Curing Chronic Unhappiness–One Day at a Time

despair-257x300Lord, deliver us from the #stronghold of chronic discontentment and #unhappiness.

Many of us are in an emotional limbo–counting on some future circumstance to unlock happiness in our lives. If only I could win the lottery, I would be happy. When I get old enough to leave home, I’ll be happy. If I could just lose weight or get a hair transplant, retire, find love, have a baby, travel, move out of this town, get a better job, get healed.

If only. Hope deferred and many sick hearts. So we rationalize that it’s ok to be unhappy now since we could possibly be happy later. But oh, that nagging question: if I ever get what I say will make me happy...will it? Or when I get there, will I find that I’m still discontent with my life? At what point do I cross the line from having a cryogenically-frozen hope into a place of being irredeemably miserable? What if I’m unable to even BE happy?

Boy, I just struck a nerve! Because unlike the diet and exercise and estate planning we rationalize that we’ll do “tomorrow,” this hits home on a deeper level. For sanity’s sake, there must be some point when we stop living out of our spiritual suitcases and emotional moving crates and say, “You know, I choose to be happy today. Right now in the middle of all this chaos and the things so desperately wrong and incomplete, I’m going to break out that bottle of bubbly I’ve been reserving and celebrate.” Bottle of bubbly? Yes, the dusty,”bubbly” happiness with the vintage label on it that we bought somewhere long ago, thinking we might store it away for a more deserving occasion.

Today might feel like a hollow occasion for celebration. There might actually appear to be no good reason to smile or be thankful. What if I break the seal on that happiness only to find out it’s not all that I’d hoped for?  Why shatter the fantasy?  Or, what if I wind up just wasting happiness on the place I’m in, and I never take steps to go after the things I feel I must have in order to feel complete? Isn’t it better to keep happiness in its display case and maintain the illusion that I can have a perfect circumstance eventually?

No.

Choose to be happy NOW. Now, at the worst possible time, while nothing’s going the way you it to.  While frustration is suffocating you and your circumstances make you feel claustrophobic, trapped. Choose happiness now, not because IT has an expiration date, but because YOU do. And whether you are someone whose face flashes neon discontentment, or one of the untold millions who bury their unhappiness deep behind a facade of pretending they’re fine…fine…I’m FINE…I pray that your cover is now blown and that you are forced to deal with the elephant in the room. Before you reach the end of life and find that, all along, there was enough happiness allotted to spread out over a lifetime if you’d only chosen it.

Pray with me: Father, this may be one of the most important prayers I pray, next to my salvation! I need You to help me with this issue, this spiritual virus of discontentment. It’s been with me for so long now, it’s become part of me and I don’t know how to detach from it. Save me! Not just my soul, my spirit, but please save my emotional well-being. Fix what’s broken in me that’s forgotten how to just be happy. Forgive me for allowing my surroundings to choke out my thankfulness.

Jesus came to give me abundant life, not an existence on autopilot. This chronic lack of happiness is a cancer and I need Your Word to surgically cut it out of me. Please, wash me clean! Your Word says Your mercies are new every morning. It’s been a long night. Day is breaking and I reach to You for that new mercy. I’ll need it today. Teach me to think on the good and pleasant things. Help me to meditate on Your promises. Forgive my backslidings.

David prayed to You to create in him a clean heart, to renew a right spirit, and he asked for Your Spirit and mercy not to be separated from him…and then he asked You to restore the joy of Your salvation. Lord, I ask for no less. Fill me with Your Spirit, and with Your joy. Give me unspeakable, glorious joy that trumps even the “happiness card.”  Your joy will get me through days when I don’t particularly feel happy. In reality, I may be in these circumstances for a while longer…your joy will undergird my choice to be happy even though things aren’t ideal just yet.

I trade up now. I’m swapping this feeling of heaviness for a garment of praise. I’ve been wearing black for far too long now. Please, hand me the loudest, most colorful, least circumstance-appropriate jacket on the rack! Until it comes natural, I will keep confessing happiness and wait for circumstances to line up with my confession.

