Fearing Happiness

Have any of you ever heard of Cherophobia? It’s the literal fear of happiness. While it sounds crazy, an article in Psychology Today confirms this phobia is not only real, but far more prevalent than one might think (I know, there’s a phobia or disorder for everything these days, right?).

What made me want to write about this today is that not only do I identify with this particular disorder at least to some degree, but thinking about the way this disorder is often exhibited, I not only agree that a large number of people suffer from this to some extent, but that we are teaching our children to have the same fear – and that breaks my heart.

As you would probably expect, Cherophobia is not easy to truly diagnose. There are levels and degrees of this disorder, but at its root, people that suffer from this disorder avoid situations that would make them feel true joy or, if they attend such events, they appear standoffish or disconnected, never allowing themselves to fully participate and ‘run the risk’ of feeling the happiness they either believe others feel or that they think is unavailable to them or that they for some reason do not deserve.

Recently, there was a speaker I had the honor of hearing that addressed this phobia in such a unique way that it forced me to re-examine my own relationship with happiness.

The speaker posed a question which in and of itself was relatively innocuous – how often do you answer a question about the weather, your day, your weekend or your relationship with a qualifier such as it’s good now, but yesterday was awful or it’s pretty good but tomorrow is going to be awful?

I realize this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you look at it overall, it really does seem to be indicative of our overall outlook regarding life. As a society, we seem to think – and are teaching our children – that while something may be perfect now, just wait- it’ll turn to crap again just like we expect it to. Additionally, the prevalence of and media attention on crime, violence, and all things fear-based, happiness is all but obliterated from our emotional vocabulary. Accepting the joy or peace of a given moment is no longer the default, but something we have to consciously decide to do and more often than not, we make the choice to not embrace that emotion because we don’t want to experience the let down when the moment passes.

Now I get it. There is plenty of things in our world to be fearful of and this feeds into our innate need to identify risk and find a way to eliminate it. But the thing is that as our society has become more civilized and safe, the number of things that are truly a risk to the masses have become fewer and fewer but our fight or flight response has made our ability to identify a true risk unreliable and overly sensitive. Moreover, things our ability to tolerate risk or even inconvenience has become so narrow that our responses to things as common as traffic jams suddenly explode into something intolerable and dangerous. We have become perpetually on alert and have taught our children to fear all things different or challenging.

But the thing is by always being on alert for the smallest perceived risk removes the ability to actually embrace a given moment fully. It is literally impossible to fully enjoy the company of others at a party or enjoy the thrill of conquering a challenge if at least half of our mind is focused on the “what if’s” or “could be’s” and as a result, conditioned ourselves keep happiness at arms-length creating an overwhelming number of people to be isolated, depressed, disengaged, and suicidal.

This resonates so clearly within me that I wonder if those around me can hear the ringing. Keeping my distance from happiness was something learned at an early age and something I have mastered throughout my 50+ years. I cannot count the number of memories that I have that include something bad happening directly after I was truly happy creating in my mind a connection between the two. For example, I remember my 16th birthday. It was really the only birthday party I remember having or wanting and I was really excited about having friends come to celebrate with me. I almost never had friends to my house so this was a particularly significant event. But as often happens with alcoholic parents, what is supposed to be fun becomes complicated.

A fun shopping spree for party food and gifts ended in my having to crawl through the window to let everyone in because my mom had locked us all out. I was not only late to my own party, but my friends witnessed my embarrassment and my mothers’ not-so-pleasant response to my frustration. This was followed by the constant need to apologize to my friends for my mom’s erratic behavior as one minute she was laughing and trying to show us her dance moves and the next she was screaming and pulling me up the stairs by my hair the next moment because we had become too loud for her.

Events like this taught me not to hope; to not have positive expectations and more importantly, to not risk being happy because happiness almost always led to the worst punishments. As a result, I made myself “small”.  I found that by keeping myself quiet, keeping my expectations low, and not risking opening the door to something that might actually bring me joy, it was safer for me and those around me. I didn’t have to be reminded that I didn’t deserve the things that other people had in their lives. I was, as I often said, the stray dog begging for scraps under the table. Occasionally you get tossed a piece of filet mignon, sometimes you get kicked in the ribs and shooed away. Either way, you get what you deserve.

