Happiness

Happiness is Foreign to Me

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“Because I’m happy…” Pharrell Williams

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ut perhaps you’re not. Perhaps you are not feeling like a cheerful, little yellow minion, perhaps you were happy before you were ripped from one world, home and culture into another. It seemed like a good idea at the time – travel is fun and you learn from a world of experiences, don’t you? Perhaps it was study, or a calling, or a job that took you from one continent to the next. Or perhaps it was not your choice at all; your family chose, your workplace chose, or your world disappeared and you had to flee. For whatever reason your world and culture is behind you many miles away, it’s more than ‘just a plane ride’ away; it’s nearly impossible to reach. This is what we call being a foreigner or immigrant. In one small journey a few days, a few miles, a few trains, planes, and boats and one life drops away and another begins. Back ‘home’ you were understood, you understood, everything was familiar, the world needed no explanation you could just enjoy it. Suddenly all the props of usual happinesses are knocked away and you stand alone, family, friends, hobbies and pursuits – gone!

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You suddenly discover immigrant invisibility. You are no longer seen for who you are or judged on your own merits. Everyone who sees you comes with a full set of pre-conceptions based on your national identity. Your old achievements may mean nothing in your new setting your intelligence and ability is judged by your grammar rather than your IQ or abilities. You feel invisible, no longer seen as a person but a label. Trust me, I understand it took more than a year before anyone in my new village called me by any other name than ‘foreigner’. Another year and they called me my job titles, mother or teacher. At long last the new identity became more comfortable and a few friends discovered my first name!

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Homesickness.

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You are not alone! This was always the case for the ‘foreigner’ and any of us can become a foreigner at any time. All it takes is a journey. The Welsh have a good word for the grief of homesickness – the hiraeth. This concept doesn’t translate well into English it encompasses the depth of longing, missing and nostalgia. The old world takes on an ethereal glow not realistic but to the mind’s eye real. The longing is deep. In Romanian, an old Eastern European language, to miss is a noun. The missing almost as its own entity, a person. A companion to many foreigners, the missing, the hiraeth.

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So how do you find happiness in homesickness? The Bible has an understanding of foreigners. May I just address those readers who are at home and have the opportunity to welcome foreigners? The Bible was unique in that foreigners had the opportunity to be treated as equals. “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19:33-34 ESV) God takes the treatment of the foreigner very seriously, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against …those who thrust aside the sojourner [foreigner], and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

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Malachi 3:5 Strong words! (See also Lev 24:22, Jer 22:3, Deut 27:19) The Lord watches over the foreigner and instructs His people to provide and care for foreigners. (Lev 23:22, Ps 146:9, Heb 13:2) We see a new way to welcome the foreigner as part of the Christian family in the New Testament. In Christ we are all equal, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (Rom 10:12 KJV) “There is neither Greek nor Jew… Barbarian, Scythian (your nationality here), bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11 KJV) Let us try to see past the label and just be friends, be patient, understand past the differences and try to learn about their world. You may find a friend in Christ, which is a more real and lasting citizenship than any shared passport. Remember Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matt 25:35 ESV)

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So, is happiness past homesickness even possible? Put another way can we feel strange and a stranger no longer? Let’s start with the most important things. Christ – be sure of your identity in Him. Christ is the constant where ever we are. As believers we are all foreigners, citizens of another land, strange and misunderstood in this land. Remember the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress? Our Saviour saved us from sin and fit us for a land to come. The great examples of believers in the Bible, “…acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:13-16) Let us live life looking not just at the temporal things here but keeping our minds on the eternal perspective. True happiness is found in real and spiritual things all other things are temporal and by definition cannot last.

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The antidote to homesickness.

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There are practical things you can do to find happiness cross-culturally. There are things you can to do help this new place to become home. Be brave. Keep exploring, keep meeting people, form friendships and try to avoid isolation. Enjoy meeting with other ‘strangers’ from your home country and other international friends, but don’t let that become your only context. Keep learning about your new context, keep learning language, culture, push past the frustrations (Why do they keep doing things this way here? Can’t they see it’s rude? Can’t they see there’s a better way?!). Try to learn the why – why is this normal here? Understating cultural values can really help you see why people do and say and live in a certain way. Learn to appreciate a new cultures’ values, priorities and methods of relating with each other within that society. Keep praying – you may not yet feel happy but you can feel peace. One day this new context can become home.

