Lately I have found myself fairly unhappy. I could list many factors that have contributed to these feelings of unhappiness. In fact, I have written about some of them recently. That’s not my intent for this piece of writing, though. Instead, what I aim to put down in words is a realization that occurred to me late last night when sleep eluded me once again.
Like most young people, when I turned sixteen, I couldn’t wait to drive. The law in the state of my residence required me to be sixteen before I could get my learner’s permit. The process was easy, at least compared to what my kids had to do in the state we live in now. All I needed to do was go to the Department of Motor Vehicles, pick up a paper handbook, and study it. As soon as I (my parents) felt I was ready, I just needed to return to the DMV and take a written test. I could do that as soon as I turned sixteen. If I passed the test, I received a valid learner’s permit. I needed to have that permit for a minimum of six months. In that time I needed to practice driving with a licensed adult. Driver’s education was optional; if one sat through it, there was a discount available for insurance. I did not want to be bothered with it. It was almost a whole summer, and I really didn’t need the monetary savings since I worked full time at my dad’s business. Instead, I chose the other option–a boring three hour class held one evening that basically was a waste of time. Most of my practice driving was done with either my first boyfriend or my brother. I don’t remember exactly when I received my actual license, but I know I was so ready for the freedom having a license a car brought. Yes, I had a car. I had to buy it myself AND I had to have my own insurance policy that I had to pay for myself. My kids don’t know how lucky they were!
As I aged some, I was able to drive my parents’ car. The car I bought lasted about as long as one would expect a $500 car to last. I was dating my now husband then as well, so between him and my parents, I usually had access to a vehicle. If I needed to go somewhere, all I had to do was ask for the keys. Upon hearing that question, my dad would reach in his pocket and hand me his car keys. My mom would be saying words to me as I went out the door, usually words like,”Be careful!” or “Don’t go over the bridge tonight!” or “Make sure you are home before 10:00!” or “Don’t you go into any bars with her!” (Yes. I remember those exact words being said as I was leaving to pick up a friend who lived in a nearby city) The thing is, regardless of what my mom or my dad said to me as I was leaving the house with keys in hand, once I started the car and backed out of the driveway, they really had no control over what I did or didn’t do. They had handed over the keys to their car and the outcome of the outing was pretty much up to me. Years later, I was the parent handing over the car keys. I wonder if all the horrible images that went through my mind as my children backed out of the driveway also went through my mom’s mind years before?
How does my unhappiness have anything to do with a parent handing over the keys to a car?
Spending extended periods of time alone allows one a great deal of time to think. As I was ruminating on the almost constant presence of unhappiness in my spirit, I began to write down things that have a tendency to make me unhappy. In contrast, I also wrote down things that tend to bring happiness to my life. I think, and I could be wrong, that it’s fairly common for someone who struggles with depression to focus on the negative side of things rather than the positive. Hence, my list of what makes me unhappy contained more items than its opposite. Regardless, the lists proved to be eye opening.
The first thing that came to mind as I was writing my “unhappy” list was comparison. I actually returned to this again and again as I would start to write a word and realize that the word was truly another form of comparison. In this age of social media, where most people tend to put their best foot forward, and possibly even embellish it a little, the comparison game is an easy one to get sucked into. Next to my #1 source of unhappiness I jotted the following: Comparison is driving me insane and I keep giving it the keys. Yeah, I came up with that all by myself. Maybe I should have rephrased it to read, “Comparison is driving me to unhappiness and I am stupid enough to keep handing over the keys.” That definitely hits the notes of my feelings more accurately. Regardless, it is quite difficult, especially when already battling depression and loneliness, to fight against the happy Facebook posts that taunt me with the refrain of, “YOU will never accomplish that” or “YOU will never look like that” or “YOU will never conquer that”…the list could go on. Comparison wants the keys to my mind, and I willingly hand them over every time I sign on to Facebook. Comparison, along with lack of determination and fear of failure, top my list of things that contribute to my unhappiness.
Last night, as I sat in dark silence, I came to realize that, in some ways, I have control over some of the degree of my unhappiness. I can choose whether or not to give away the keys that drive my mind. I am not saying I can control all of it. While I believe with all my heart that God is able to do abundantly more than I ask, I am also painfully aware that sometimes when I ask, God says no. I don’t understand why. I probably won’t as long as I walk this earth, but my lack of understanding doesn’t change the fact that God does what He does for His own reasons and for my good. Depression is something I have battled for most of my life. Of course I have prayed that God would deliver me from it. I have begged for that very thing many times. But, God has said no. At least for now, healing doesn’t come. What does come is grace–grace to get through the days and nights that are excruciatingly dark. Last night, it was grace to see that there are some things I can do to relieve some of the oppressive unhappiness. The keys to my mind do not have to be given to Facebook or any other online experience that may allow unhappiness to come crash there. Unhappiness inevitably leads to a road where envy and jealousy and bitterness live. Once they all gather and gang up on me, I find it is so difficult to find the will to keep moving forward.
God is a God of good things. Envy, jealousy, bitterness, self hatred and the like are not things that God would bestow on me. Instead, He desires that I seek the things that He wants for me–joy, contentment, peace. These can only be found if I stop being indiscriminate about to whom I hand over the keys. My parents handed over their car keys only when they were confident that I was trustworthy. I need to be just as wise, if not wiser, about the keys to my mind. Only God can be completely trusted with them. Anyone or anything else has already proven unworthy.