The Pursuit of Enough: When sadness lives on the doorstep of happiness

 

A couple of months ago, I had a conversation about my book with a former professor, a writing mentor. We were trying to get at the heart of this story I’m trying to tell in my memoir. Yes, it’s about prayer and losing it and finding it again in an entirely new, hope-giving way. But what’s underneath that?  Why did prayer become something I was so afraid of?

My former professor asked me this question on the phone: “Micha, what was—what is—the psychological enemy in you?

“That’s the center of this story,” she said.

And it is. But getting to the psychological enemy in me is hard work. After that conversation, I hunkered down. I wrote things that hurt, true thoughts in my mind that are probably crazy. And it wasn’t really freeing. It was scary. And then I was Sad.

*

I went to therapy eight years ago, when I was just a sweet little Texas thing, one year into my marriage, and completely ruled by fear. It turned out that marriage (ie having another person in my life to hold a mirror up to my soul and show me the truth of who I really was) + a commitment to live on the East coast (ie not moving back to my family after grad school which is what good people are supposed to do) + writing sad poems (and realizing maybe my poems were sad because I was sad) + having daily panic attacks about the amount of emails in my inbox and never returning any emails whatsoever because I’d never be able to return all of them = A Problem.

Going to counseling is one of the bravest and wisest things I’ve ever done.

I realized then that I had an assumption about therapy: It was for the Really Messed Up People. I assumed that you went to therapy because there was nothing left to do. It was when Bible studies couldn’t change you any more or you needed medication. And when I finally went to counseling, I’d been in a dark tunnel for a long time.

This time around, when the writing scared me, I told Chris right away. I emailed my church’s pastor of counseling. (Yes! We have one of those! I love my church.) I found a counselor. Not because I was at the end of my rope. But because I am learning that I no longer have to live there, at the end of my rope. Counseling is a beautiful thing because you are spending money and time on the thing that matters most. On Monday evenings when I get in the car after I’ve fed my boys dinner, knowing that Chris will be putting them to bed without me, I think: “Is there anything better I could be doing right now with my time and money than learning how to let God heal me?”

And I believe that. I believe it because I know I’m messed up. I don’t believe I’m messed up in the way that says: “You Guys! I’m SERIOUSLY CRAZY AND I’M SO EMBARRASSED.”  I know it in the way that says, “Honey, we are all broken. Aren’t we? And aren’t you so grateful that somebody knows how to help us?”

*

My counselor said something to me last week about sadness. Because I was joking about Sad Micha and how she shows up and everything gets dramatic.

“What do you mean when you say sad?” she asked.

I had to think about that one for a long time. Maybe what I mean is that Sad Micha feels helpless. Maybe I feel my brokenness. Like I can’t pull it together for my kids. Like I can’t control all the things I’m supposed to control. I can’t be responsible enough. I can’t open all my emails and actually read them and respond to them. I can’t not cry when both of my boys are crying and I’m hysterical about how loud we must be to the downstairs neighbors. And why? Why am I so obsessed with every single person on God’s pretty earth thinking I’ve got it together?

I said, “When Sad Micha comes it’s not the sort of darkness I lived in that first year of our marriage when I was depressed. That darkness was a tunnel and I couldn’t find my way out of it. I was terrified of that tunnel because I thought it meant I’d never be happy again.

“But this sadness. It’s a knowing. It’s heavy and it settles on me. It forces me to recognize that I’m not whole yet. And the world is not whole yet. And I desperately want everything to be whole.”

My counselor shared this passage with me from a book called Practicing the Presence of People by Mike Mason:

“Sadness is one of the Beatitudes: ‘Blessed [or in some translations, ‘Happy’] are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4). This suggests that sadness is very, very close to happiness. One could almost say that to the Christian they are the same—or at least that there is not true happiness without its wistful tint of divine sadness, and no sadness that does not stand on the doorstep of happiness.”

I love the kindness of this idea. I love that Jesus’ words are, Happy are the sad people. Maybe the sad people are the healers and the prophets. Maybe the sad people have been given a gift to see the world as it really is. And when we see the world, when we see ourselves as we actually are, we understand how desperately we need God to come and bring healing. We don’t have to pretend anymore. We get to need God.

Only that kind of sadness can lead to happiness.

*

I talked to Chris about that the other night. We talked about sadness being the steep cliff that lets us fall down into the happiness. We talked about how both of those things—the climbing of the Sad Cliff and the Falling off the Side of It—are scary.

He had just put August and Brooksie to bed. And Chris was leaning over August’s bed in the darkness and they were talking about life.  Chris said, “August, can you believe that some day you’re going to be bigger than me when we wrestle and you’ll win? And someday I won’t be able to wrestle at all because I’ll be old and you’ll have to take care of me.”

