For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed
Thy name O Jesus, be forever blessed
Thou wast there rock, their fortress and their might
Thou Lord their Captain in the well-fought fight
Thou in the darkness drear their one true Light
I am not who I once was. The past five years have molded, scarred, stripped, and re-formed me. I hardly recognize my own soul. I can't figure out how I feel about that.
Although I have always struggled with some anxiety and worry, and with some negativity, I used to think of myself as quite happy nonetheless. I am pretty sure I would have defined myself, even, as a happy, confident person.
I don't really anymore. I don't think of myself as an unhappy person now, But the lightness and self-assuredness of my thinking and planning has faded away and I am much more serious in my heart than I used to be. I have thought of this change as a bad thing, something to be changed or remedied as soon as possible. If I'm not depressed (I'm comfortable saying that I'm not) then shouldn't I be able to return to this prior feeling of general happiness that used to characterize my life? Who am I if I have lost that identity of happy confidence that was once so significant to me?
Recently my friend was sharing how he heard a sermon once that said that even after birth we continue to live as if in the womb for a time. This made me think of the concept of the "fourth trimester," a common phrase in the birthing world used to remind parents how dependent their baby is going to be, I suppose. In the sermon the preacher suggested that some people continue in this "fourth trimester" for many many years and then are forced out of it for some reason or another. There was a specific event in my life about 4 years ago that ended my fourth trimester completely and suddenly, and I have had to face the horrors of the brokenness of the world as it touched very close to our family. It changed me on a fundamental level; it changed the way I look at the world and in the way I see other people, even those close to me.
Added to that is our move to the mission field nearly five years ago where we daily face significant needs in a sorrowing community, where I frequently spend time with children who suffer abuse and neglect at home from adults who themselves suffered abuse and neglect in their own childhoods. How does one cling to happiness in this life when surrounded by such suffering and brokenness?
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold
The golden evening brightens in the west
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blessed
I have had to change my definition of happiness. I still find some solace in temporal things - reading, knitting, raising my little ones, cooking, gardening. These are precious gifts that make me happy but not the same kind of buoyant happiness that characterized my youth. However, I am beginning to realize that there can be a deep solemnity in true happiness. By solemnity perhaps I mean "weight." Or "significance." Certainly the things that make me feel happiness have changed dramatically, but the feeling itself when I am happy is different too. It is a good feeling, one specifically focused on gratitude to God for that moment, fleeting as it may be, and one that clings to the promise that one day those moments won't be fleeting but will be everlasting. This part is but a winter breath, a vapor that fades away rapidly, but the coming happiness will be weighty and lovely and full and unending.
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day
The saints triumphant rise in bright array
The King of glory passes on His way
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
"For All the Saints"
one of my favorite hymns,
as recorded on the album Indelible Grace III
by Dan Haseltine