I say this (whether or not I “feel” it):

Today is a good day. It’s Your gift to me, God. I will find the good in it. I will find the reasons to laugh and give thanks even if I have to write them down! I will stop putting my life on hold. Today, while it appears I’m still in debt, still sick, still lonely, still unfulfilled in my station of life, or still in some circumstance I’d rather not be in, I choose to be happy. While changing a flat or being stuck in traffic or in a smelly doctor’s office or the unemployment line, I choose to be happy. Though someone is betraying me, I choose to be happy. Though someone discriminates against or disrespects or mocks me, I choose to be happy. Though the devil tells me that my life will always be this bad (he lies), I choose to be happy. I will stop putting on fake happiness that people sometimes put on to make everyone think life is perfect–I choose to REALLY be happy.

I will stop saying “if only.” I will go into this day fully expecting and behaving as if everything in it is the best I’ve ever had. As I thank You, my gas station burrito becomes a feast. My mid-lot parking space is so much better than the one all the way out on the far end. And as I trust You, I receive Your peace to let go of hurts, to forgive, to release. I stop punishing myself for not measuring up and I will be happy now, though far from who I want to be. I can be happy later too; but until I get there, I will be happy while I work toward a better set of circumstances. I will be happy even though I’m needing more sleep and more money; though my knee is hurting or my kids all have the stomach flu or my neighbor’s dog won’t stop tearing open my garbage. I’m still alive; it’s not to late to make the best of what I’ve got, and be happy while I do it. It doesn’t mean I’m “settling” for less; I’m settling for MORE because I’m going to be happy now AND later, too!

Happiness (or, “hope-iness,” this first cousin of hope) is one of Your new mercies, Lord! I don’t need enough to last me a lifetime all in one day; I just need enough to last me for today. Like daily bread. There’s more tomorrow but I don’t have to wait till tomorrow for today’s portion. Those things I long for, You already know about. I put them in Your hands…but for right now, I’m no longer waiting till I get them to be happy. In Jesus’ name, today changes everything about how I view my life and my future. Thank You for helping me get it right. If I slip, hold me to this decision to be happy! Never again let me settle for hope deferred, Lord.

Thankfulness–Breaker of Hope Deferred

Proverbs 13:12 Bread.jpgtells us that postponed hope sickens the heart. How many people are suffering in their health–or even already gone to the grave–because of a state of hopelessness?

I want each of you to ponder this and begin to confess, “I choose to be happy NOW. Not later, when the right job, the right mate, the weight loss, the respect and the education and the money come. My contingency for happiness isn’t bound up in a lottery ticket mentality, where happiness might get to happen later IF per next-to-nothing chance, I get everything I hope for.”

One of Satan’s cruelest schemes is that of deferred hope, because it’s always in the future with no acquisition date stamped on it. In that setting, only fantasy occupies the mind–for anyone else’s life MUST be more interesting than one’s own, right?

Don’t let the evil one convince you that the ideal life is the one you aren’t in! He will keep you running from one relationship to another, one high to another, one futile pursuit and then another and another. You’ll live inside a fictitious story where you spend all your days, as Ecclesiastes says, chasing “vanities.” Even when you ARE running over with favor and blessing, you won’t see it because you’ll be still focused on what you don’t have yet. Without meaning to be–and without seeing it–you’ll become miserably self-centered, trapped inside the devil’s funhouse where every reflection of your life is distorted and perverted. Not good enough.

How on earth does one stop deferring hope? It is, after all, a choice! You break the cycle first by taking on the spirit of thanksgiving. As hypocritical as that might sound, you call the devil’s bluff even before you SEE your own life as a great place to be. You zero in on even the trivial, tiny things if necessary; and praise God for those instead of lamenting things which aren’t so wonderful at present. Believe me when I tell you, God knows your heart! He isn’t going to be insulted when you do this. He knows the difference between sarcasm and a true attempt to return to a spirit of thanksgiving. If your foot is hurting, thank Him that your ear isn’t.

