I suspect my heart is a culprit in the theft of my joy.
A week ago I wrote in my journal that I feel like God’s next lesson for me (in addition to recent lessons on trust) is about joy. More specifically, how to have more of it.
Yesterday morning I woke up after a restful sleep-in; it was the first morning of two days off work. I’d had great fun the night before, yelling at the TV with my housemates (it was a really dramatic episode of Chicago Fire!). But I woke up with guilt weighing me down. It wasn’t sumo wrestler-sized guilt; more like those exercise weights you strap to your ankles. It just made everything a bit harder.
Why? I wasn’t sure. But I felt unproductive, like I’d wasted chances given to me and God was frowning.
It’s not the first time and I know I’m not the only one. About eighteen months ago, I was sitting on a hotel rooftop in Warangal, India, having a devotion time with my seven mission trip teammates. We were all listening as one of us confessed that he’d been feeling distant from God and cynical about his faith for months. The feeling was eating at him, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He was torn apart by fear that this feeling meant something was fundamentally wrong with his relationship with God.
As I listened, I remembered something my Mum once told me during a difficult period of my teenage years: We all have our logic, spirit and emotion. And sometimes Logic and Spirit have to grab Emotion by the arms and drag him along, kicking and screaming. Sometimes, we have to ignore our feelings—our hearts—and go with what we know is the truth.
I’ve also heard of a pastor, who, when someone tells him, “I feel far away from God,” immediately asks, “Are you sleeping, eating and exercising right?” He believes that these are the most common causes for a feeling that God is distant or unhappy.
I don’t want to minimize emotions relating to a tragedy, clinical depression or a spiritual distance caused by sin. Those are real issues, and they need dealing with. What I’m talking about is that vague feeling that God’s looking at me, frowning—and I can’t figure out why.
So today, I’m proposing a new theory: Just because you feel something, doesn’t mean you have to believe it. Even the Bible says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NIV)
I think a lot of people—including myself and my teammate—freak out when our emotions tell us that we’ve moved a long way from God. We assume that we are a long way from God and immediately take action to rectify the situation, despairing when nothing changes.
Then one day, the problem is magically gone. Why? It was never there to start with. You probably just had messed-up hormones that week.
Yesterday I woke up and prayed for a while, trying to relieve my heavy feeling. Then I looked back over my week and realized that I’d been working pretty hard. I hadn’t been unproductive. And the feeling that I’d displeased God with my laziness was just…wrong. And with that realization, the feeling evaporated.