“It takes courage to be happy.” I heard this statement this morning. It was attributed to Florence Henderson, the Brady Bunch mom, after she lost her husband a few years ago. She was devastated by his loss and said, “It takes courage to be happy. I am going to be happy again.”
My, we have plenty of occasion to test our courage. There is a model of therapy called “Narrative Therapy” in which one of the assumptions is that clients have problem-saturated stories. They see life through a dark lens and gather evidence to support this story. It is the role of the therapist to help them open their eyes to other aspects of their story that are helpful or positive. The client can then write a new story based on this new understanding. The circumstances do not change, but the meaning attached to the life experience is shifted. This does not negate the difficulty but helps the client recognize that they are more than just their problems. But ultimately, it is up to the client to choose to see him or herself through this new lens. No one can force them to accept a new perspective.
Friday was a day of beauty in the Tennessee hills. The weather was perfect for a brisk hike with friends. It started off cloudy and grey but the sun emerged along the way and the blue sky was a sharp contrast to the few remaining leaves of gold and red. It felt good to work off the bounty of the previous day with a hike through silent woods.
When we began, the hike was anticipated to be three miles. We’d be back by lunchtime and home mid-afternoon. We left our lunch in the car to enjoy when we returned to the ranger station. Although grey, the view was wonderful. We walked along the rim of a canyon and periodically came to a lookout. The trees below us in the valley stretched for miles in every direction. It was a sight to behold! I noticed a pang of hunger after a couple of hours, but knew we would be back soon. No one was really paying attention to the distance. We were enjoying the experience and the companionship. That is until we reached a crossroads along the trail. The sign pointing back the way we came claimed the ranger station was 4.1 miles. I thought that was odd as the trail was only 3.1 miles. Two other signs claimed 3.5 miles and 2.9 miles to the ranger station. Hmmm, I initially thought I must be missing a sign.
The group consulted and realized we had missed the trail when it turned back to the point of origin. Our three-mile hike had turned into seven miles! Suddenly I was really hungry and my feet hurt. It could have been miserable! But, it wasn’t. The sun burst forth and we were rewarded with a view of the stark blue sky above us. The hike continued, as did the conversation. It was a great company and there was no hint of frustration. I was glad to be with them! It could have been a dismal 2.9 miles had someone chosen to make it so.
What a fine metaphor for life! I am an expert at planning my life and moving forward with checklist in hand. Much of life happens as calculated. I can visualize my day and it is rare that it does not follow my vision. Yet life is sprinkled with unexpected turns—the additional time spent plodding along when past the anticipated arrival. A loved one dies, parents age, children struggle—this was not in my plan. What is going on??
I do not in any way want to minimize the difficulty of life struggles. We are faced with monstrous trouble at times. We cannot brush these off. It is not emotionally healthy to put on a happy face and spout Pollyanna phrases. It is imperative that we allow ourselves to feel and express the emotion that comes with struggle. And then gradually—oh so gradually—we lift our chin and have courage; first to face the day and then to put one foot in front of the other.
Our portion of the courage is to continue to move forward. We make the courageous choice to attempt to find some meaning in the day. At times all we can do is make the effort. Yet it is not ours alone to bear. God’s part is to place God’s healing hand of love on us. We rest in God’s loving embrace and keep going. When we cannot, God’s holds us and gives us what we need to have courage another day.
Grace and peace to you,