Having realized this is what I taught myself to believe, I am working hard to move past my fear of happiness and embrace life, living for the moments of joy rather than living to avoid them. While I can’t say I don’t still find myself back in the same traps, I have finally gotten to the place where I can truly believe that happiness in and of itself is a good thing and something to be sought after. I have to admit that I still have trouble pushing myself to enter into situations where I might be exuberant because I fear what will happen as a result, but I recognize that this is all a process and on the days that I allow myself to be happy, I have won.

I realize that maybe some of this is stuff you have heard from me before, but wanted to reiterate to all of you – and to myself – happiness is not to be feared. Happiness is not a punishment or danger. Happiness is a reflection of love – love expressed from one person to another, from a puppy to a child, from God to each and every one of us. Depriving ourselves of happiness keeps us from embracing the blessings God is giving to us and makes us begin questioning His very existence.

So here is my request for you all.

Beginning today – this week with Valentine’s Day on the horizon and we are bombarded by images of what happiness “should” be – try just once to see the beauty of the day and acknowledge it without qualifying it. Accept that carnation from the child in your life and enjoy the gift as the expression of love that it is instead of just one more thing that you have to throw away when your child isn’t looking. And finally, and most importantly, look up today and acknowledge the happiness that comes from just being able to open your eyes, breathe in and out, and take on a new day, whatever it holds. The more we can live in the small, happy moments, the more those moments will become the focus of our lives and we can all overcome our cherphobia.


Judgement Day. That day when the trumpets will resound, the earth will cease to exist the way we know it today, and the Lord will make His way to use on a chariot of white steeds. It’s a day that believers see to equally anticipate and dread and it seems as we get closer to Christmas, the return of Jesus our human mind turns to the concern about what will happen when this actually occurs.

Our church has discussed this topic a good deal during the Advent Season. It makes sense. Here we are a mere 10 days from the celebration of the birth of our Savior and it’s only logical that we talk about what happens next.  I must confess, however, that the more I listened to the messages about this fantastic event, the more I had to wonder if the idea of a judgement is truly a God-inspired thought or the result of the mindset of the Gospel readers.

During my time studying at various biblical and non-biblical schools throughout my life it has been made pretty clear that the disciples, even to the end, had a hard time reconciling the idea of a peaceful savior. They, like us, were looking for a military leader; a King to come and destroy their enemies and put them in a place where they felt honored and respected. They wanted to see those who had been oppressing and enslaving them crushed so they could smirk in cool satisfaction as their cries were finally heard and their prayers answered. Maybe they, again like us, were hoping to see the roles reversed so they could treat their oppressors as abusively as they felt they had been treated.

Of course this is understandable. Of course those who have been enslaved ache for redemption from the horrendous life they have lived but the dividing of good versus bad as described by John in Revelation feels, at least to me, more like a human desire than a Godly vision.

Let’s just take a moment to look at it.

If we as Christians have truly been saved from our sins; if all of our wrongs have been made right do to our faith in Christ; if our hearts have been changed and we, despite daily failures, are striving to serve the One we love and worship (some days more than others, of course), what then will we be judged for on Judgement Day?

Will God be holding court for all of us individually, as represented in the movie Defending Your Life?

If so, then God is just as hypocritical and passive aggressive as our worst enemies.

You may think I’m must being blasphemous, but I truly think the Bible supports me in this.

According to Psalm 103:12, the Lord promises to move our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West. He’s already forgiven us and forgotten the things we have done.

Well, actually, He knew we would do them before we did them, had already forgiven these actions by the time we asked for forgiveness, and has directed our paths from that point forward so we can be where He wants us to be now. Unlike our human mind, God is actually able to truly forget the evils we have done in the past and does not need to remind us of them. It’s not as if He’s going to show us all of our worst moments and say after each one of them “I forgave that one…and that one…and that one…” My God is not a god who thrives on humiliation nor does He want us to feel guilt for things that have been put in the past.

