Suffering is unavoidable. It is part of our reality and experience. But even when being among other believers, I had experienced my sufferings being rejected or dismissed. Feeling their discomfort and fear toward me made it seem like I was in a cult rather than a church. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was suffering the cult of happiness.
I’ve been listening to TED Talks since I was in college. They were used as topic discussions in many of my cultural classes and I personally dove in more because I loved the human connection. But then there was one talk that struck a nerve within me. A lady, Keely Herron, discussed a cultural phenomenon she coins “the cult of happiness” and how it leaves many people like herself suffering in silence. I realized that this was happening to me and preventing me from moving forward in my walk with the Lord.
What the Cult of Happiness Looks Like
Keely Herron told a story better than what I can come up with to start this topic. The video link is in the last paragraph above, but to put it shortly, she talked about her and friend listening to a podcast. It was about a man who overcame his fear of swimming after being affecting for many years by a drowning incident he had as a result of bullying. After overcoming his fear of swimming, he was met with compassion and was considered an inspiration.
But when Herron was hearing the podcast, she responded with derision, mocking the man’s experience of bullying. Her friend then turned to her and told her that she was a horrible person, and when Herron reflected on the ordeal, she realized that her ridicule was a learned response from her own experience of trauma, namely familial suicide, and her own rape.
My sufferings were demonic attacks in my family and spiritual attacks in my mind. Then after so many years of living with these things not fully delivered, I started to have temptations in my flesh to commit gross sin. I could feel myself being pushed to kill myself.
I believe that in the church is the power and authority of God today, so when I felt that uncomfortable feeling people have with my intense experiences, a part of me shuts down. And when someone considers themselves to be a shepherded, acts on that discomfort, and spoke a lie to me in order to manipulate me, I felt a greater temptation to do the thing that I didn’t want to do. It was clear to me that I needed a way out.
Suffering is an unavoidable reality. Everyone suffers. Christians are called to fellowship into Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10). But even among believers, there are struggles we can talk about and ones we are socially taught to keep silent.
In the church, I always hear people talk about the struggles the Lord helps them with their marriage, finances, children, etc. All the relatable things. The norm. So when you struggle with something so uncommon and strange, you become even more estranged by your fellow believers that you are meant to have fellowship with. These unacceptable sufferings are what people cannot and do not want to relate to.
That uncomfortable feeling someone gets from hearing my affliction, Herron says, is a reaction to stigma. And this kind of rejection forced me to live with that shame on my own. It was like I was being told that to trust in the Lord was to suck it up and deal with it, and so I did.
The Cult of Happiness
Since as far back as I can remember, I felt that I had a strong emotional connection with the people I am with at the present moment. I could feel their emotions stronger than my own and cared about them more than my own. This led to the need to make everyone around me feel okay even though I was not. So I pretended that my life was perfect. I knew that people didn’t want to feel all the horrible things going on in my life.
To me, the uncomfortable feeling and cognitive dissonance they had was a show of their weakness. I needed to compensate it and seem perfect for people, to take that pain from them, and then to keep it in myself. I needed everyone to see the person I wanted them to see. The person who was perfect. Because the me who was underneath all the armor was someone I thought would be hateful and offensive. But while started to impersonate, the real me would become overshadowed in darkness and my problems would become worst than what it first was.
This can be us. We are striving to look perfect to everyone. To only show the positive side of ourselves and deny or hide any of our deep struggles. That all of our problems are only talked about in past testimonies when we overcame so that we can be an inspiration.
Silence and Shame
So then, what is the underlying cause of our striving for perfection? What does it mean to react to stigma? Stigma means a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. In this case, we are looking at its association with people. To dig further, I looked into the word disgrace — the loss of reputation or respect as a result of a dishonorable action. Then, dishonorable — the negation/opposition of high respect or great esteem.
That’s where I saw it; our striving for perfection. So it appears that our unacceptable struggles and traumas are in opposition to high respect or great esteem. This then brings about the loss of our reputation and respect from people and are marked out. We work so much for perfection, the image of it, that we need to alienate anyone else that threatens our projection of it.
Our desperation to strive for perfection this can be seen from Genesis 3:1–7. When the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, he said that eating the fruit will make her like God, knowing good and evil. What this did was that it presented another way. When we want to be like God in His goodness, it’s not good enough to be sinless. We need to reach for the highest level of respect that we can and hold the greatest esteem.
