2 Cor. 5. The above picture is of an exhibit at the V&A at London. They’re Christian Louboutin shoes designed to remind us that nude comes in all shades. But nude, like mood, comes in all shades, and we all have those, too.
We blame all sorts of things for our bad moods. The weather, poor sleep, hunger, our failures and short comings and perhaps most often, other people’s behavior. We can’t control all of those factors, and sometimes we feel like we can’t control any of those factors. So is the answer is to try harder to be in a good mood all the time?
Sometimes trying harder works. I have one example. Just one. I share it because it’s a story of success that put me and my child in a great mood, and so to the extent we have control over these things, here you go: I came home from an overnight trip the other day to find that my legally adult child (i.e. age 18) had left a sink full of dirty dishes. I also saw she had taken the time to pile the porch cushions inside the house. Hurricane Arthur had swept his sword over Long Island the night I’d been away.
What I WANTED to do was complain about the dirty dishes. But for once, I didn’t mention the dirty dishes. I yearned to. I longed to. But I literally ORDERED myself to focus on the positive. I’d just listened to three sermons and read my friend Shelley McDonald’s parenting blog. So instead of complaining, I told my child: “I see you brought all the porch cushions in. That must have taken a lot of time. Those cushions are heavy. I really appreciate it.”
Gee. That felt good. My child started to glow. I wondered, “Huh. What else can I praise her for?”
I added: “And you did an awesome job looking after yourself while I was away. I’m really proud of you.”
That child beamed. I was so proud of myself. I was suddenly in a better mood, too, just because I’d done such a spectacular job of parenting. Hooray. And let’s face it. Why did I want to complain about the dirty dishes? Was I mad at the child? Or was I mad at MYSELF for leaving her alone for one night, even though she’s 18. I am guessing it was the latter.
The sad thing is, I still remember her sink of dirty dishes. How pathetic is that? It took me about a minute to pop them in the dishwasher. Those cushions took her about ten minutes to lug inside. Why is it so easy to hold onto the negative? Why is it so hard to let go of tiny grievances? Wouldn’t we all be in better moods if we could spend our days feeling good about the porch cushion moments and shrugging off the dirty sinks of our lives? It only took a minute to clear up those dirty dishes anyway. Wouldn’t that be the simple way to ensure good moods? Wouldn’t it help to realize that most of the time we’re angry we’re mad at ourselves, and to just recognize that and ask God to forgive us and move on?
Maybe. But the problem is, we humans DO tend to focus on dirty dishes more than piled up stacks of good deeds – both by others and ourselves. And even if we could listen to firming sermons all day long, and read helpful blogs, and force ourselves to focus on the positive, sometimes the truth is that we have far more dirty dishes in our lives than we do good deeds. If we really want to find out what we’re made of, all we have to do is resolve to be perfect. Chastened, it will take about a minute to revise our opinions of our goodness.
So now what? What do we do when positive resolutions aren’t enough? What do we do if we have slept enough, exercised, visited friends, have great health, had our coffee and are STILL in bad moods for no discernible reason?
And what do we do if we really have no control over circumstances? What if we’re in prison cells or hospital beds or we’ve lost all our friends because we’ve been absolutely awful to everyone we know? Or what if we suffer from chemical imbalances and doctors can’t get our medicinal cocktails right? What if we’ve gone to war, and our memories have been short-circuited? What if we’ve suffered other trauma, maybe even physical or verbal abuse, and we know someone hurt us yesterday, but we literally can’t remember what happened?
How are we supposed to be in a good mood then?
The Christian answer is that our bad moods stem from a deeper source than all of the above surface issues. It suggests we’ve lost our joy for other reasons than we are capable of realizing. It suggests we have spiritual problems, and that it takes spiritual eyes to see them. We know from the Bible that all of the above griefs are real. We know God grieves them, too. We’re not “wrong” to be sad when someone hurts us. Sin makes God weep, not just us. But what if there’s a depression underlying all of those hurts, and what if we could clear that depression up, and it somehow buoyed us up so much that we could feel joy even as we wept?
In other words, a spiritual component to our depression would be good news, because it would suggest that if we could somehow have our spiritual hurt healed, we would find a good mood that transcended our circumstances.
It would suggest Bilbo was right when he “used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary.” Tolkien’s journey analogy is a biblical one. Frodo continues to quote Bilbo:
“‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?'” THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Book One, Chapter 3.
Tolkien is suggesting that our lives occur on a deeper level than we realize. He is also suggesting what the Christian Louboutin stiletto display is really pointing at. We are all the same in a far deeper sense than we realize, and the thing we share in common goes way beyond skin.
For instance, Tim Keller points out in a recent Fourth of July sermon that we think we’ve lost our joy because of our circumstances, but maybe we’ve lost it because we’ve started living for ourselves. He says that if we elevate our selves, paradoxically, we diminish our selves. We were created for service, so if we’re feeling down, start asking how we can help others.
Great. Done. Agreed. Hurrah. No more selfishness. Now what? How do we do that? Sometimes, just telling ourselves to serve others can put us in a bad mood. It seems overwhelming. It is overwhelming. So the message starts there, but gets way better.
First of all, the more we walk inside the heart of the Christian message, the better our mood becomes. It’s not because we’re trying harder to, as even our secular songs order us – BE HAPPY!!! – but because the Giver of good moods walks right into our bad moods with us, and leads us our through a magical door our human eyes can’t see. God himself came down and lived on this earth and experienced every mood we have. Jesus wept. He suffered a grief that sounds like depression in the Garden of Gethsemene. He knows. He sees. He doesn’t judge us for our bad moods. He doesn’t want us to be surprised by them. So the first step is to notice and say to God – “hey, I am so down right now. Please show me why, and help me figure out what You want me to do about it.” Sometimes just the naming of it will help, the way it helps to talk to a close friend about our moods.