August said, “I know, Dad.”

And Chris said, “August, what will we do when I can’t wrestle with you anymore? When I can’t tickle you and play with you on the floor?

August turned his face toward my husband’s in the dark. He said, “Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll always remember.”

And when Chris came out of that dark room where our boys sleep, he sat on the couch and told me the story. My husband doesn’t cry much. But he looked at me with tears in his eyes. And I hugged Chris and we both cried for a minute or so. Then I made a joke and we wiped our eyes and laughed.

My husband said something that night about letting the sadness be real to us. He said something about recognizing that every day we’re losing our kids and everyday they’re becoming their adult selves. They won’t really be the same people they were when they were wild children learning the world and depending on us to show it to them.

“We should grieve that every day,” my husband said. “Because the happiness is there, in the sadness.”

  • http://tuningmyhearttopraise.blogspot.com/ ro elliott

    Oh…if you have not read Mike Mason….anything Mike Mason…I encourage you do to so…what a gift he has…I have read through PTPOP….many…many times…also champagne for the soul….I could go on and on….it is so rare for me to see or hear his name…he seems to be the best well kept secret. blessings~

    • michaboyett

      So happy you know of him, Ro. No, I haven’t read him, except for the chapter on Sadness that I quoted from. But I like what I read a lot so I’ll be looking into it. Thanks for filling me in on what else you love.

    • michaboyett

      So happy you know of him, Ro. No, I haven’t read him, except for the chapter on Sadness that I quoted from. But I like what I read a lot so I’ll be looking into it. Thanks for filling me in on what else you love.

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com/ Tanya Marlow

    “We should grieve that every day,” my husband said. “Because the happiness is there, in the sadness.”

    I’m crying at this, and fiercely cheering you on and thanking you.

    At some point, I will get up the courage to write a blog post on joy and what it is and is not. But at the moment it’s too scary to write – for a whole lot of reasons.

    I just have to thank you for this.

    • michaboyett

      Tanya, thank you so much. I can’t wait to see what you have to day about joy. Cheering you on as well, friend.

    • michaboyett

      Tanya, thank you so much. I can’t wait to see what you have to day about joy. Cheering you on as well, friend.

  • Felicity White

    So true. Jesus was so good at holding the poles in harmony: first/last, lion/lamb, friend/enemy, etc. But this is difficult for those of us who would prefer everything in neatly sectioned definitions. A good reflection here for us. Thanks, Micha.

    • michaboyett

      Yes! That’s why I love the Beatitudes. Thanks Felicity.

    • michaboyett

      Yes! That’s why I love the Beatitudes. Thanks Felicity.

  • http://twitter.com/wendyvaneyck Wendy van Eyck

    I loved this. And echo your sentiments about counselling being one of the best things I’ve done. It’s amazing the clarity that an outsiders viewpoint can bring. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    • michaboyett

      You’re welcome, Wendy. Thanks for the kind words.

    • michaboyett

      You’re welcome, Wendy. Thanks for the kind words.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

    Love this. And needed it today. Trying to figure out what to do with my own incomprehensible Sad right now, and your words were ones I needed to read.

    • michaboyett

      Grateful for that, friend. I had this moment this weekend when I wrote this post and thought: Am I over-sharing? And then I thought about how many of us Sad People there are out there and how much we need to know that we’re not alone and that God loves us and gave us the tenderness to be Sad People. It’s the same gift that makes you an incredible noticer of the world, Addie. It’s what makes you a brave writer. The thing that’s Sad in us is also the thing that’s beautiful in us. So, maybe that’s part of seeing the Happiness right beside the Sadness?

    • michaboyett

      Grateful for that, friend. I had this moment this weekend when I wrote this post and thought: Am I over-sharing? And then I thought about how many of us Sad People there are out there and how much we need to know that we’re not alone and that God loves us and gave us the tenderness to be Sad People. It’s the same gift that makes you an incredible noticer of the world, Addie. It’s what makes you a brave writer. The thing that’s Sad in us is also the thing that’s beautiful in us. So, maybe that’s part of seeing the happiness right beside the sadness?

  • Dawn Wright

    “Maybe the sad people have been given a gift to see the world as
    it really is. And when we see the world, when we see ourselves as we
    actually are, we understand how desperately we need God to come and
    bring healing…” Yes.

  • Jeannie

    Thank you for sharing these honest and beautiful words.

  • Sarah Hwang

    Micha, this was amazing and rang so true to my heart. Miss you!

    • michaboyett

      Sarah, so happy to see you here. Thank you so much for letting me know!

    • michaboyett

      Micha, this was amazing and rang so true to my heart. Miss you!