Paul gave us the key to happiness in another country, in another context, even sometimes in what feels like another world. He wrote in Philippians, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Phil 4:11 ESV) Contentment is learning to be happy with what there is in any situation. Happiness is an elusive feeling, lost in its own pursuit, contentment is a choice that breeds deep soul-happiness. In practical cross-cultural terms it is learning to enjoy what I have available to enjoy in this context rather than spending my time longing for what is not available here. Shakespeare, the great wordsmith, taught his kings the need for contentment in the words of King Henry the IV,

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“My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”

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God has brought you to this place now. Enjoy the good things where you are. Seek within the deep and spiritual gratefulness for the good things we can enjoy and the fathomless spiritual blessings always available even in the hardest times. Paul puts it another way in his letter he told the Philippians to think about things that were true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, “whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8 ESV). You can choose where your mind dwells, and the soil in which your thoughts and heart grows.

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Think positively of the culture you are in and the place the Lord has placed you at this time. Meditate on the good and wholesome things in the Bible and rejoice in the beautiful aspects of His creation in the area where you live. David looked up at the stars in the desert, in the mountains he looked to the hills, in the streets he looked toward the Almighty. (Ps 8, Ps 121, Ps 122) Look up when your heart is down, cultivate a heart of thankfulness and you will find your joy deep in the Lord. This place and these troubles are only for a time we seek a higher destination. Look up. Our Lord Jesus was a stranger in a strange land – he knows our troubles (Heb 4:15). Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you. (1Pet 5:7) The ultimate foreigner and immigrant is your Saviour and your Friend, look up to Him.

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Happiness

When Joy Changes Everything

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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y journey with happiness has been a roller coaster ride. Whenever I was going through a hard time and couldn’t put myself to share a genuine smile, I felt so guilty about it. I punished myself because I believed that it was my duty to show happiness. I am a Christian, I believe in God. He is my source of happiness and joy, therefore I should show it. I should live it – but this was not the case. My view of happiness was so different when I was in my mid-teens to what God has now revealed to me through the truth that I refused to accept in my life, myself and through this truth that was so hard for me to admit I discovered genuine happiness, something that I actually like calling joy.

A couple of years ago I went through a break up. I then felt replaced by someone else. What was wrong with me? What did the other person have that I didn’t? I became insecure, completely lost confidence in who I was and constantly compared myself to everyone. You see, my happiness before came from the affirmation of my boyfriend. It came from the popularity I thought I had because of the many things I could do, my personality, and the stories I could share that made people want to spend time with me. But after my break up I completely lost all of that. I became insecure and lost all happiness and interest in what I once did. For some time I even stopped believing in God, as I blamed him for stealing away all my happiness from me. I became empty.

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For 18 months after my break up, I went on a journey of healing and rediscovering happiness. I found myself in a very difficult place – the unknown. I felt that I had to put myself out there, move on and do all I could to find my happiness again. I did find healing eventually and God started His work in me, but I wanted a shortcut to finding happiness again. I wanted to be 100% the person I was before, the me that was happy and didn’t feel insecure. When I went to social events I observed people’s way of interacting and picked up what people smiled and laughed at. I saw the qualities people liked to see in others and what made them want to spend time with others. I decided to pick up on these qualities. I implemented them into my life and forced them to become ‘me’. 6 months into implementing these qualities I could see results. I started to pick up my confidence, and, I believed, my happiness. I must say that I was so grateful to the Lord for how far He had brought me. But you know what they say, “You can’t pretend forever”.

There were deeper things going on in my life that the outward appearance of being happy could not cover. Inside I was slowly dying, but I just didn’t want to admit the reason for this. It was because I was not happy with who I was. It got to the point that I could no longer keep up with the pretending. After a week of spending time surrounded by friends, I got back home and broke completely. I realised that during most of the time I spent with them, I had been just pretending and it was so obvious I was not being who God had made me to be. I realised that I didn’t want to go through the process of refinement. I was scared to admit that I was not happy with who I was because all I really wanted was to be accepted, loved, and wanted by those around me. I broke into many pieces, but in the midst of my weeping, God opened my eyes to see and discover a happiness that is not just that magical yet temporary feeling, but a happiness that I now know I can keep, and it’s summed in one word: joy.

