When I was dealing with depression in high school, my mother gave me a book entitled Happiness is a Choice.
It made me absolutely furious.
I don’t think I ever cracked the cover. If I could have burned it on a pyre in my bedroom without destroying all of my things, I think I would have.
In my mind, it was one more proof of her ignorance. Didn’t she understand that someone who is clinically depressed can’t just “choose” to be happy?! That’s not how it works! My sweet mom was just trying to reach out to her (clearly) troubled daughter, but at sixteen years old, I couldn’t see past my pain.
What I understand now is that we have to make “guiding choices” in life.
I have no idea if this was the point of of the book or not (because I refused to read it), but if so, then I understand it now.
Happiness is a choice.
Not because depression vanishes when I decide I want it to.
Not because I decide to change my attitude and everything else in my life follows. That is nonsense. Yes, I can muscle my way through a few days of choosing gratitude and looking on the bright side of things (and living the rest of my life the same way I always have). I can stuff down the things that make me unhappy and only focus on the things that bring me joy. I can do a bunch of spiritual things and pretend that means I’m trusting God with my problems, but we all know these fixes are temporary at best. And, in the darkness of night when the thoughts won’t stop and the despair becomes all-consuming, I’ll just add shame and guilt to the mix, because apparently I’m not “strong enough” or “wise enough” or “spiritual enough” to choose happiness.
I can “choose happiness” (this word only because of the title of the book, but I prefer words like “joy,” “health,” “contentedness,” “wellness”) as a guiding choice – a platform on which my other choices stand.
Because I “choose happiness,” I will choose to LIVE and not give up. And then choose to keep the company that will support that choice. I will choose spiritual growth and medical help and therapy. I will choose to eat well and sleep enough and exercise. I will choose to declutter my living spaces and get fresh air. I will choose to read my Bible and books written by those much smarter than I am, and choose podcasts over Netflix and worship music over 94.1 FM. I will choose to discover the truth about who God is and who I am in Him.
And even though each of those choices individually might be difficult, the path becomes crystal clear, because I have made the guiding choice to pursue happiness/ health/ abiding joy.
Perhaps more importantly, whether I succeed or fail on a given day at things like healthy eating or journaling, I don’t have to be plagued by shame, because I know the guiding choice still stands. I may have lost a battle or two, but I will not lose the war.
Why? Because the war is in the hands of my Father. This is a guiding choice He has asked me to make, so the ultimate outcome is on His shoulders, and He never, ever fails. And there is so much peace in that.
How many times have I looked for the immediate result of a “guiding choice” and been discouraged?
Guiding choices, by nature, are long-term. Whether the choice is to pursue a God-given dream or calling, to stay committed to a covenant relationship, to live a life of health or peace or productivity, to raise future world-changers, or to believe that what the Bible says is true, we don’t often see the immediate results of those choices.
Well, I tried that but it didn’t work.
Maybe because the choice was meant to be a guiding choice, and we were looking for immediate feedback when the result is really a long-term (often lifelong) journey? Or maybe the guiding choice was never made? Maybe there was never a solid platform for the daily decisions to stand on?
I think my greatest moments of anxiety, ambivalence, and insecurity have been a result of my failure to make a firm decision about a guiding choice.
I wanted to “get better,” but I hadn’t made the decision to live yet. I wanted to find peace, but I hadn’t yet decided to believe that what the Bible says is true. I wanted to find fulfillment, but I hadn’t yet decided to live a Called Life of surrender. Not really.
So… we are going back to Serbia!
All 7 of us, for about 5 weeks this summer. (Well, Alex will fly back early with the Rock and Roll School team so that he can go to his last year of summer camp. /sob)
We leave in just over 10 weeks!
Kurt and I have wrestled this choice to the ground time and again. We came home from our last trip with so much hope and expectation. We saw God do incredible things, not just in the Balkans, but in our own family as well. We had meetings with leaders and elders and decision-makers and were deeply encouraged in what God has called us to do.
Then, life happened.
Nothing insane, just the grit of living in this broken place rubbing up against the tender spots. A few doors closed we thought would stay open, and the outcome became less certain. Life circumstances shifted. I’m staring down the last 14-18 months with my oldest son living at home. My heart wants to conserve, not give. It wants to nestle down, not strike out into the unknown.
Did God really say…?
So, before we bought plane tickets, before we sought prayer and financial partners, before we talked much about our plans on any platform, Kurt and I needed to figure out what to do and why.
And ultimately, we came to the conclusion that there are two guiding choices that clearly answer our question: 1. We have chosen to give our lives in the service of something beyond ourselves. 2. We have chosen to believe God when He speaks – in His Word, in confirmation through sound counsel, in quiet revelations in our hearts.
The choice to go back to Serbia is not a choice we are making on a whim, or on the hype of emotional excitement, or because it’d be “fun.” To do so would be a huge disservice – not only to our family but to our Serbian friends as well.
The choice to go back to Serbia is a choice we are making because it falls in line with 2 guiding decisions we made a long time ago. (The fact that we get to be with people we love halfway across the world is also a HUGE bonus. lol)
And, because these guiding choices are choices God has asked us to make, we are trusting that He will bring partners alongside us, that He will give us the grace to obey Him, and that He will give us incredible joy and peace in the process.
And for that, we are so grateful. ❤