  • Angela

    Absolutely beautiful….thank you Micha for sharing this…

  • kate

    Isn’t it amazing when something that feels so true and clear to you at a certain time can reach into the heart of others just when they need to hear those words? That is one of my favorite gifts of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. I think I will be reflecting on this piece for a long time. I have struggled/dealt/journeyed (always looking for a more redemptive word) with depression for more than ten years and have felt what you describe many times, but didn’t know how to speak of it. I am going to share this! Thank you!

    • michaboyett

      Kate, so honored to have given you some words. That’s what I most want to be able to do here. Thanks so much.

  • http://godhasnoproblems.wordpress.com/ Leese

    What a powerful post! So beautifully said!

    And I loved this line – “Not because I was at the end of my rope. But because I am learning that I no longer have to live there, at the end of my rope.”

    Besides for how you applied it to counseling, it could also fit with “And so I asked someone to pray for me. …” “I went on a personal retreat to get uninterrupted time alone with God. …” And so many others.

    Love it!

    Thank you for this!

  • http://about.me/bezner Steve Bezner

    You are a gift to my soul, friend. The day I realized the Beatitudes were designed to encourage dependence instead of independence, Jesus was made manifest in me.

    • michaboyett

      Buddy, so happy to see you here. And, yes! The Beatitudes as dependence instead of independence. Such good words. Have you ever read Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew? His breakdown of the Beatitudes has been so profound for me.

  • Lauren O’Connell

    wow. I am crying a bit. This is one of my favorite of your posts, ever. Which is saying something. I will be sharing this with my husband, and reflecting on what it might mean for me personally. You were NOT oversharing!! You were unpacking a great mystery. Thank you!!

    • michaboyett

      Honored, Lauren. Thanks and you’re welcome. :)

  • Shelly Miller

    This is so very beautiful on so many levels. I’m taking in your words about how when we see ourselves the way we really are we realize how much we need Christ and His healing work in and through us. It’s where I’m living now.

    • michaboyett

      So grateful for your comment, Shelly. Thanks.

  • pastordt

    I love this so, so much. I’m making a (very short) list of things I’ve learned over my long life, thinking maybe someday I’ll write about them for my grandkids. And this idea is right up there in the top 5. The sad is right there beside the happy. Right.There. And to deny it is a recipe for disaster and leads to a pretty pallid life, actually. Thanks for this, friend. August’s response made ME teary.

    • michaboyett

      Oooooh! When you write that for your grandkids, will you also publish it in a book for the rest of us? I love your wisdom, Diana.

  • Leah Davis

    ok, now i’m crying! you have a wise husband :)

    • michaboyett

      I know, right? He always seems so wise when I put it on paper. :) Thanks, friend.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=506832406 Laura Madden McBride

    My gosh that was a beautiful piece that struck the very core of me in recognition.

    • michaboyett

      Thank you, Laura.

  • pennyhammack

    My mother died when I was eight, and from then on my life was pretty well filled with emotional and physical abuse. I started having debilitating headaches in my twenties and yes, went to a counselor for a long time. I retired at 58 and my husband died eight days later. Then I began to have all kinds of physical problems, but I am known in my retirement community as being happy. I think the reason is that my first step-mother never smiled and was always mad. I came out of that with a whole list of things I would never do to my kids. And so I smile.

    My daughter recommended a book called “The Sideways Stories of Wayside
    School”. It’s a kids book and my daughter says that she felt a lot like
    the various kids in the book when she was in school. One thing caught my
    eye and has become my “motto”. When one of the children is always happy
    he basically drives all the others crazy trying to figure out why. He
    says, “You need a reason to be sad, you don’t need a reason to be
    happy.”

    • michaboyett

      I read the Wayside School book over and over as a kid! You’re so right. Happiness is a choice. And sometimes it’s a choice that takes hard work. You sound like a very brave person. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Penny.

  • http://bethmorey.blogspot.com/ Beth

    Oh yes. Yes. Yes.

  • SurvivorGirl

    “Maybe the sad people have been given a gift to see the world as it really is.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Ever since I was violated by my former pastor, I have lived in what I’d call “95/5″ in utter sadness (95% sad, 5% joyful). Sadness is the main thing. There’s a lot of truth in sadness. Jolts of happiness or “joy shots” show up from time to time and surprise the living daylights out of me. I think I appreciate those times more because my backdrop is sadness. But, you know what I figured out? When the backdrop is dark, it’s the subject that shines. After all, Isaiah 53:3 reminds us that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” If this is the way in which I am called to be most like Christ, then I will receive it without complaint.

  • carameredith.com

    Oh friend, you are loved and you are brave. so, so brave. Thank you for sharing!

  • Adam Julians

    Beautiful.


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