Jesus lived in a human body too. It would’ve been much easier to live out His days as a normal, nondescript fellow with the biblical equivalent of the American Dream. The wife, kids, the dog, the picket fence. He also knew that the key to not becoming disillusioned with the burdens He bore was to remain in the place of thanksgiving. His prayers began with, “Father, I thank You that_____.”

From what many historians believe, Mary probably long outlived Joseph. As the oldest, the responsibility to support her and to raise younger siblings would have fallen to Jesus. He could’ve wrestled with “hope deferred” as He labored away, day in and day out, to put food on the table instead of being out there fulfilling His destiny. The human side of Him may have wondered, “Am I ever going to get beyond just helping my folks and on to REAL ministry?” But you know, the side of Him which connected to His Father knew that what He was doing in those preparatory days WAS real ministry! He learned compassion and selflessness while helping wipe noses and pack water. Time He spent poring over the law and the prophets, in prayer and meditation, and in the place of solitude, and in the place of serving His family well, were all investments for what would become a 3 1/2 year blitz of ministry that culminated in Him saying, “It is finished!” at the cross–not, “This is unfair, my life has been disappointing, it is UNFINISHED. I want to reinvent myself and be like the characters on my favorite TV show!”

There have been many times when, going through hard seasons, I dreamed of hopping on a plane with a new name and identity, and just starting all over again. There’ve been times when I felt like the biggest waste of potential EVER. I’ve known for some time now that when I catch myself drifting away to that place, my thankfulness is leaking out. I immediately try to switch gears and reassess. Have I listened to the world telling me all I’m not, or am I instead peering at my reflection in the Word to see me conforming to the image of Jesus?

When we say that our current state is not our IDEA of where we want to be, then we are in the place of hope deferred…and yes, it’s just an idea. Shake yourself with this hard but vital truth!  If you get every part of your “idea” of what it takes to make you happy, you still won’t be happy unless you are already choosing to have a heart of gratitude in any state.   Our mission statement may be more than “half a bubble off plumb” when placed against our actual MISSION. It’s time to take our minds off the “if only I were richer, thinner, younger, older, more educated, beautiful/handsome, then my life would be better” merry-go-round, and make today about what we actually have in our hands. Do as Jesus did concerning feeding the multitude. Ask, “what do I have in my hands?” and then hold it up, give thanks for it, bless it, and put it to use. You’re no more cheated for that allotment of resources you have than Jesus was, when He held up and gave thanks for five dinner rolls and a couple of sardines, right in front of the astonished people He was about to bless with the feast of a lifetime!

Remember–remain thankful even when it feels silly to be thankful for your little bit. It doesn’t matter what YOU have, it’s what HE has…but He will require you to present to Him what you have first. Trade your hope deferred for faith infused! He will bless you more for thankfully using what you have–your ordinary, ho-hum life in your average or below-average body, less-than-perfect teeth, short resume’, incomplete education, not-so-dream job, biological click-ticking self–than if you were to get to swap lives with any other person on earth. Bless and utilize what you have; because in so doing, you short-circuit the endless-loop of the accuser who says you have too little to ever be effective (or happy)! Stop comparing yourself to that other person who already has what you wish you did–you may think you really want IT, but mostly what you’re wanting is to shut off feeling as if you’re a disappointment. Stop it. That other person isn’t having things as perfect as you think…especially if he or she is still motivated by that same need for approval that you’re wrestling.

God will take your offering of what you have, pour the oil of anointing on it, set it ablaze with favor you couldn’t have possibly worked diligently enough to earn, and leave you speechless at what He has done with your tiny part! So, does a spirit of thankfulness REALLY do all that? Is it really the breaker of hope deferred? Yes! On the day you grasp this–take your eyes off yourself and place them upon God–you will poise yourself for the miraculous! Refocus every single day if you have to, because this is one of the most powerful tools of spiritual warfare you will ever pull out of your bag. Get this right and watch your life begin to change in a major way…and those things you don’t see changing will start mattering to you a whole lot less in light of what IS.