Second, the Bible claims that our bad moods stem at heart from a spiritual cause we all share. It says that being infinite beings in finite bodies makes us “depressed”. The passage for today claims that in our present bodies, we “sigh and groan inwardly.. we groan under the burden and sigh deeply… weighed down, depressed, oppressed.” 2 Cor. 5:2 and 4 (Amplified Bible). Paul says our depression stems from our desire to have heavenly bodies. He clarifies that we don’t want to put “off” our bodies, but that we want our mortal bodies to be “swallowed up by life after the resurrection.” 2 Cor. 5:4. We want them all sort of cleaned up.
Paul is pointing out a cause of depression we might have overlooked. Is it possible that our feeling of “oppression” – that heaviness of spirit that overtakes us all – is literally because we are mortal beings with immortal souls? Is it possible that our dirty dishes, our aches and pains and even our serious illnesses, moral outrage and unjust treatments are all symptoms of a bigger sickness?
“This sickness is not unto death,” Jesus once said.
Is our humanity the sickness Jesus was referring to? And if so, how can our humanity not be a sickness unto death?
In other words, how do we find the Christian “joy” the Bible claims we can have even in our mortal coils? Even as Christians, some days we may look really, really hard for joy, and find it elusive. Then we might remember that joy is a gift of the Spirit. Perhaps we remember to ask God for it. We might remember to apologize for whatever part of our bad mood is wrong. That’s a good step in the right direction.
But what else can we glean from this chapter that puts us on the right road, the road that leads to eternity, the kind of eternity the taste of which the Bible says God has placed in every human heart?
If the enemy of humans named Satan blinds the minds of non-believers, you can bet Satan does his unlevel best to obscure the eyes of believers, too. 2 Cor. 4. So maybe we can ignore depression. We can tell ourselves not to take ourselves so seriously. As this chapter says, we “live by believing and not by seeing.” 2 Cor. 5:7. The key is to look at our adverse circumstances and our adverse moods as reminders of the “spacious living conditions ahead.” (The Message). This sickness is not unto death.
The Christian message, as stated in full in the rest of this chapter is that the moment we believe in Jesus, we become a “new person.” 2 Cor. 5:17. We become a new person not because we are now doing “good,” or being hap-hap-happy all the time, but because our transformation is a “gift from God.” God can turn us into a new person because of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus “reconciled” humans to God, because God no longer “counts people’s sins against them.” 2 Cor. 5:19. God made Christ the “offering” or sacrifice for our sin, so we are “right with God through Christ.” 2 Cor. 5:21. Christ took the punishment we deserve for our sins, and if we accept that, God “sees” us as perfect.
We could never be right with God by trying harder to be good. That way is doomed. So what then, does this sentence mean here when it says we will be judged for what we “have done in this earthly body”? I’m not exactly sure, but I am sure of one thing. The emphasis must be on asking God to change our hearts, knowing that when He does so, our feet will follow.
And where will our new feet take us? They’ll take us out of our doors, onto the Road we all share. Sometimes it may feel like a road that leads to the Lonely Mountain. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is wearing Christian Louboutins except us. Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones who feel depressed. Sometimes it feels like we’re heading in the wrong direction, because we feel so oppressed. But those are just the things we see with our human eyes. If we ask God to open our eyes, we will see the truth.
We’ll see a celestial road glowing in front of us, wherever we are, right now, no matter how bad our moods. The road is shining. It’s leading straight to heaven. All we have to do is click our dusty bare feet together three times. And if we can’t even do that, if our feet are frozen by fear or literally paralyzed, or all we can see is the human thing we think we desperately HAVE to have to be happy – the relationship, the job, the success, the money – all we have to do is ask God to click our feet together for us. As Benjamin Scheuer sings so movingly in his autobiographical musical THE LION, what broke his heart was that when he was too sick from cancer to take care of himself, his mother and brother moved back to New York to look after him, even though he had barely spoken to them in years. He couldn’t do anything back for them, but they took care of him. Why? Because they loved him and because he was family. When the cancer was cured, he went away by himself to swim naked in the sea and sun, and now that he’s home, he is finding himself automatically trying harder to be a better son and brother. The good behavior followed the unconditional love.
Love comes first.
God longs to come and take care of us. He loves us. He’s family. We need to know that all of our own bad moods, all of the bad moods we give other people, all of our hurts and brokenness, our feelings of despair and oppression – all of it – are not unto death. There is life glowing ahead of us. It’s real life. In the light of the truth of God’s love, our every breath of despair is a cry of help to the One who hears. Our bad moods are reminders of the goodness to come. How can we know perfection unless imperfection grates against us? Why else would imperfection bother us unless we’re made for more than this?
The one who breaths new life into our broken and breaking bodies is the one who clothes us with His own holiness and perfection. He gives us supernatural joy as a gift of His love, a first fruit of all that is to come.
The cripple can’t run. That’s why God carries us into His arms, no matter how bad our moods, no matter how broken our shoes. He gives us the privilege of being His ambassadors. We get to call out to all the other depressed people – open your eyes! There’s free Louboutins available for all, no matter what.
posted by Caroline Coleman on July 10, 2014 in A Chapter a Day
p.s. Have a look at David Crowder’s song YOU’RE EVERYTHING:
Why do You shine so?
Can a blind man see?
Why do you call?
Why do You beckon me?
Can the deaf hear
The voice of love?
Would You have me come?
Can the cripple run?
Are You the one?
To raise me up from this grave
Touch my tongue and then I’ll sing
Heal my limbs then joyfully I’ll run to You