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I don’t believe in the idea that you randomly open the Bible and wherever your finger lands is what God is trying to say. But, funnily enough, that evening I opened my Bible in the book of Psalms and started to read Psalm 94. It’s quite an intense chapter, but then I got to verse 19:

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“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”

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Your consolation brought me joy. As I was reading this verse and writing some thoughts down, there was a song that started playing called “God, You’re So Good.” This song is what some people would call a ‘baby Christian’ song, a song that ministers only to people who don’t know the Lord. 80% of the song is the same lyrics, “God, You’re So Good”, but the other 20% talks about who we are because of Him: blessed, called, healed, whole, highly favoured, anointed, filled with His power, and it’s all for the glory of Jesus’ name. I cannot describe to you the wave of joy that just swept through all my sadness, through all my fears and insecurities. This didn’t happen that long ago. Since then, I’ve still had my struggles with myself, but the joy of the Lord has been my strength every day.

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You cannot let your happiness depend on the circumstances in your life, the people around you, or even yourself, because while we are in this earth nothing is certain. Most things, if not all, are changing. The only thing that remains constant and true is Our Father, the One who calls you his son/daughter in whom He is well pleased. Once I learned to accept that, I realised that the only one who can give me that genuine smile, the only one from whom my confidence and security comes, the only one that helps me to wake up in the morning and say it’s a good day (even though my circumstances say the opposite) is God.

The way I saw and the way that I now see both myself and my life changed completely. I am still working through things in my life that are hard, but the truth that my fountain of Joy is found in Him, and the reality that He loves me just the way He has made me to be, changes everything.

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Happiness

Choosing Joy

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he world defines happiness in a very specific way. It’s an emotion of great delight or pleasure caused by something good occurring. If life isn’t going your way, then theoretically you can’t be happy. Happiness is defined by your circumstances.

As a Christian, I think that happiness can be defined very differently. I like to think of this in terms of ‘joy’, which remains even when things are not going as smoothly and as perfectly as we wish they would. This joy stems from the confidence and hope that we have as a result of the victory of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection.

Having joy is not about being happy all the time. It doesn’t mean you have to smile 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – thank goodness, because your face muscles would seriously ache! Having joy means that you can go through life, dealing with all the unexpected things that are thrown at you, knowing that at the end of it all, God is still good, His love remains and there is a home for you in Heaven when you leave this earth. Joy is a choice. It’s being able to rise above the circumstances you find yourself in and cling to the promises that God has for you.

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Over the last few months, I’ve walked through one of the saddest seasons I’ve ever found myself in. Losing someone very close to me to cancer was one of the most heart wrenching things I’ve ever had to deal with. The pain and the sadness has been intense, but even through the tears, I made a conscious decision to choose joy. I chose to cling to Jesus and to the hope and peace that He alone offers. My sadness didn’t all just go away overnight, it still hits me at times, but I have had unexplainable joy and peace in my heart that has come from choosing to trust Jesus despite the circumstances.

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Joy isn’t just a choice in the bigger events in our lives. It is a choice made every day. Maybe you’re driving your car and somebody cuts in front of you. It could be easy to get angry, right? We’ve all been there! What does choosing joy look like in that instance? Perhaps you don’t really need to honk your horn and start screaming like a crazy person at the driver who’s annoyed you. It could be a good shout to pray for that person instead… or at least just concentrate on driving yourself safely to your destination!

Maybe you’re rolling out of bed and into work (or college… or uni… or just insert your own option here) on a Monday morning. It could be easy to grumble and complain like the rest of your peers. What if you chose joy instead? What if you chose to be positive and expectant about the week ahead? Surely that would give you a much better perspective and enable you to accomplish more.

I could go on and on listing areas in life in which joy is a choice, but then you’d get bored. The point that I’m trying to get across is that in every second of every day you have choices to make. In my opinion, one of the most important choices is joy. Will you let your circumstances define you or will you rise above them and cling to the hope of God’s promises?

