I’m a Christian: Why Can’t I Just be Happy?

photo of a man alone in a chairJesus was beaten and flogged prior to being tortured to death on a cross while the Father God withdrew Himself from His perfect and sinless Son in what was the only way to save all of humanity (or at least, those who would accept His gift) from eternal suffering.

I’ve accepted this gift and chosen to dedicate my life to spreading and living this gospel not by the best of my ability, but by relying on God’s ability through the skills, gifts, and talents He has imbued in me.

This is all really exciting and everything, but life still seems like it sucks most of the time. I mean, you’d think I’d be really happy and full of zeal. Bouncing off the walls, praising God loudly with my lips and shouts (Psalm 71:8, 100), and just generally being in a pretty good mood about the whole thing.

There are certainly plenty of people who are like that, and I think that’s really great! But that’s not me, and it would be very dishonest for me to try and emulate that. God rarely gives me an overflow of ecstatic emotion that outshines all the negative things in my life. For me, Christ has been something I can hold onto in the middle of river rapids after nightfall, when I am about to drown in a lightening storm downpour.

The Heart is Sick

Image of a bandaged and hopeless broken heart shapeEmotions are cruel and fickle hobgoblins, always trying to play games with your psyche. The butterflies in your stomach and the flutter in your heart are only there to play havoc with your thoughts, and in the end will almost always lead you in the wrong direction (Jeremiah 17:9, one of my favorites).

Depression has a way of worming its ugly self into every detail of it’s victim’s sorry lives, pulling and pushing and toppling over any sense of well-being it can find. I’ve been stricken with this monster since before I was Christian and I’ve had symptoms of it since I was at least 9 years old.

It has certainly been interesting to see how depression and the Holy Spirit interact with each other. There seems to be this strange belief among Christians (and non-Christians) that if you are saved by grace and have received the spirit, you are supposed to be happy all the time. This is not so ( 1 Samuel 1:10-17, 1 Samuel 30:4-6, Psalm 42:11, Psalm 1022 Cor 1:8-101 Peter 4:12).

Chemical imbalance, disease, genetics, sensitive personality, emotional disorders, demonic influence, spiritual affliction, traumatic past, unhealthy upbringing… Whatever causes depression, I don’t care, it’s not something that just “goes away” when you turn to the Lord. Any suggestions otherwise come from both a naive misunderstanding of how the Spirit works His joy and clinical/psychological ignorance.

Happiness Vs. Joy

When the Bible speaks of joy, it is talking about an everlasting sense of spiritual well being that is known only by gift of the Holy Spirit.  Rather than a bubbly, drunken-like emotion that is fleeting and finite, the Lord gives us joy that is strong and resounding. It takes some careful examination to find a distinction between these two things in the Bible. Perhaps it is because the Bible focuses on the eternal rather than the temporary.

photo of leafless tree through a wet windowThe differences between happiness and joy is a popular talking point in christian circles today, especially with depression becoming more common and slowly more understood by psychology and medicine in general. There is nothing wrong with happiness; it exists for the glory of God! When you are happy, you are able to enjoy life more and appreciate the goodness of God with a greater fullness.

However, happiness is dependent on emotion and circumstance; it is swayed by the wind and can be washed out by the rain of life. Happiness is an elusive emotional commodity. That is, we pursue it and strive after it and continually purchase or consume things in a desperate effort to find it.

So what about depression? What about when we are not happy? God knows that we will not always be happy. Jesus promised us that we would face hurdles and hardships in John 16:33. The purpose of joy is to carry us through these difficult times when we are unable to feel good or be happy. To give us peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).

Unlike happiness, joy is not necessarily a feel-good sensation that floods your brain with chemicals giving you a blissful, carefree feeling. Joy is more of a firm and serene assurance that God’s will is sovereign and that all things ultimately work out for good (Romans 8:28). Joy is what reminds us to be glad and thankful for our salvation and God’s grace and provision. Joy  gives us hope and reminds us that our trying times here in this life are short and will soon be replaced by God’s glorious and perfect kingdom where there will be no more tears and no more pain (Rev 21:4).

The Ultimate Answer

So what is the answer to depression? There is no simple, get-happy-quick method to dealing with it. For both Christians and non-Christians it can be crippling and crushing to the point of near paralysis. But for an unsaved person who has not received the holy spirit, it can be a hopeless ultimation: a dead-end with no meaning, an inescapable pit of nothing that completely overtakes your life.

For the one who has turned to Christ, though, depression is a battle. It’s a tough battle that seems endless and fruitless at times, but it’s a battle that we can fight with the help of the Lord. The Holy Spirit brings us joy so we can work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). That is to say that even in the midst of our worst troubles, even when we are hurting the most, we still have joy. When we are no longer able to happily cling to Jesus, we know that Jesus is happily clinging to us.

I hate to be another one of those people who says the answer to feeling better is just “Jesus.” I mean, sure it is, but that doesn’t make you feel much better, right? The harsh reality is that major depression may be a lifelong struggle for many people. With counseling, psychotherapy, medication (in extreme cases), prayer, and a sheer determination to beat back the damnable beast, many are able to win the battle with depression or at least keep it manageable. The redeeming reality is that whether or not your depression ever leaves you in this life,  we can be joyful that there is a new world coming where it will no longer exist.

And if you are depressed and have never experienced the joy of the Lord, I encourage you to turn to Christ, ask Him to save you, and continue to pursue a relationship with Him. It may not cure your depression, but it will definitely give you a reason to keep fighting it.

4 thoughts on “I’m a Christian: Why Can’t I Just be Happy?”

  1. This left me with appreciative tears. In my own battle with depression, too many well-meaning Christians have tried to “fix” me with words that hurt more than help. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelli. I definitely feel where you’re coming from. I know that depression is difficult to understand if one has never been stricken with it, but some people are just unable to empathize in the slightest. I doubt I need to tell you that you’re not alone and that there are tons of other Christians out there dealing with the same emotions. But just in case: you’re not abnormal or abhorrent. God is there with you whether you feel His presence or not, and He will help you through the dark and down times again and again.

  2. I had depression for a time a few years ago. I don’t have it anymore, but I understand what it’s like too well. (I do still get discouraged easily and often, but I find that it’s quite different than having a mental illness.) It really bothers me when Christians blame it on not having enough faith (I never had more faith than I did when I was depressed, honestly), or act as if there’s a definite and simple answer. They can’t seem to understand that the mind has components that sometimes don’t work like they should just like the body does.

    • Yes, there is quite a difference between being discouraged for awhile and being depressed. I didn’t share that I had depression with most people and I never heard the “have more faith” thing. I do know this is a common thing to hear, though. Those people must not have read Matthew 17:20. As for the simple answer… I only wish there were one. Thanks so much for commenting!


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