Prayer Confession Over Anxiety

Prayer over anxietyI am sitting down in Your presence, Papa God, spending the night with my Most High God. I am pressing in close to You–close as I can possibly get. I’m Your little shadow–right under Your wing! I say to You, “Abba, You’re my refuge. I trust in You and I’m safe!”

That’s right…and even now, I thank You for rescuing me from hidden traps, shielding me from deadly hazards. Your huge outstretched arms are protecting me— under them I AM perfectly safe; Your arms fend off all harm. YOU LOVE ME AND I’M CERTAIN OF IT!

I will fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night, not flying arrows (or bad news, or big bills, or negative doctors’ reports, or money worries, or even family drama) in the daytime. None of these things will cause me to lose my peace and not one ounce of sleep!

I’m not affected by fear of disease that prowls through the darkness, nor of disaster that erupts at high noon. When the enemy does his worst, YOU WILL DO YOUR BEST!  When he tries to flood me with despair, YOU are my floodwall of protection and YOU ARE SHUTTING THE FLOODGATE ON DESPAIR!  I am safe until the torrent subsides.

Even though others succumb all around, drop like flies right and left, no harm will even graze me. I am standing untouched, watching it all from a distance, I watch the wicked turn into corpses, watching it on tv news, yet not being a part of it. I DON’T FEAR THAT THOSE SAME THINGS WILL HAPPEN TO ME!

Yes, Papa, because You are my refuge, the High God my very own home, evil can’t get close to me, harm can’t get through the door. You’ve ordered Your angels to guard me wherever I go…and that’s just what they’re doing! Even if I would stumble, they’ll catch me; their job is to keep me from falling. Thank you, Papa God, for having my back (and all the rest of me) covered!

There may be feisty young lions and cunning serpents lying in wait on my pathway, but You’re keeping me safe. I walk safely along just as though they’re not even there…and if they try to attack, You’re empowering me to just kick them out of my path. I will treat them as the nuisance that they are and nothing more. They will not break my spirit and they will not break my stride.

Abba, You’ve said, “If you’ll hold on to Me for dear life, I’ll get you out of any trouble. I’ll give you the best of care if you’ll only get to know and trust me. Call Me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times; I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party. I’ll give you a long life, give you a long drink of salvation!”

Well, that’s just what I’m doing! Thank You for getting me out of trouble, for giving me the best of care as I strive to know and trust You more. Thank You for always answering when I call, for staying right with me through thick and thin. Thank You for rescuing me and then making me feel celebrated and special…because I’m Your child and I know You love me! Thank You for quality of life, a satisfied life, and a perfect salvation which will last me all of eternity.

I am taking a deep breath now and breathing in LIFE. I receive Your Holy Spirit with every breath! I am exhaling and pushing out every negative thought. I expel any thoughts that would crowd my mind from the knowledge that YOU are in control. I clear my soul of any problem that tries to look as tall and strong as my Lord Jesus! Any idea that violates my peace, any thought that would cause me to doubt that YOU are Sovereign, I arrest, handcuff, bind, toss into jail and throw away the key!
In Jesus’ name, anxiety has no more control over my life!

(Adapted into a prayer from Psalm 91:1-16 Message and KJV translations; and also from Isaiah 59:19, John 20:22 and 2 Corinthians 10:5)

“I Wish,” Said She…

 

Hand Holding WishboneThe day had been a hectic one. Drenched in perspiration, blood pressure elevated from hours of one stressful event after another, she looked around at so much left undone. The woman thought of how anyone else’s life must be better than her own. Maybe a winning lottery ticket? She said in her frustration, “I wish. I wish I never had to work again. I wish I didn’t have to cook, to clean up messes, to work on the bills, to be piled high with responsibilities. If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish my feet would never be tired again. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”

As she mused what it might be like in different circumstances, she fell asleep sitting straight up on the loveseat. She dreamed of her words coming back to her, and getting everything she’d said she wished. ONLY…

She woke up to find herself much, much older. Her surroundings weren’t familiar, but the sounds and smells and uniformed staff quickly let her know she was in some kind of healthcare facility. It was a nursing home! She looked to her right and saw a wheelchair parked beside her railed bed. And she heard her younger self saying, “I wish I never had to work again.”

