Saturday, 9 August 2014

Don’t postpone happiness (Lesson #9)

Be happy now. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before I can release myself to just be happy. After all … what if this is all there is? What if today, or this year, is all I’ve got? Why not be happy with what I’ve got, while I work towards whatever else I might want? And as I work towards that, why not just be happy while going through the process?

We all know of far too many people whose lives were cut short when they and those around them least expected it. I have friends and acquaintances who succumbed to cancer, or to injuries from road accidents, for instance. A University classmate of mine was killed during one of the bombings in Abuja a few years ago. His office building happened to be a target and he didn’t make it out alive. Another classmate of mine (primary and secondary school) recently lost her husband. He was so young and now she’s a widow with five kids.

When I think of all these things, it just seems like sheer folly not to appreciate the time that I have, and not to at least try to happily use it to the fullest – even when the going gets tough.

I’m going to try hard not to put happiness off until I’ve crossed the finish line. Where is the finish line, anyway? In my experience, it’s a moving target. If that is indeed the case, it means I’ll never experience true happiness on this earth if I wait to get to a particular place first.

We’re admonished to ‘count it all joy’ when things get rough. Because of some of the rough times I’ve been through, and the fact that I made it through them, my heart no longer sinks when I read that Bible verse. I really get it now. I had some really rough times in 2012 and 2013. But because of those times, I’m much stronger in faith in 2014 than I was back then. I’ve been tested and tried and knocked down, and as a result of those experiences, I’ve also had the opportunity to experience great mercy. I know what God is capable of! My 2012 and 2013 experiences enriched my knowledge in this area. I’ve observed that I worry less in 2014 than I did before. I pray with more certainty, too. Never could’ve happened without those tough times to help me flex my muscles.

‘Things aren’t as bad as they seem.’

My son sent me a text with those exact words early this year. He was feeling down about a bad grade he got on a test, so he went into the bathroom at school to be alone and get over it and sent me the text from there. I sent what I hope was an encouraging reply, but didn’t hear back from him right away. I said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s one test and there’ll be others. You still have some time to make up your grade.’ A couple of hours later, a philosophical text message from him came in: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.  

Indeed, they are not. Here’s an example of why I know this for sure: I have never been one to take a lot of pictures because I’ve always considered myself unphotogenic. I’m just one of those people who look much better in person than in pictures. What this means is that there are whole periods of my life that have gone undocumented, photo-wise. Here’s why this is a shame: Today, when I look back at the old pictures I do have, I realize that in previous years, I had a distorted view of what I really looked like. I look at some of those pictures now and see myself as I really was back then. I look at them today and think to myself: Wow, I was pretty and I didn’t even know it.

On my fortieth birthday, the youth group in my church put together a cute, touching video chronicling my short life. They got my old pictures behind my back and showcased some of them in the video. A couple of the pictures were taken when I was around the same age as my daughter. When those showed up on the screen, my birthday party guests let out a collective gasp. ‘Who is that?!’ they all wanted to know. ‘Is that your daughter?’ They argued amongst themselves that it couldn’t possibly be me, because it looked just like my daughter.

‘That’s me,’ I replied slowly, with the same wonderment, suddenly struck by how my daughter looks almost exactly like me at that age. I always knew she looked a lot like my family, but this was really striking, seeing my picture up on a screen. I’m like every other mom in the world who thinks her children are just beautiful (There’s nothing you can tell me O!).

Why I couldn’t see that same beauty in me over the years is beyond me.

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but why can’t I just be who or what I want to be today, knowing that who or what I am is enough? When people tell you how wonderful you are today, believe them. Today. And be happy. Today.

Back to the main point: I’ve worked relatively hard over the last 5 months or so, considering that I’ve never been into vigorous exercise in my adult life. I thought by now I’d see a major difference with all the effort I’ve put in so far. For whatever reason, I don’t see it. Okay, I do see it, but only ever so slightly. A few other people see it, too. I’m not going to let the fact that I don’t yet see exactly what I expected to see affect my joy, though, or my resolve. I haven’t been too good at ‘seeing things’ in my life until long after the fact, anyway, so why not just be happy now? And then in my 50s, look back at my pictures in my 40s and say, ‘I sure was happy!’ And: ‘I sure was nice and fit! Those work-outs really paid off!’

Today is much better than we think with our limited vision. Things are much better than they seem.

My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance. Endure until your testing is over. Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything (James 1:2-4, GW).

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT).

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