See also: Why I Love My Life (Even When It's Hard)
Recently, someone asked me if I would consider myself happy, in general. I didn't even have to think about it. I consider my life the best life possible and I love it! Now, if you think that means I've had an easy life, then let me add a little to that story.
In 2013, at age 24, I finally admitted to myself what I'd been trying to ignore for so long: I was very ill. It would be years before I would be diagnosed with Lyme disease and its malaria-like co-infection babesiosis, but in the meantime, I dealt with chronic pain that sometimes confined me to bed for days at a time. The accompanying brain fog was worse, since all thoughts of redeeming the time in bed with useful writing or hobbies proved to be more than my mental energy could handle. While most people my age were developing careers and striding toward their dreams, I felt only the frustration of my own weakness.
During this time, my younger sisters were courting, marrying, and having babies. It was so special to watch God grow their families! Even so, my own loneliness emerged more sharply by contrast, and with my chronic illness, I did not know if any man would ever find me attractive. I felt doomed to long-term singleness and sickness.
In 2017, my family reached a "tipping point." I'm not going to get into the details, but I'll just say that I had to make the terrifying decision to leave everything familiar to me and trust God to catch me. I have never been so afraid in my life. I questioned many assumptions and beliefs in this time, wrestling through what was true, what wasn't, and who I dared to trust.
Miraculously, it was during this time that my body recovered a health that I hadn't felt in years. At the same time, the Lord brought my husband Paul into my life, and he was a powerful part of my healing. By the time we married in December 2017, I felt all the joy and expectation of a hopeful future with a man who truly loved me sacrificially.
Within two months of marriage, after a wretched bout of mono, I began to exhibit progressive episodes of convulsions, partial or full paralysis, confusion, chronic pain, and extreme exhaustion. In my memory, there's a blank of two weeks in June 2018, during which my condition was so severe that Paul feared he might lose his wife of only six months. God was gracious and we found a diagnosis in early 2019: a neurological/movement disorder called conversion disorder. The prognosis is unknown. I might recover someday. I might not. The best we can do is manage the symptoms, which means that sometimes I'm totally normal and sometimes I can walk only with the aid of a walker or a willing friend.
Paul and I were not even certain that having children could (or should) be in our future, but at last we stepped out in faith. When I miscarried our son in the summer of 2019, I feared that my health issues would prevent me from carrying successfully to term. As I type this, I'm 22 weeks pregnant with our second pregnancy--a precious and healthy daughter--and I'm simply trusting the Lord with my anxieties and my desires for motherhood.
So when I say that I'm a happy person, believe that I am not simply saying it glibly because I'm fulfilling the Christian expectation to be cheerful. I can even say that I've been deeply depressed at some parts of this story, and I understood first-hand why suicide seems like such an attractive option to the sufferer. But when I look back at the entirety of my life, I have no regrets. It has been the best possible life, even with all its pains, losses, and fears.
C. S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography about his pursuit of Joy and, if I may combine a few excerpts from Surprised by Joy, I think you'll catch the vision he was trying to convey:
“I repeatedly followed that path - to the end. And at the end one found pleasure; which immediately resulted in the discovery that pleasure (whether that pleasure or any other) was not what you had been looking for... I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy... Joy bursts in our lives when we go about doing the good at hand and not trying to manipulate things and times to achieve joy.”
I had very specific ideas about what would make me happy--marriage, publication as an author, health, etc.--and God either delayed or destroyed or diverted those dreams. At the same time, sometimes I had non-specific ideas about what would make me happy; I just knew that I wanted something more.
Somewhere in there, the Lord distracted me from all of these expectations. I stopped looking for happiness. I just got caught up in Him. It sounds so churchy, but it's exactly what happened. I started to see Him everywhere and to recognize His love in the littlest things.
Most importantly, I reversed my idea of my "rights." I didn't have a right to walk unaided, or to get married, or to be successful in my chosen career. When I walked, it was a privilege. When I said "I do" to my best friend, it was a privilege. When a reader told me that my book delighted them, it was a privilege. It wasn't anything that God owed me for faithful Christian living; it was a beautiful bonus in addition to His incredible salvation and personal relationship with me.
In my natural perspective, I'm pretty sure I take life--and all its joys--for granted. I'm not exactly sure when God changed my heart. I remember asking Him to. I don't even think I prayed it as consistently as I should have; I just knew I desperately needed Him to heal my blindness and brokenness. And somewhere in the craziness of my past disappointments, He made me so intensely grateful for His every blessing.
I call it my "toddler in the throne room of God." You know how a toddler feels and expresses EVERY emotion 110% and gets ridiculously excited over the slightest delights? Due to this God-given gift of gratitude, I see the little, mundane things as divine blessings. Because they are. Every breath is a blessing. Every blade of grass is a wonder. Every person I meet is a unique creation of a marvelous Creator.
So I guess I just stopped trying to be happy and--in thanking God for every little thing, learning to know Him better, and putting active practice to my faith--I discovered I already was happy. I don't know that this is a roadmap or a formula for success, but I do know it's consistent with Philippains 4:6-7:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.