1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18 tells us to rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all (not just some) circumstances. Why? Because this is how God wants you to choose to live when you believe in what He has done for you in giving His Son, Jesus, to die for you.

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Joy is a lifestyle of trusting Jesus and resting in His promises despite the circumstances. From my own experiences, it’s not an easy choice but it’s certainly the best choice you’ll ever make. Choosing joy enables me to get out of bed on a morning and deal with whatever lies before me. It doesn’t mean I’m happy every day and it certainly doesn’t mean I handle every situation perfectly. It does mean, however, that I have a much better outlook on life and a much deeper relationship with Jesus.

Start choosing joy today. I promise you won’t regret it!

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Joy is a lifestyle of trusting Jesus and resting in His promises despite the circumstances. From my own experiences, it’s not an easy choice but it’s certainly the best choice you’ll ever make. Choosing joy enables me to get out of bed on a morning and deal with whatever lies before me. It doesn’t mean I’m happy every day and it certainly doesn’t mean I handle every situation perfectly. It does mean, however, that I have a much better outlook on life and a much deeper relationship with Jesus.

Start choosing joy today. I promise you won’t regret it!

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Happiness

Is It OK Not To Feel Happy All the Time?

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[dropcap]P[/dropcap]eople always think I’m happy. Since I was very little, I’ve always been seen as the happy, bouncy one. The one that’s never ruffled. The one for whom everything is fine and nothing seems to bother them.

That’s not the case at all. I have always struggled with negative emotions, often to the point where I have not known how to express them. It has led me to try and cover up my feelings of sadness by acting happy, even when I’m not.

These emotions and thoughts hit a new low when I suffered from severe depression. I went through a pretty traumatic time, and did in fact consider suicide. I didn’t go through with it, and the Lord was gracious to me and gave me good friends to help me through. He gave me healing, but it took a long period of time, patience and a lot of prayer (both from myself and other people).

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I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy, but because this is a part of my story. People in the Bible went through really low times, too. Even people who knew God and trusted Him like David and Job went through very dark days. These people are real and their reactions are often very realistic. We can be real about these things too.

The Bible talks a lot about rejoicing. We are commanded to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ and not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything (Philippians 4). That raises the question, ‘Is it ok for a Christian not to be happy all the time?’

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I guess the answer lies in that last part of that scripture: we are called to rejoice ‘in the Lord.’ We’re not made to be on cloud nine all the time. Nobody wants a friend who is unable to face hard times with an element of reality and grounded prospective. Jesus offers life in its fullness, and on this earth that includes a whole range of emotions.

Jesus felt pain and sorrow. Of course He did. He became human. When his friend died He wept. When His people rejected Him he felt sad. He still knew what it was that God had called Him to, and He still obeyed, even to the point of death on the cross. Through His pain and suffering, He opened up a way for our eternal wellbeing. ‘By His stripes we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53)

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In some ways, I still struggle emotionally. There are days when I don’t want to do much, and it’s a battle to keep pushing through. That doesn’t mean that I can’t rejoice in the Lord in those moments.

My feelings of low emotion almost always come after I’ve been relying on myself and not trusting in God. Isaiah 60 says that ‘those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.’ It is important to be grateful, even in the hard times. Recognising when we are trusting in ourselves and not in God is a really important skill to develop. Sometimes what is happening on the inside doesn’t always match what is happening in the outside. Other people can’t see your hurt. They don’t know your pain, but God does.

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So, is it ok not to feel happy all the time? Yes, because Jesus didn’t. He suffered in the most terrible ways imaginable. We have a great High Priest Who ‘for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.’ (Hebrews 12) He went through the most awful experiences that a human being could, and worse. His example is one of perseverance, obedience and hope, in spite of difficulty.

Sure, our emotions may go up and down. We can take that to Him. Of course we’re going to go through hard times in this life, but He is more than capable of helping us through it. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and by casting our cares on Jesus, who cares for us (Philippians 4), we can be certain of our hope, trusting in Him and persevering through the trials. When we are in that place where all tears are washed away and there will be no more sorrow, we’ll be glad we did.

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