As someone who struggles with depression, the topic of present joy is very real and pertinent to my everyday. It’s not something that I think about only when I reach a crisis or a particular turn in the road. No. I think about joy—the work involved in reaching and staying in a place of joy—all of the time. It’s a matter of survival for me.
This month I went on a couple of really beautiful, lovely dates with a certain young gentleman. They were fun—great food, great conversation, great company. Everything you would want from your first two dates with someone with whom you might start a relationship. Of particular beauty, the second date took us to the, new-to-me, Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams sits atop a series of hills overlooking the river and downtown Cincy. It’s a place where cool restaurants, hipster bars, designer apartments and cobblestone alleyways line the streets. It’s a place where signs announcing opening weekend for the Mt. Adams’ Farmers Market grace public doors, where dogs walk their owners and where art and architecture are part and parcel of the community. It’s a place where the light dances with flower gardens, plays hide-and-seek along old brick walls, and beautifies everything in its path. In short, it’s a place of beauty, light and joy.
When I think about that second date with this particular gentleman, it’s this beauty, light and joy that I remember most.
Unfortunately, I don’t think my date noticed the beauty or the joy, either in me or in our environs, and there will be no third date. His reason? My “joy-quotient” was not high enough. Because I failed to portray myself as someone of “optimism and joy” (his words), he decided we were not compatible for the long-term.
For my date’s part, I don’t really blame him for this misunderstanding. Just that evening—the same evening of so much light, beauty and joy on Mt. Adams—I shared with him some of journey with and through depression. Most people advise against sharing such personal stories at first introductions, but I’ve never been one to follow that advice. To know me is to know my testimony of faith and it is impossible to share my testimony without revealing my personal struggles with depression. I’ve never allowed depression to define me and to share about God’s work through my sadness is always an act of worship.
But it should come as no surprise when someone hears my story and misunderstands. For me, living with depression is not unlike someone who must learn to live with Type 1 Diabetes—once you learn you have it, you treat it, manage it and deal with it. For others, especially a potential suitor, mention of depression may easily signify a “red flag” of the highest degree.
Hearing that there would be no third date because of my supposed lack of “optimism and joy” was a hard rejection. It cut straight to the core of my desire to run hard after joy—and not the fleeting kind called “happiness,” but the real, centered-on-Jesus joy characteristic of an “abundant life.” After hearing this particularly harsh rejection, my type-A tendency turned on and I offered him a rebuttal—an argument as to why and how I was, in fact, a person of optimism and joy. I offered a rebuttal despite my own hesitations to argue in these situations, as I know all too well that matters of the heart are often inexplicable and always complicated. I don’t think “arguing” someone into “liking” you makes good use of either person’s emotions.
As it turned out, however, my argument wasn’t for my date. It was to battle my own insecurities and self-doubts that told me my date was right. Despite all of my efforts to live in a place of joy, what if others only see the depressed me. What if I really am not joyful, or even merely happy? What if depression does define me? Does sadness make one un-dateable, unlikeable…undesirable?
It’s very tempting to think this, all things considered.
But it’s not true.
What’s true is that constant optimism and so-called joy are not prerequisites for Christ’s love to dwell in you. Christ himself was well-acquainted with grief and sorrow. What’s more, Jesus does not require us to have the joy-thing completely figured out before we can be in relationship with Him, nor does he promise there will be no tears when we walk out our journey of faith.
In a powerful, and timely, reminder of this truth, my devotions took me to Hebrews 5:7—
“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death….” (NIV, emphasis added)
Like us, Jesus carried sadness with him. Burdens. His heart ached. I am not any less desirable because I feel deeply, sorrow often and shed tears easily. What’s more, God is always at the ready to hear my fervent cries and tears, and he likes me no less for offering them up to him frequently.
Tears, sadness, burdens and heartaches. And beauty and joy.
And third dates.
(Image from The University of Cincinnati Library Collection.)