The God I believe in wants to rejoice with us for being with Him; for making the choices we made so we could learn the lessons we needed to learn. I have already been judged and forgiven. It’s done.

Okay, you say, so maybe He’s judging the non-believers or the murderers or the rapists. He’s judging those who do heinous, unforgiveable acts here on earth.

Well, in theory, I get that. But hasn’t He already done that?

Assuming that He needs to wait until the end times assumes that He lives in the same linear fashion that we do and therefore won’t know the condition of our hearts – our choice for or against faith – until the day we die or the day of His 2nd coming but to believe this flies in the face of who I believe my God to be.

My God already knows the condition of my heart and those around me.

Despite our humanity and all of our sinful actions (and mine have been far too many to count), He knows what we truly believe and what we don’t. He knows each and every choice we will ever make and He knows the end result of our lives. Only He knows what will happen to those who fail to acknowledge Him and I don’t believe that part of that plan is for us to be all standing in one room watching while perhaps those we loved while here on earth are sent away from us for eternity. That would only cause us pain and the Bible says that there is no pain in heaven. Isn’t that one of the things that defines heaven?

Here’s the bottom line…

…at least from my humble perspective.

God has created each of us with the ability to seek Him and become like Him. It is His greatest desire we will seek Him, fall in love with Him, and seek to serve Him in every way we can. Perhaps He gives us all the time we need in this life – and maybe even others (gasp!) – to find our way to the right place. Regardless, I believe that if indeed there is a final day, the Lord will come to us the same way He did before…and the way He told us He would come.

There will not be trumpets blaring or cymbals crashing. There will be no 7 horsemen or destruction of the evils of this world – at least, not by God.

We will not know the day or the moment. He will come as He told us He would throughout the New Testament….like a thief in the night. He will not come to shatter, crush or destroy but to heal, restore and bless.

And this, my friends, is the kind of second coming I can truly rejoice in.



Fly the W!


nbcchicago.com, GettyImages

I never thought I would be alive to say that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series! I mean, honestly. Who’da thunk that after 108 long, painful years, the lovable losers would end the “curse” and finally get it done! While there may be “no crying in baseball”, there were certainly tons of tears shed at the end of the series – myself being one of the tear shedders.


Perhaps one of my favorite memories of the hours of coverage that has been plastered on the internet over the past couple of days is the video of Bill Murray, a lifelong Cub fan, standing in the dugout and simply giggling with sheer joy over the success of this team that he has never stopped believing in. His effervescent laughter was – at least from my perspective – not just about his beloved team winning this coveted award, but the overwhelming sense of happiness and thanks that pours out of our hearts when something that we have been reaching for and believing in finally came to fruition.

Now I realize there are many people who don’t follow baseball and really couldn’t care less about the Cubs winning the series, but to me, the fact that they not only stunned the fans by making it to the series but were able to take it all the way to the W is such a testament to the resilience that each and every one of us has within us; to our human ability to keep our eye on the prize and not let the roar – or silence – of the crowd sway our determination. Unfortunately, it’s the tuning out of the crowd that often proves impossible.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine about the fact that after many months of searching for a new job, I was blessed to have 2 strong opportunities in front of me and the challenge to select the right job for me was proving to be difficult. As we talked, my friend made the statement that if she were in this situation, she would most likely made the “wrong” choice.

This statement honestly broke my heart. In one single sentence, she reflected the complete sense of failure she felt about herself and her life in general. In the shot 10 seconds it took for her to make this statement, she showed  me the toll that the silence of the crowd had made on her self-image. She was defeated by that perceived curse. While it took everything I had not to launch into some sort of cheer-leading speech for her, I knew nothing I could say or do was going to change her perception. I also knew that her sense of failure is something I have personally struggled with and have watched many around me struggle with as well.

