January 21, 2020
by Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA
I sometimes feel pretty low. I might be the only one…but I’m guessing not. Emotions are a part of what it is to be human, right? So, I imagine all of us feel down at one time or another. For me, the first couple of weeks after the holidays are always a down time. Something about coming off the merry-go-round of activity, fun, people, parties, food, drinks and general busyness, taking down the decorations and returning to real life. This year, those feelings were compounded by sending two kids back to college and then being in bed for a week with the flu (despite my flu shot!). What a return to reality.
When we feel down, sad or discouraged, regardless of the severity or cause, we typically think something is “wrong” and we need to fix it, to make it better. Interestingly, we seem to define the happy, unperturbed times of life as the normal and the down times as the deviation. In reality, about 50 percent of the emotions humans experience are negative or neutral. The down times are just as normal as the up times. In fact, without the downs, how would we experience the ups? We would have no comparison. We might, as a result, take the ups for granted. Or we might even get tired of the ups. Has that ever happened to you? When my oldest was a senior in high school, he was tired of all the celebrations by about mid-May. Every time he left to meet a friend for coffee or to attend a graduation party, he would tiredly say, “I’m making memories…Have to make memories…” A classic case of tiring of the ups.
But it’s human nature to forget these things the moment we begin to feel down. We frantically begin to search for something that might make us feel better. Some people find maladaptive things in their searches, like alcohol, overeating, affairs and the like. Others find seemingly innocent things in their searches, like ice cream, distracting novels, fine dining or fast cars. Still others find seemingly good things, like service projects, friends or church activities. The problem is not what we use to distract ourselves from the bad feelings, but the fact that we are distracting ourselves at all. I don’t think God created those difficult emotions as something from which to distract ourselves. And the distractions this world offers can never fill the void we feel. No, God created humans in His image, including those difficult emotions, because He created us to have relationship with Him. And, created for relationship with the Almighty God, we can never, ever be truly satisfied with less. We can distract ourselves for a while, but we cannot fill those deep voids with anything less than what they were given for—to point us to our Creator. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Though New Year’s resolutions can be trite, the new year is still a good time for reflection and resolve. As we enter the new year—and the new decade—the calendar offers an opportunity to ask ourselves where in our lives we are too easily pleased. Where are we going through motions and numbing ourselves to the difficulties of life? Where are we soothing those difficulties with “mud pies” rather than insisting that they point us to that “holiday at the sea” offered in a deeper relationship with God? Where are we squandering our suffering, rather than taking it deeply into ourselves and letting it do its profound work?
C.S. Lewis also said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” And Jesus Himself said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV). Of course, as Christ-followers, we will have abundant life eternally in heaven. But I don’t think Jesus meant for us to wait until then. I think this earthly life, with its trials and tribulations, its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, is the beginning of the abundant life in Christ. Our choice, then, is to allow ourselves to experience it rather than distracting ourselves from it.