An orderly pecked on her door and addressed her as “Ma’am,” announcing that it was lunch time. He raised the head of her bed and placed a tray on her bed table which contained a plate of soft, unrecognizable foods, a cup of coffee, and a bottle of nutritional supplement. Once again, she heard her younger voice saying, “I wish I didn’t have to cook.” It all seemed so surreal. She couldn’t have gotten old overnight! A few bites of the tasteless food had her wishing she were in the kitchen, baking her mother’s heirloom biscuits. The orderly came back and collected her partially-eaten meal. She reached for a tissue to wipe her bed table clean, and he said to her, “That’s ok, Ma’am. I’ll clean it up.” Again, her voice echoed, “I wish I didn’t have to clean up messes.”

The time ticked by as if it were in slow motion. A volunteer came around, delivering mail to each patient. When the small bundle of mail was carried to her bed, she fumbled through to find nothing but junk mail, sale flyers to stores she could no longer visit, and a Medicare statement. “I wish I didn’t have to work on the bills, and to be piled high with responsibilities.”

Later on, after a nurse dispensed several medications and drew some blood, she announced that today was Visitors Day. Excited for any variation in this dull day, the woman sat up a little straighter as the nurse and an attendant gingerly helped her from the bed to her wheelchair. They placed a pair of shoes on her feet which looked as if the soles had never touched the ground. “I wish my feet would never be tired again.” They wheeled her into the activity room with other patients and their visitors. As she waited nervously, the clock suddenly seemed to pick up the pace. She looked around at perfect strangers and wondered where her own family was. At ten minutes before the end of visitors’ time, one of her sons came hurrying through the door, apologizing about how busy he was and how he’d been hauling his boys around to football practice. He seemed restless, as if he were relieved that he’d gotten there almost too late. In the awkward silence, the voice of her past came back again, like a prosecutor: “If money were no object, I’d go somewhere no one knew me and no one was constantly calling or dropping by, wanting something. I wish I didn’t have to live by the clock and the calendar. I wish my kids were not constantly whining about something. I wish my husband would stop irritating me with his messiness and his sports channel on tv. I wish.”

“I haven’t seen your father at all today. I can’t imagine where he is!” she said to her son. He looked at her with tired pity in his eyes and said, “Oh Mama, you don’t remember, do you? Pops has been gone about 3 years now. Heart attack. That’s when you came here to the nursing home. He took good care of you after your stroke, clear up until the day he died. I’m so sorry.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++

“I wish…I wish…I wish.” She was shaking her head and saying the words over and over, when a hand on her shoulder shook her gently out of her sleep. It was her husband, who’d gotten worried when he woke up and saw her side of the bed empty.

“What do you wish, Honey?” he asked. “What were you dreaming about?”

As her eyes adjusted in the dimly-lit living room, she was relieved to see the familiar chaos. Toys strewn on the floor. Bookbags by the door. A stack of bills. A calendar full of appointments and a long store list. As she stood to her feet (she could walk!), she welcomed a twinge of pain from having stood on them so long earlier in the day. All the things which had irritated her before were now welcome signs of life. Tears dripped off her cheeks as she whispered a prayer of repentance for having complained about her life. She truly had so much to be thankful for!

“I wish that every day of the rest of our lives can be as good as this one,” she said, taking his hand.

Do you allow the frustrations of life to rob you of your sense of gratitude? Sure, at times we all need a break, a vacation, a change of pace…but we mustn’t wish away the precious moments which are woven among the hectic ones. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Find the wonderful things about today; give thanks for and cherish them. Gladly accept the bitter just for the privilege of having the sweet, too. Remember, it’s a lot more painful to wish for yesterday than it is to wish for tomorrow. Make today count.

“Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.” (Psalm 90:12 CEV)