18 Inches: Myths About Gladness

This is the final installment of our 8-part blog series, “18 Inches: Myths that Disconnect the Head From the Heart.” Our goal is to identify some of the lies we’ve been taught about our emotions and counter it with the truth. Click here to view the rest of the series.

Myth #26: A hardened, apathetic heart leads to authentic joy.

We often celebrate people who get through tough times with a smile on their face. We think there’s something admirable about people who are able to “power through” regardless of the situation. In our effort to emulate this quality, we harden our hearts and allow apathy to settle in.

But the truth is, apathy is a counterfeit expression of gladness. Become hardened, living in apathy, and numbing ourselves to pain can never, in fact, lead to true joy. In one of her most famous Ted Talks, Brenè Brown shares research that shows, “You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those [emotions we don’t want], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”

Authentic gladness is born out of brokenness and pain – brokenness of self-sufficiency, self-protection, and self-will, and the pain of waiting and not having desires realized.  

God set us apart to honor Him and love Him and know Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He created us for wholehearted living and intimate relationships with one another. Chip Dodd writes, “Gladness is only for the courageous because it requires emotional and spiritual pain in the midst of living lives as we were made to live them – fully in relationship.”

Myth #27: The pursuit of Happiness (control) leads to authentic joy.

Where apathy tries to get away from our hearts by being hardened, the pursuit of happiness is an attempt to control our environment. Too many of us have bought into the American dream, chasing happiness as if it was life’s ultimate achievement. But happiness, as the word originally implied, is based on happenstance. It’s based on our environment. In order to achieve happiness, we try to control our environment so we can feel happy. We don’t want to do the work in our hearts, so we do the work in our surroundings.

But the truth is, the pursuit of happiness is a counterfeit expression of gladness. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has written eternity in every man’s heart. Every human being has a God-sized void that no man, no woman, no thing can fulfill. It’s a place reserved for God alone. Throughout Scripture, God encourages and challenges His people to be content. In 1 Corinthians 7:17 Paul writes, “Let each one live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches.”

This truth really struck me. Paul says, “This is what I said to all the churches because the bottom line is that this comes up constantly. People are discontent with where they are. People are trying to control their environment.” The heart of the issue is not people wanting a new job or a new house. The heart of the issue is that people are trying to find joy, peace, identity, and security in their circumstances. Paul is reminding them that true gladness and joy are found in God, not in external circumstances.

Myth #28: Arousal and stimulation make me glad.

Each counterfeit joy reveals a lack of trust in God. We don’t trust Him to give us a life of abundant joy, so we turn to the counterfeit. We don’t trust God to meet our needs and desires, so we seek out arousal and stimulation as attempts to provide what we lack. But stimulation is not the same thing as gratification. You can be stimulated without engaging your heart. True gratification only comes when you’re willing to be fully present with your whole heart, when you’re willing to feel the sadness that comes with gladness.

Think about it. Whatever joys, celebrations, or accomplishments we have, they all have sadness with them. Whether it’s finishing a project or winning a championship, as soon as you cross your proverbial finish line, you realize a chapter just ended. You look back over all you did to reach your goal and you celebrate the victory even as you mourn what it cost. Then you begin to wonder, “What’s next?” Every joy has sadness because it has an ending. A celebration can’t last forever.

The problem is, if you can’t handle the ending, you’ll end up constantly seeking stimulation. You’ll keep vegging out. But even that series on Netflix is going to end at some point, right? Your masterbation is going to end at some point. Your one night stand is going to come to an end. At some point, you will reach the bottom of your tub of ice cream. And when you do, you are left to face your heart again. Because the truth is, arousal and stimulation are counterfeit expressions of gladness. They will not lead you to the real thing.

Myth #29: Amusement (avoidance) leads to authentic joy.

Amusement is a counterfeit joy we use to avoid our hearts. We overuse amusement because we desperately want to get away from the painful feelings of our hearts. But don’t be fooled. When it comes to emotions, there is no such place as “away.” You’re not getting away from yourself. All you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable moment when you will have to face your heart because the truth is, amusement is only a counterfeit expression of gladness.

True gladness is, “The gift we get when we are adept at the other seven feelings.” When we are honest with our hearts, we get to experience God more fully. We experience His Spirit more fully. We experience His Word more completely. David, one of the most wholehearted men in all of the Bible writes, “You reveal your path of life to me. In your presence is abundant joy.”  

But if we’re honest, we often feel like we’re missing abundant joy. We do all the “Christian things” and still end up feeling apathetic and disconnected. If the gift of gladness is joy with sadness, how do we get it?

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Joy is a fruit that comes from abiding in the Father. So as we’ve been talking about emotions, we’re not saying give yourself over to the emotions. We’re saying give Your emotions to God and surrender to Him.

The disciplines of the flesh are not the same as the fruits of the Spirit. I can’t discipline myself into joy. I can’t grit my teeth and say “I’m going to be joyful” and then experience joy. Striving won’t get me there, either. The fruits of the Spirit are produced by the Spirit. Joy comes from Him. Our responsibility is to surrender and to abide. If you continue to try to control your environment, your activities, and the people around you, you’ll end up with the counterfeits. But if you live a life of surrendering to God, you’ll receive not only joy, but the greatest gift the emotions have to offer – deeper intimacy with God, Himself.

Dhati Lewis is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia and the Executive Director of Community Restoration with the North American Mission Board. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.
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