The t9f444d6dc5d9c350c3dd452655474a4dhing is, there really are no “wrong” choices. Life isn’t a “one game opportunity”. It’s a series of successes and failures that build upon one another. There is no such thing as an overnight success or even an overnight failure. Each moment if our lives  builds on the others, our unique gifts and talents help us shape our understanding of these moments, and we create a life. To me, the difference in the life that appears to be successful and the life that doesn’t isn’t about the moments or the choices, but the way we choose to respond to those things.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I both know someone (or several someones) that seem to be always trying to move forward but life just beats them down. There just never seems to be a break for them. I get that. I used to be one of those people. It seemed that at every turn, whatever could go wrong did. Much as I prayed and begged, I just couldn’t catch the break I needed to get my head above water. There were health concerns, job losses, relationship issues, car troubles, and on and on. This struggle probably started when I was in grade school and continued until very recently.

I’m not saying that all of the struggles stopped; that my life suddenly became some magical wonderland. There wasn’t a sudden “viola” moment, no sudden lottery win that turned things around for me. Instead it was a slow shift in my mindset; a turning of the Titanic, so to speak.

I came to the realization that the things that ran through my mind on a regular basis about myself and the world around me had a significant impact on the things I positive or negative things that came to me. The more I focused on negativity, the more negative things came into my life. If I grumbled and complained about my job, my job became less and less satisfying. If I focused on the things I felt were ‘wrong’ in my life, I became a depressed, negative person whom nobody wanted to be around let alone someone who people flocked to help.  But if focused on remembering each day that I am blessed beyond measure; if I took the time each day to list just one or two things I was grateful for, my perception of my life in general would be more positive and more positive things would begin to happen. Bottom line, if I chose to be more like Bill Murray, my joy about my life in general could be more like his as well.

As I watched the joy and laughter on the faces of Cubs players and fans alike, I couldn’t help but think of how those rookie ball players felt the moment they were told they were going to play in Chicago. Maybe they were disappointed that their dream of playing for a winning major league team was never going to come to fruition; that all of the years of hard work and practice they put into this dream simply didn’t pan out and they were destined to be a part of a losing team. Each of them could also have decided that they, like the previous players, would be continually haunted by the “goat curse” that had plagued this team for over a century.

But they didn’t.

Each of these young men did something entirely different. They decided to take each moment for what it was – an opportunity to do whatever they could to achieve something great. They reveled in the joy of being able to play a game they loved and get paid to do it, and they put all they had into overcoming a century-old image. They enjoyed the journey, celebrating the wins and losses with not just the other players, but with those that supported them all along like Bill Murray and even me and my fellow Cubbie fans. And the fact of the matter is, each of us has the same opportunity each and every day. Sometimes we will fail, sometimes we will succeed, but if we can just pick ourselves up, learn from the errors and move forward, we will succeed more often than we fail and live a more joyful and blessing filled life through the journey.

The fact of the matter is this. Each of us has our own “curse” to overcomWorld Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Sevene. We have the voices in our heads and the memories of epic fails that come to mind every time we reach for something new or seemingly unattainable. Sometimes the road we have been on has been plagued with epic fails and we begin to feel as though we will be that faithful Cubs fan who waited their entire life but only felt disappointment. The challenge is to see beyond the painful moments and keep that light that is the success we are seeking glowing in our heart; to be the Bill Murray for our own lives and find the joy in every moment and be ready to overflow with happiness when the end we are seeking finally arrives.

As I sit here and think about the Cubs winning the Series, I cannot help but feel bolstered
in my own life. I have been the “cursed” one; the defeated one. I have been the one that everyone always bet against. If you are there now – if you are feeling beaten down like my friend, I pray that you will reach out. Let’s chat about how you’re feeling and hold one another up as we walk this road together. Together, we can be the team that persists and wins and all the scrapes and battles along the way will merely be fodder for stories for the generations; stepping-stones we took to get to the end.

Book by the Cover

cat-window-waitingI have a confession.

I am a bit of a voyeur.

