Grumble Hallelujah

Surprisingly, God welcomed my resigned, crabby, sigh-filled, grumbly praises.
Grumble Hallelujah

Confession: If you'd have told me a few years back, as I lay on the kitchen floor, a sobbing, weepy mess, that I'd be peddling advice on how to love the life you're living, I'd have laughed in your face. Or, to be more honest, I'd have thrown a shoe at it. Which is what I nearly did to my husband, Rafi, when he stumbled upon me (quite literally) on the floor that day. Instead, when Rafi knelt down and asked, "Caryn, what's wrong?" I hissed back, "I hate my life."

As soon as those words swung back around to my own ears, I realized I didn't quite mean them; however, they were the best I could come up with to describe the way I felt after three years of financial devastation and family stress; three years of disappointment, hurt, loss, anger, and confusion; and three years of feeling altogether forgotten by God. Nothing in my life was as it was supposed to be—and I hated that.

But here's the thing: while I wouldn't have believed you right then, if you'd have told me that just a few moments after my sort of dark midafternoon-of-the-soul experience I'd have something to say about loving life, I'd have paid attention. Because that's about the time God started working on me, touching my heart, opening my eyes, and convicting me of things that frankly I was in no mood to be convicted of.

Just when I wanted to settle into comfy self-pity and well-worn martyrdom, God started bringing things to mind: songs I loved, verses I underlined and could recite (well, paraphrase might be the better word), words I had scribbled in journals as an angst-filled teenager. All things that pointed back to what my attitude needed to be in those moments. In the midst of chaos and frustration. In the throes of hurt and loss. In that wilderness that my life had become. In that place where God had always been—even if it wasn't where I'd asked God to put me or ever imagined I'd be. I had to start saying "Hallelujah Anyhow," as that old song goes.

Over the days, weeks, and months that followed, I discovered that God welcomed my resigned, crabby, sigh-filled, grumbly hallelujahs. So I needed to learn to mumble it, grumble it, hiss it, or smirk it and learn to love the life God had for me even as my parents' marriage crumbled; even as my childhood home was sold and relics from my childhood—wanted only by me—piled up on shelves in my garage; even as my husband's business disintegrated; even as our financial situation devastated us; even as our medical bills piled up; even as relationships soured; even as depression shook its ugly gray cloak over my house; shoot, even as my beloved dog died. Even as I felt so alone. Even as there wasn't much to love about life, that's when and where I was to start loving it. And rejoicing in it. Ugh.

I just needed to know what loving my life really meant.

It took awhile, but somewhere along the way I realized my former idea of loving life was all wrong. I had imagined it as some sort of puppy love. When things were going so well, when life was paying me all sorts of lovely attention, I'd sigh, sit with my head in my hands, and bat my eyes at life. Oh, how I loved it! Until it let me down. Then I fell out of love. In a hurry. My love was quite conditional.

Turns out, I had the wrong kind of love happening. The sort of love we need to feel for our lives runs deeper than mushy love letters. The love we should feel toward our lives is the same unconditional, "no matter what" love we feel toward our spouses, our kids, our siblings, our friends, our parents, and our pets.

It sounds crazy—until we realize that this love is the same because it's the love born out of gratitude that allows us to cherish and to value, to recognize worth. Just as I love my kids because they are like no one else and because God gave them to me, I need to love my life because no one else gets to live it and because God created it—ordained it!—just for me.

But for a long time, I had a lot of junk piled up (not only in my garage!) that kept me from loving this life. Which brought me here—to the writing. To figure this out.

So, if you're like me, if you've felt the loss of a life you loved or the life that was supposed to be or if you've had your own dark midafternoon of the soul and would like to know how to love your life, I hope you'll walk with me a bit. I want you to know a few things:

1. I'm not sitting here writing this from a place of "everything's great now!" I won't tell you just to think positively and smile more (though that can't hurt) and everything will work out well. Honestly, circumstances haven't really changed since my dark midafternoon of the soul—in many ways, they're actually worse. My parents didn't reconcile. Depression still lurks. Relationships suffer. Debt deepens. And, yes, that dog's still dead. So essentially, I'm still working with a lot of the same junk that got me there on the floor. I want you to know this because I know how annoying it is for someone whose life is suddenly perfect—all situations rectified—to talk about how to love life and be shouting hallelujah all the livelong day. That's not me. But a few other important things have changed: my perspective; my understanding of God; my experience of his faithfulness; and my idea of what loving life looks like, what it means. And that's huge.

2. I'm no Pollyanna. I don't wake up with a song in my heart or one coming from the little baby bluebirds chirping outside my window. In sharp contrast to a friend of mine who once told me the first thing in her head every morning when she woke up is, I love being a mom. I have a great life! the first thing in my head every morning is, Morning already? You've got to be kidding! or its cousin, Can't these kids sleep?! And I don't believe in Pollyanna-ish advice—or that happiness, per se, is our end goal. I agree with Charles Schultz (the Peanuts creator): "Happiness is a warm puppy" (emphasis mine). This means it's wonderful when it's there, and it's to be cherished for sure, but happiness is fleeting. It snuggles up for a while, but inevitably that happy puppy jumps right off your lap. It might even nip at you and dribble some pee on its way down. This may sound harsh, but I don't believe in happiness as an end goal because I'm not sure that it's God's end goal for us. I rarely see God working things out simply so we can be happy. I think he wants us to be holy, as I'm sure you've heard before. So sure, moments of sheer happiness exist—hence the warm-puppy thing—but life isn't always rosy (even though he lived a perfect life, Jesus didn't strike me as a particularly chipper guy, to be honest). And I've learned that I don't really want it to be. God's got some good stuff for us in the not-so-rosy times too. The thing is: loving anything—a life included—is hard work. It takes perseverance and discipline—some honest looks and hard choices now and again.

3. This one's a biggie. If your "hate my life" moment has come because you're trapped in a life of addiction or debilitating depression (or other mental illness) or abuse or some sort of danger, or if you hate your life so much that you have considered ending it, you need to hold off on this particular journey for a bit. We'll still be here, waiting for you, but you need a specific path, one that offers help I cannot. Please make a phone call or shoot an e-mail to a professional who can help you. Then come back and we'll press on together. And just where are we pressing on to?

The first stop is oh, so cheery. Grieve a bit for the life we imagined—or once had. I think it's okay to admit where we are isn't exactly what we had in mind. And I think God can handle that. Then work on wringing out the other toxins that keep us too choked and tangled to love life—all that junk we hold on to that gets in the way of us loving our lives and keeps us from living as God intended us to—and finally work on soaking in all the good stuff.

All of this is intended to help us love the lives God's given us and keep our hallelujahs going—no matter how they come out. Sound good? All right. Let's go. Let's grumble.

This article was excerpted from Grumble Hallelujah by Caryn Rivadeneira (Tyndale, 2011). Used with permission.

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