Here is a really irritating idea propounded by I-don’t-know-who, about Christians: They smile all the time. I’ve heard it before. Why are you sad? Aren’t you supposed to be happy constantly?
Or, I knew you were a Christian because you’re always smiling. “Scripture makes it clear that it is not ‘un-Christian' to be sad or to mourn” (Jordan Sok).
In his article, “4 Reasons Christians Should Stop Smiling,” Sok describes how he pasted on a fraudulent smile during a time of great distress.
What he discovered while alone when he could “unpaste” that smile was that “it’s in those sobering, tear-filled moments that we turn our dependency away from ourselves and to our Savior.”
The Root of a Lie
Why do believers feel as though they are failing in some way if they aren’t always happy? And why do unbelievers expect Christians to constantly wear a goofy grin?
I suspect that, like all of the most insidious misreadings of the Bible, their view comes from Scripture taken out of context.
James 1:2 seems to suggest that we should always be happy. “Count it all joy [...] when you face trials of various kinds.” Joy. Happy. Smiling. Laughing. In Philippians 4, Paul echoes this sentiment. “Rejoice in the Lord always” (v.4). Be joyful in every circumstance, even the bad ones.
I’m not suggesting that we ignore James or Paul. But hear me when I say that God not only knows when you are sad but he, in no way, condones a cover-up. God’s people are sometimes sad or angry.
At times, this is the result of a distorted view of God. In the midst of struggle, a person feels sad because God appears to be ignoring their prayers.
God is good no matter what we are going through. And he answers prayers, just not always with a “yes.” The world is broken because of sin, so we experience injury, illness, death, financial strain, and oppression of various kinds.
We go through frustration and disappointment. Yet we are encouraged to believe that followers of Jesus are blessed.
The Real Blessings
In Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who are persecuted for his sake are “blessed.”
We are invited to be happy in spite of our circumstances because Jesus’ disciples will inherit the kingdom of heaven and will be comforted. Their reward will be great in heaven, and it’s great now too.
The Lord has already promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). This is the real blessing.
It’s not an easy thing to smile through trials, but judging by the Psalms, we know the Lord expects us to struggle with sadness, even despair. But he also intends to help us.
David asked God to “create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). God will help us to hope in him. He’s not condemning us for our sadness. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
Sadness Is Real
The Psalmist often cries out in pain. “My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Psalm 88:3). It sounds like the pain this man feels will kill him. There are times when anger and sadness are reasonable. Jesus was angry with the money lenders in the temple after all (Matthew 21:12).
And, after Jesus’ cousin John was beheaded, Jesus sought privacy for himself and the disciples. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:30). They all needed some time alone to heal, to process what they had seen, and to grieve.
Right now, even though he knows he will redeem our circumstances and make everything whole and right and beautiful for us in eternity, Jesus cries with us. There will be no more pain or sorrow in heaven, but our present experience is real.
Sadness Is Not Forever
That’s the promise for all believers. Sorrowful circumstances can go on for the rest of our earthly lives, but they will not last throughout eternity. Jesus has promised to wipe away every tear (Revelation 7:17).
But that will happen when we are ushered into the Kingdom of Heaven to be with our Lord and Savior forever. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that not all despair is sinful, and it can even strengthen our character, as Romans 5:3-4 assures us.
“There are great benefits to come out of these severe trials and depressions. [...] It appears necessary that, if a man is to become a great believer, he must be greatly tried” (Charles Spurgeon).
Spurgeon referenced several notable men of faith who, in their day, had suffered from deep depression. He was known to have suffered from this affliction himself, but also a giant of faith.
Some Points to Ponder
There is a misconception about Christians; that we’re not real. We’re too happy. It must be that God really blesses us a lot, so we have good reason to smile.
Or we’re happy because we believe it’s possible to pray hard enough and we’ll receive everything we desire (marriage, wealth, health, etc.).
Some people I’ve met say that Christians appear oblivious to suffering. How else could we be so happy?
We do a great disservice to other Christians and to non-believers when we’re fake about how we feel.
Here are four questions to consider when it comes to that smile you’re wearing (or not):
1. Is it real? Are you actually able to feel blessed by God in the midst of trials? If so, keep on smiling.
2. If you’re not smiling, how do you view God? Is it possible you’re feeling despair because of a misunderstanding about what God has said to you? That your faith rests in an unbiblical concept of blessing?
3. Are you feeling guilty because you can’t find joy at this time in your life? You truly love the Lord, try to keep his precepts, and repent of sin, but are worn down by ongoing tribulation. This is not sin; what you do about it might be sinful, but not necessarily.
Any sinful coping mechanisms should be addressed, but despair isn’t always a sign that you don’t have faith. Feeling guilty will only add to your oppression and confusion, and, well, despair.
4. Sometimes, you don’t want the world to know how you’re doing and why. That’s fine; be selective about who gets to see the real “you.” But don’t try to hide from the Lord — he always knows. Choose a few godly people to share in your suffering; people who won’t let you wallow in it.
If pain stays in your mind going around and around, it gains power and creates chaos. Expose dark thoughts to the light. That won’t necessarily solve the trouble but will weaken its hold on your mind.
For Everything There Is a Season
So, smile if you feel like it. Cry when you need to. Trusting in the Lord doesn’t mean you have to stop feeling what you feel. Live in it for a little while, just don’t stay there.
God is on the move; he leads us to the next day; the new mercy. We will find abundant joy if we follow, even if some days we simply have to trust that our healing is in perfect hands.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Ridofranz
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.