In the mornings and throughout my day, my Facebook is filled with people posting "uplifting" quotes. I know that many people feel supported and uplifted by positive thinking quotes, or lists of what to do to be "happy." I'm not trying to put that effort down for them, but just to mull over why it doesn't work for me.
When I hear things that say, essentially, "just think yourself out of sadness or negativity," I hear "your sadness is not valid, your negativity is all in your head. You don't (or shouldn't) feel what you feel. If you were a better person, you wouldn't feel that way." It's a lie, a pervasive and sneaky lie that masquerades as truth. Happiness doesn't drown sorrow, sorrow births happiness. We NEED to experience pain and sorrow, in order to know joy.
We tend to believe in our medicated, comfortable lives that pain is evil. If something causes us pain, it must be changed or avoided. Well, my life has an element in it that causes pain that I cannot remove. Though a part of me wishes it were simply gone, I am thankful for it. It has taught me that not everything which causes pain is evil.
It reminds me of childbirth. My mother gave birth to all of her children using the Bradley method, which was created in the 1970s as counter to the popular medicated childbirth culture of the time. When it came time for me to give birth, I wanted to do the same. I took the classes, read the books, and prepared. One of the classes helped us find our best resources for coping with pain. For most women, it helped to have a loved one talking to them or to have relaxing music playing in the background. The worst thing for them was to concentrate on the pain. Not so for me. I found I could handle the pain best when I focused on it, acknowledging and accepting it, allowing it to wash over me. By addressing my pain head-on, I was able to conquer it and learn from it.
I'm a naturally happy person. I see immense beauty and joy in my life. I find my joy in enjoying the experiences of this natural world. I love the look of a freshly-weeded flowerbed, the feel of rain on my face, the laughter of my children, the scent of their hair, the musical tintinnabulation of the wind chimes outside of my door, a smile of gratitude from someone. That joy that I find is built on having faith in my Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that my relationship with Him extends beyond the immediacy of this life, I am able to enjoy the journey. I find joy in the small, good things because I have felt deep sorrow in my life. I enjoy the bickering of my children underneath my frustration because I'd rather be frustrated and surrounded by bickering than be without them. I enjoy the rain because I know it makes the flowers grow.
Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . ." This tells me that it's okay to be sad, it's okay to recognize when negative things happen to you. You don't need to pray it away, or pretend it doesn't exist to be acceptable to HIM. Not only is it okay to feel that way, but it is necessary to truly follow Him.
If you can learn to embrace your sorrow, to let it wash over you, you can truly conquer it. Avoiding pain and sorrow, especially emotional pain, only leaves it hanging out there. It will always come back, and you will live in fear. As you address it head on, mull it over, allow it to hurt you, learn from it, pieces of it chip away until you are able to conquer it completely. Many people can't live like that. They feel they must avoid negativity and pain. Rather than mourning with you, they will cut you out of their lives if you express too much sorrow. They simply cannot handle so much pain. They will turn away from you, will be unable to handle your sorrow and you will be left alone—alone but for Him.
But as a disciple of Christ, you can do better. Once you learn to face your own pain to stop the "fake it 'til you make it," you gain the strength necessary to face the pain of others. Only in this way can you truly be a disciple of Christ, do as He did. When we were baptized, we promised to stand as His witness. That means more than simply proclaiming the gospel with your mouth. You must proclaim it with your life. You must lay down your life on His altar, work His work, be His hands.
Perhaps, for me, this is my calling. I recently took a leap of faith and began to pray for charity. As I expected, I have had to face and readdress much pain since I made that plea. But I have also been able to reach out to someone who needed me, someone I may not have been able to show love to before. I only hope that I can continue to embrace my pain, to allow myself to be broken and empty, to be filled with His Spirit and to be a living sacrifice to Him.
"If we think we have faith, we should ask, faith in whom or faith in what? For some, faith is nothing more than faith in themselves. That is only self-confidence or self-centeredness. Others have faith in faith, which is something like relying on the power of positive thinking or betting on the proposition that we can get what we want by manipulating the powers within us.
"The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this faith, the prophet Mormon said, we 'are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church' (Moro. 7:39)."
—Dallin H. Oaks, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”, April 1994 General Conference