What makes this so dangerous and inhibiting in our walk with the Lord is that we base our experiences on a lie given to us by the father of lies. Our aim to now to display our joy and blessings. We exhibit ourselves instead of exhibiting Christ. Then in the church, we deceive others and punish those who begin to expose our deception. But we focus our lives to only be on the positive side, then we would be an impostor just like Satan (2 Corinthians 11:14–15; Colossians 2:8). We would be false.
I heard a message once about this particular struggle in us that we have to deal with. That video has been since deleted and I can’t even find who it was who said it, but it convicted me so much at the time that I wrote it down.
Does Satan not masquerade as an angel of light? He does. So then, one of the habits of Satan is to appear like he is clean. One of the habits of Satan is to appear that he has no fault. One of the habits of Satan is to appear like the savior. And he also presents to you a different way. Now he has zero power. He is finished. He is cast out, done for.
But the very person that we have tried to mimic and act like is Lucifer himself. He is the one walking around acting like he is clean; somehow he is worthy of all good things, and he is not. That is not who you are. Do not hide those things. You address them and you take them directly to the throne. Do not walk like Satan. Do not masquerade like a saint when you are not.
Leaving the Cult of Happiness
We can try to get rid of the darkness, but we have to understand that we can’t. I mean, isn’t this understanding suppose to be the story of our salvation? How do we still think that we can escape suffering by striving for perfection? The truth is that we can’t do anything without Christ because He did all the work for us. What is warring inside of us is our need to do the work and our faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:28, 4:5; Ephesians 2:8–9). Works versus faith. This is what we really need to see.
The story of our salvation, then, is that we have come to the end of ourselves and our striving to earn God’s favor by doing good and look to a source outside of ourselves for salvation — Christ (Matthew 11:28). This is what needs to be our daily experience and encouragement to one another. This is our testimony: we live by faith.
It is when we look away from Jesus that we as believers are overcome by our struggles. We have to look at Jesus completely and absolutely (Hebrews 12:2; 1 John 5:4).
So then, leaving the cult of happiness is as simple as giving up on our own abilities and works for ridding our stronghold and living a great life and looking at the Lord, relying on Him to heal us and raise us up with Him (Colossians 2:12).
Walking in the Light
The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all his innermost parts.
The truth that we know is that our deepest part is where the Lord can shine. This deep part is our spirit that is now indwelt by the Lord’s Spirit at our salvation (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ezekiel 36:27). It is there where we enter into the presence of the Lord and experience the darkness being scattered by the light (John 1:5; Isaiah 42:16; Psalm 68:1). Then, we can continue to walk in His light (John 8:12).
That whole time I thought I was running from the Lord and being rejected by everyone around me, He was really just leading me back to Himself. And that’s just how it goes. When we’ve reached our lowest point from the Lord, there’s nothing left to do but repent.
So, suffering. The only answer I know is the cross — the place where God and man meet.
When Jesus was a man on earth, He emptied himself, took a form of a slave, and humbled Himself in the obedience of His death on the cross (Philippians 2:5–11). It was for this reason that God exalted Him and that we confess that He is Lord. And it is also out of Christ’s death that we were made alive together with Him (Colossians 2:13–15). On the cross, God took away all our sin and shame. He took off all the rulers and authorities that hinder and hurt us.
All suffering and pain ends here. So now the Lord can work in us.
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
How is it that we overcome? I believe that we are meant to listen to each other’s testimonies, no matter where they are, otherwise, we would only be useless to each other. We need to be authentic and real, sometimes even raw. To know what the Lord is doing in our lives. This is all for God’s kingdom. How is it that we know that the Lord Jesus defeated Satan and all his authorities in the air? One reason I know is that because of the work of the cross and by the life of the Spirit, the temptation to sin, to hurt and even kill myself had suddenly stopped. All because of a word from the Lord.
But if I’m in shame and remain silent to other believers, then no one would know that there was a time when every day I was alive was the work of the Lord. They wouldn’t see how God is building His kingdom (Luke 17:20–12; Matthew 4:23, 7:24, 16:18, 24:14; Hebrews 12:28) We have to know our God and His kingdom by listening to each other (Daniel 11:32). That is why Satan strives so hard to keep us isolated and silent.
We are All Broken
We all may be broken. Our brokenness may vary by how much and where we are hurt, but the Lord has given us a gift in these matters. He gave us His own Spirit and He gives this without measure (John 14:15–18, 25–27; 1 Corinthians 12:1–11; John 3:34). This is all we need. The truth, the cross, the Spirit, the church. These all have to be our daily experience, and this defeats Satan. The truth is that we still need each other. Even after all I’ve been through, I still believe in the church that God is building. And we can all be a part of that building.
Originally published at wheniawake.com on March 18, 2019.