, I know it isn’t a laughing matter, but I also know this joy in me that won’t stop me from giggling at the sheer beauty of it all.
Excellent. Thank you for this!
I feel like I should tell you I watched your Shower with Soap video twice yesterday. Once after you commented, once to show husband. Just needed to get that out there. Your blog is one of my new favorites! Thank you for the comment love. 🙂 I hope your laughter isn’t ever thwarted by nay-sayers… it’s contagious and lovely!
@Mandie. I’ve had people in the past tell me, “We don’t go to church to have fun and be entertained” implying, of course, that we need to always be serious.
So, I just look at them and ask, “Where do you go to have fun and be entertained?” They typically don’t answer,
Thanks for being Honest, Girl!! You are awesome!
As someone who is just coming out of the ‘dark night of the soul’ and learning to Change my Mind about these things, I really appreciate your words. A few months ago my response probably would have been – “Blah blah blah, another one who Just Doesn’t Get IT!”
Not today. When I read Psalms, I see David “just being honest”, followed by a bold declaration of Truth.
“I feel crappy, because people are trying to kill me… BUT You are my strong fortress, and I will praise you!”
“You have MADE me see troubles, many and bitter…. BUT You will restore me again; I will ever praise you, I will rejoice!”
He even yelled at himself: “Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your trust in God!” (Changing his mind about he is response to the circumstance).
Job: “Though you slay me, I will trust you”; “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord”. I have sung and whispered and screamed these words through gritted teeth at times. Now I sing them with Joy and Giddiness, because My God is Good and He is worthy of praise! And He gives me the Strength and Joy I need for each day, to do what needs to be done for Today.
A close relative pointed out to me that Honesty and Truth are very different. You can be Honest about how you feel, but that does not necessarily reflect the Truth of the matter.
Anne, it makes me glad to hear you’re coming out of the darkness. I think I’m kinda stuck right now, though I’m trying to make plans with family to help bring some joy in.
It’s okay to be stuck. I completely understand being stuck. Praying that you’ll find joy in Christ as you visit with family. Love you!!!
Mary- Those dark places are so difficult, and I hope you know I have so much respect for what it feels like to be there. I hope this post didn’t make you feel like I don’t think it’s okay to go through those seasons. I just worry sometimes that we glorify them instead of working through, you know? When you’re honestly there, you have to be there, but I know it’s the last place you want to be… it’s so frustrating to be stuck, and I hope your stuck season passes away quickly. I’ll be praying for you. I believe joy will find you in His time… God is good that way. love.
“You can be honest about how you feel, but that does not necessarily reflect the Truth of the matter.” Well said! Jesus never says we will be without difficulties! Love your words.
Oh Anne, I just love this comment so much I don’t even know how to reply. Thank you, lovely!