The Pain of Being Happy: Letting Go of the Guilt of Joy in 1200 Words or Less

 

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Average read time: 5 minutes or less.

I was sitting on the comfy couch in her office: my shoes off, legs crisscrossed like a yogi and my side propped up against a pile of vibrantly patterned throw pillows, a crumpled tissue in one hand.

I was sitting in a safe place for sure—a place where I didn’t have to be apologetic or be afraid for being honest or be fearful for appearing weak—yet when I opened my mouth to admit the realization stirring in the belly of my spirit, disclaimers flooded out into the open, a true indication of the heavy shame and guilt I was carrying.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I’m crying like this,” I caught a couple of tears in the edges of a tissue I held. “I’m just realizing . . . Well, I’m just realizing right now (if I can be truly honest and vulnerable and open) . . . I’m just realizing that . . . I feel guilty for . . .” I stopped and took a deep breath.

“I feel guilty for being happy. I am ashamed that I have so much joy, when I feel like they don’t . . . when I know they are in pain.”

My sweet counselor just nodded, letting me come to my own conclusions.

“I have a job that I love. I have a marriage full of grace and kindness and joy and fun. I live in a safe, beautiful home and have food on the table. I have good friends. I have a supportive, caring church family. But I feel so guilty about it all.”

Have you ever felt this way? If you have, you know how confusing and complicated this feeling is and how much of a prison it can be.

Maybe you too have felt the pain of being happy, the guilt of having joy. Maybe you’re like me and there are people that you hold so close and dear to your heart that carry such strong hurt that it’s hard for you to breathe. Maybe you’ve experienced the weighted loss of a loved one and lost a piece of yourself as well. Maybe you’re in the middle of walking away from the bind of labels and abuses and hurts and you’re refusing to wear the plastic button pin that says VICTIM, but joy isn’t coming easy. Maybe you can’t sleep knowing there are hundreds of thousands of hungry and sleepless children in war torn communities. Maybe someone stole something from you, and it caused such a lasting ache that joy feels like a foreign country you don’t have permission to enter.

I’ve been there. I’m there with you now. Being happy about good happenings in my life or enjoying a good laugh during grief seasons can feel impermissible, unlawful, sacrilegious.

But I’m learning—slowly, at my heart’s own pace—that there is no guilt in joy, even if everything decides to fall apart around me.

Why?

Because Christ.

When I feel the weight of guilt and shame in celebration or happiness, and it creeps in to work toward steeling my joy, I remember the truth vintagethat is more solid and whole and real and lasting than this desk I am sitting at currently: Christ is making all things new.

It seems that God is forever in the business of restoring, reviving, healing, new-making—all that so we may rejoice and find comfort. So that we may be happy in Him. So that the things that hurt us, bind us, are dissolved and we can celebrate. Don’t believe me? There are countless examples found throughout the Old and New Testament: Psalm 51:12, Isaiah 61:7, and John 10:10, just to name a few. But here are two I hold close to my heart:

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.”
— Joel 2:25-26, ESV

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
— Revelation 21:1-5, ESV

In Christ, God gives us the right to enter the foreign country of joy. It becomes our country.

So, despite things that I carry from the past—the things that make me unworthy or broken or undeserving or mournful—when there are beautiful things that happen to me, when there are good gifts I’ve been given, this is God at work restoring my life.

We should find no guilt in joy, as this is the response we’re commanded to have: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV), and “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice,” (Philippians 4:4, ESV).

These truths give you and me permission to find joy in Christ, in life, and to celebrate it. There is no guilt in joy, even if there might be pain that’s simultaneously carried alongside it.

Here, I’ll say it: It’s okay for me to be happy when good things happen to me. It’s okay for you to be happy when good things happen to you.

This is not the permissive, self-seeking happiness that dismisses the truth that we should be living a life of radical generosity and selflessness, nor is it the kind of ill-advised and untrue command that “you shouldn’t be depressed because you’re a Christian” sort of thing.

I’m talking about enjoying the fundamental, wild, unmovable joy that comes with the fact that we are new in Christ Jesus and that God gives us good things—despite whatever guilt, shame, grief, pain, hurt, or regret that we carry.

Will you join me in throwing off the guilt of choosing joy?

If you need to, go get yourself a trustworthy counselor to help. They have really comfy couches you can cry on, which is a huge plus.

It would be so beautiful to see us all run alongside each other, throwing off all things that hinder us and weigh us down from experiencing and celebrating the goodness of God. Let’s run together from the bind of labels and abuses and hurts, refusing to wear the plastic button pin that names us VICTIM.

Let us be confident in being joyful together.

It is okay to be happy. It is God-glorifying.


As I enter a new season personally and am working through hard stuff, I needed to write this—although this post is may seem untimely, especially considering current world events. I too am infuriated, upset, and mournful at the state of our country and world. But for me, if I let my anger grow unchecked, I won’t do anything but complain and worry. It’s absolutely right to be angry, but I’m hoping to channel that anger into action and action into hope and hope into fruit and fruit into joy.

In the midst of uncertainty, I choose hope. In the midst of political turmoil, I want to look for joy and still find it. I know that Christ is just and is making all things new, and those who promote hate and injustice toward any people of any gender, race, religion, or economic status, will be held accountable.


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