Permission to be Happy

I’m taking a subject at Bible College called “Theological Reflection,” which involves pondering where I am at in my life theologically, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.

Partly because of this subject, I’ve actually had to think a lot about how happy I am in my life right now … and how scary that is.

I was a pessimist growing up, with a deeply serious, melancholy personality. I often felt that my friendships were shallow and that most people didn’t know the real me. In fact, I didn’t know the real me. I was constantly trying to run away from the guilt and shame of my past imperfections. I even picked up and moved interstate as a young adult, in an attempt to make myself feel better, only to learn that all my problems came with me.

I suffered from depression for the first 4 years of adulthood. I didn’t think that my dreams would ever come true, that I would ever get married, that I would have the deep relationships I craved, or that I could actually be my true self. I was torn between wearing a façade of being a near-perfect, Christian woman, trapped in guilt and legalism; and the inherent belief that God’s love and grace has to be bigger than my failure, and for that matter, everyone else’s failures.

Then my mum got sick when I was 24, and I was still trying to find my feet as an adult in this world. No longer depressed per se, but still struggling with my dreams and my identity, with being single, and with trying to be a good Christian. Mum was sick for 4 years before she passed away and I spent those years caring for her, meanwhile working as hard as I could toward my dreams, writing books, trying to find the perfect guy to marry, building a piano teaching business, leading worship at church and pulling up the ranks of the worship team. Mum and I rubbed up against each other (as iron sharpens iron), and both started to deal with unresolved childhood issues. This in turn challenged what we believed about God and we both started to accept deep down that God is all-loving and all-forgiving.

Mum passed away when I was 28 and things in my life changed monumentally again. I not only lost my mum, but my entire theological foundation shifted as I became a Universalist-Christian. I changed churches and lost too many friends to count, including some that I never thought I would ever lose and still grieve over today. I failed a piano exam, and decided to prioritise my writing dreams over my musical aspirations. And I challenged myself to start writing publically about what I believe. Needless to say, my twenties were filled with struggle, grief, singleness and loneliness.

But then I hit thirty and I started to feel very secure in myself. I was no longer fighting who I really was, I was breaking down the facades. I met a man and started building a healthy relationship with him. I got married. My friends expanded to include my family-in-law and so many new relationships.

So here I am: content. And it scares me. I know what it’s like to be depressed and anxious. I know what it’s like to feel lonely and endlessly single. I know what it is like to grieve death. I know that things can change very suddenly for better or worse. Being happy, healthy, hopeful and content are fairly new to me and I’m somewhat afraid of losing these feelings. But I don’t want to live in fear, because it taints the blessings I have right now.

I also struggle with guilt. I feel guilty that not everyone is going through a season of happiness and contentment right now. I feel guilty for flaunting it, but I also feel as though I might burst if I don’t share it. Sometimes I feel guilty that I couldn’t make my mum’s life happier. As her oldest child I felt responsible for her happiness and often blamed myself if she was unhappy. So it is difficult to feel happy in light of the suffering that I saw in my Mum’s life at different stages – this I struggle with the most.

That’s why I need to give myself permission to be happy. Permission to bask in this season of contentment. Permission to pause and say thank you. Thank you to God for bringing me here. Thank you to my husband for loving me. Thank you to my family for accepting me. Thank you to the friends who have been around through so much of this, and to the newer ones who enrich my life.

And thank you to myself. For not dying. For not giving up. For pushing against the chains that bound me so that I could break free and become more truly myself. But even as I thank myself, I know I am really thanking God–the universal love–who lives in me.