Not in a creepy peeping in people’s windows with binoculars kind of way, but I have to admit that I often look in the windows of cars as I walk by just to see what’s there. I don’t do it for any malicious reasons. Sometimes I look just to see what the inside of that kind of car looks like, sometimes its because it just happens to be where my eye land when I turn around, and sometimes I’m just curious to see if the inside is in the same condition as the outside

I often wonder if as I glance into these car windows if the image there is an accurate representation of the owner and how well they are dealing with the life around them. Does the mom-mobile with the juice boxes, Goldfish crackers, homework  pages and car seats look like the car of an average busy but happy mom or have the juice boxes and such so overtaken the seats and floor that just by glancing, you can feel the sense of exhaustion and anxiety emanating through the windows like sweat from pores?

I certainly think this can be the case. As we individually become so overwhelmed with the pieces and parts of our lives we are no longer able to do even the smallest little things such as cleaning out that trash on the car floor. Soon we don’t even see it anymore. Piles begin to grow and soon the only space that is habitable is the driver’s seat and steering wheel.

I recently saw a car like this as I was walking into a Barnes and Noble store and I at once felt sadness and fear for this person. The exterior of the car was relatively tidy – not new by any means, but seemingly  well cared for, but the inside had become a giant mountain of paper, fast food containers and clothing. I wanted to find this person and see if there was some way I could help ease the burdens in their lives.dont-judge-me

Now I realize that I am doing exactly what I was always told not to do – judging the book by the cover – and I also realize that despite the 3 second glimpse I have of that person’s life via their car’s interior and exterior I am absolutely incapable of making a well-informed decision about that person and their life.

And yet, glancing inside this car just opened my eyes to how broken some people’s lives can be. Sure, the person could just be the Oscar Madison of Colorado, but they could also be doing their darndest to function on a daily basis but the only energy they have is to try to make the outside as attractive as possible so nobody will see the mess that resides inside.

Fortunately or unfortunately all of us are really like that car. We may work hard to keep the outside clean and well dressed, but the inside is an episode of Hoarders. Room by room, our heart and mind are filled with the clutter that is past disappointment and shame. And people of faith are no better than those who struggle to find God in their midst.

herschel-walker-athlete-quote-lets-not-push-it-under-the-rug-or-pushFor years, I swept the corners of each “room” of my heart and mind trying to make it all look like everything was where it was supposed to be and I was strong and healthy, but the reality was that all of that garbage I carried around with me had been swept under the rugs and shoved in the closets and under the beds. I thought that if it all looked right, then God would bless me more or I would receive the accolades other were getting.

But that’s not how life works.

The hard part is I and every one of us have to do the hard work. We have to deal with all of that garbage that has taken up residence in our soul and be willing to throw it out for good rather than run after the garbage truck as it gets carried away and bring it back like a treasured toy.

A funny thing happens when we are able to do this.

We begin to see ourselves and others with the loving and gracious eyes of God.

We stop focusing on the little things that aren’t quite right and grant ourselves mercy.

We treat the people around us with kindness and acceptance.

In other words, the moment we accept that the judgement and criticism we express toward others comes from the insecurities and brokenness within ourselves thrich heartat we are working so hard to keep from being exposed we are suddenly freed to just live and love and see the world the way God intends us to see it.

Now I’m not saying that by slaying the dragons of your past you will no longer have any troubles. While that would be lovely that is simply not life.

What I am saying is that once we clear out the clutter and start with a clean space it becomes so much easier to deal with the garbage that comes in. Life becomes less about living from crisis to crisis and more about just enjoying life whatever it may bring.

This isn’t an easy way of life. Being honest with ourselves is often significantly harder than being honest with others but the end result is worth every teardrop.

At least, that’s what I’ve found so far.

I have not perfected this process nor have I overcome every burden, but I’m working on it. I’m cleaning out the clutter and working to have an interior that more closely matches the exterior. That way, when people do judge my book by its cover, they will get a good representation of what actually lies in the pages beneath.