A self-ish story:
Woke up the other morning feeling happy. Not happy about anything in particular: just plain happy, for no particular reason. It was true happiness, not contentment or peace or deep joy but a lightness of the spirit, like sparkling wine. I lay in bed for a long, long ten minutes or so, feeling the perfect weight of the covers and the soft, cool freshness of fan-driven morning air on my face. Oh, I was happy....
Okay, I know this doesn't sound like such a big deal, but when a person has spent serious amounts of time in whatever-you-want to call it--Interesting Times, or the Valley of the Shadow, or De Profundis Land--then waking up in a state of simple happiness is really quite a treat. When you've been in De Profundis Land for a long time, the state of being happy feels incredibly delicious, like the feeling you get when you take off tight shoes and soak your feet in cool water, stretching your toes luxuriously. Ahhhhhh.....I lay there, examining and deeply enjoying my own happiness, and my enjoyment was the cherry on the whipped cream on the double-fudge-sauce Haagen Daz sundae, except that (deo gratias!) happiness is not fattening.
I could, of course, have easily talked myself out of my happiness: I could have spent a few minutes ruminating on my own sins or (even more compelling) the sins that others have inflicted on me. There seems to be a general impression around these days that happiness is equivalent to denial or at least severe naivete--that you can't be an honest, aware, reasonably sensitive and intelligent human being and be happy because Gawd knows this world is a mess. Well, I suppose it is. I don't know if it's any worse a mess than it was a century ago: certainly it's a different mess, in many regards. But whether the sum total of human unhappiness has ever gone up or down by a measurable amount--that I don't know. I doubt it, somehow.
I don't know how making myself unhappy, or merely short-circuiting this moment of happiness, could possibly contribute to solving the problem. I'm perfectly willing to share suffering, if that needs to be done, but I don't see how being unhappy is going to help (say) starving children in Burkina Faso. Sending money, yes; being miserable, no. There's quite enough natural misery around without my choosing to add to the sum total.
And yet I see all the time people who do, in fact, choose to be unhappy. Of course sometimes you have no choice in the matter: you can't choose to be upbeat and cheerful in the midst of depression or deep anguish or mourning or brokenness, and stress really can just about wipe a person out. But it's interesting that recently, psychology seems to have caught up with C.S. Lewis. Our feelings arise out of our thoughts, we're being told: we form an interpretation of what we pick up from the world around us, and we respond emotionally to that interpretation. If the event itself or our interpretation of it is negative, we'll feel hurt or anger. But maybe the problem isn't what's happened--the external event itself. Maybe the problem is what we've chosen to make of it. And maybe, in that case, our emotional response is simply out to lunch. Not always, of course; but it is a possibility.
And what was it Lewis said about self-made hells? of prisons made with bars of our own imagining, from which we could step free if only we chose? (I know: it's in _The Great Divorce_. A woman with a memory as bad as mine is has no business lending her books to friends.)
I can't judge anyone else's choices, only my own. It seems obviously God-pleasing and God-honouring to look around the landscape with an eye to whatever good stuff might be lurking around the joint. This means that I have to set down the wrongs and hurts of my life--not by denying or negating them, but by putting them in their proper place: yes, that happened, but damned if I'm going to let it run (and ruin) the rest of my life. Letting it do that would be giving Wrong the victory, and who wants that? And while I'm at it, I'm also going to take responsibility for the dumb choices I made, as well as understanding the dumb choices others made that affected me. I have done enough hell, thank you; and while not all of it was self-chosen, enough was. I think I will take Lewis's advice and step out into a state of mind decidedly less solipsistic and more cheerful. Perhaps this attitude-choice is going to annoy people who'd rather see things more bleakly, but tough toenails.
We can err disastrously in choosing to ignore the very real problems of life: in denying our own woundedness and pain, in refusing to come to terms with the past. But isn't it possible to err in exactly the opposite direction: to ignore the very real glories and graces of life, to deny our own sweet gifts, to turn our back on real love, to abandon the hopeful future? We're so busy looking for what we think we need to be happy, and there happiness is sitting right under our noses, wanting desperately to be picked up and held--if only we would choose to see it.
Probably someone, reading these words, would scold me for failing to give due respect to those in the midst of suffering. All I can say, from extensive travels in De Profundis Land, is that people in the midst of real suffering rapidly find a sense of humour or they curl up and die of sheer boredom, for whatever else real suffering is, it is exceedingly tedious. Only the princess with pea-under-the-mattress-itis can be totally serious about her suffering. The rest of us make bad jokes and get on with it.
I could take my morning bubble of unreasonable happiness and burst it, quite possibly just because wanton destruction can be so much bad fun. Or I could (and in fact did) treasure it all through the day, holding it very lightly as befits a bubble, admiring its shine and beauty, enjoying this gift for the duration of its existence. Sooner or later, it would go of its own accord, because this kind of unreasonable happiness does not have a long shelf life.
But just for the moment, if God sees fit to award me a batch of happiness, who am I to say "I know better than you, Lord?"