June 29, 2007

So, here’s a question. Can you be in the will of God, doing what you’re called to do, and be unhappy at the same time? I’m not talking about joy. Happiness and joy are two totally different things. I’m talking about being unhappy with life. And if you’re unhappy how do you fix it?

I was speaking with a colleague today and his opinion was that unhappiness was due to one of two things: either working outside your giftedness, or selfishness. In other words, if you have peace about where you are and what you’re doing, you know that you are in God’s will for your life, and you are unhappy it could be that the work you are doing doesn’t match up with what you’re gifted in. Or, you are unhappy because of selfishness, wanting things that you can’t have or don’t need. For example, when you move to a new culture you inevitably miss things from back home like certain aspects of the city you’re from, friends, familiarity of things, etc. If you begin to want those things in the new culture you find yourself in, knowing full well that you won’t get them, you can become unhappy with your current situation.

So how long should this unhappiness be allowed to last? And how do you take care of it?

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13 Responses to “Unhappy”

  1. Watchman said


    i’m a fan and regular reader of missions misunderstood and found your blog link on it. i’m often curious to see what others think.

    i have to say i’m not sure what you mean by saying that happiness and joy are two different things. i’ve been preached that all my life, but it has never made sense to me. Joy is somehow made to sound spiritual, while happiness is painted as shallow, worldly.

    Could you clarify your position on this post?

  2. shorty said

    Sure watchman. I think joy comes from an understanding of what our prize is. My prize is Christ. That gives me great joy. Regardless of circumstances that joy can’t be taken away, because I know that my prize can’t be taken away.

    Happiness is circumstantial. It’s based on the present, the now. I think the Apostle Paul had joy, but I think he would say there were times he wasn’t happy (shipwrecked, in prison, sick, etc.). Happiness will always ebb and flow, but joy is everlasting. The reason for the difference is the object. The object that provides joy is Christ. The object(s) that provide happiness are my daily circumstances.

    And I don’t know that that means that joy is spiritual, while happiness is shallow and worldly. I strive for happiness in life, but don’t always find it. But like Paul, I’m hoping to become content in all circumstances.

    And I’m a fan of missions misunderstood as well.


  3. Paul said

    I believe that you can be completely in the middle of God’s will and be sad all the time. I think you can be completely unselfish and be sad all the time. Jesus was called the man of sorrows. What does that mean if not unhappy? I see unrighteousness all around me. It makes me sad and angry and worse. I think that ‘happy-go-lucky’ Christianity is a fiction…or for those who hide from reality. Unhappiness is part of following Christ. Joy is too. It is actually unthinkable for me that your friend put unhappiness in the category of a ‘soft-sin’ (not working the way God gifted you and being selfish). I do, however, also think that those things can lead to unhappiness. Though that is clear it is not the only possibility. Comments like that of your friend show me that followers of Christ can be shallow… 😦

  4. Anonymous said

    I read your blog entry with interest. Now I have another problem to add to the mix. What if, for some reason, you’re in one culture trying to impact another and being forced to work outside your giftedness for a reason totally beyond your control? Then what? How long do you stick it out?

  5. shorty said

    Paul – I tend to agree.

    Anon – before I give an opinion as to how long you should “stick it out” I have a couple of questions. One, you stated that you were living in one culture tying to impact another “for some reason”. What’s the reason? And two, why are you being “forced” to work outside your giftedness? You say that the reason is totally outside your control, but I think some insight would have a bearing on my opinion as to how long you should stay.


  6. Anonymous said

    Sorry, change it to read: what if for some reason you are being forced to work outside your giftedness. And the reason is simple: girls aren’t allowed to play in some games. Then how long do you stick?

  7. Watchman said


    but couldnt we say that Christ and all that he is and brings is our circumstance? it seems i respond to him in the same way I do any kind of beauty. the heart overflows with the encounter. It is in this way that I see joy and happiness as no different.

    this idea is of interest to me because ive lived with too many categories like this one, where i am told to separate spiritual and physical realities. Christ can bring me joy, but my children can’t. Jesus fills me with joy, but the beauty of his creation can only make me happy. I’m not comfortable with this dichotomy any longer.

  8. Paul said

    Watchman, thanks. It is good to hear someone else who does not like that dichotomy. I do not believe that it is not a reality but something made up. I do not think that it occurs anywhere in the Scriptures.

  9. Anonymous said

    While the definitions of happiness and joy must be different – after all, the two words are spelled differently – humans only significantly feel one thing at a time. In the presence of unhappiness, this “joy” must be faith, because it cannot be a felt enjoyment of anything.

  10. shorty said

    Anon – I’m sure you’ve been asked these things before, but for the sake of our discussion I’ll ask anyway. Are you called to the work you’re doing and do you have peace about the work you’re doing? If so, then you stick it out until God releases you from the work and you no longer have His peace. At the same time, because of my questioning, and slightly rebellious nature, I would push for equality. I would push leadership as long as it falls within Biblical guidelines.

    If you’re not at peace because you’re working outside your giftedness then I say cut bait.

    Watchman, Paul – I have to respectfully disagree with you on this. I appreciate your comments, but I just don’t see joy and happiness as being one in the same, and interchangeable terms. Even a brief study of NT writers (Paul, Peter, James, Luke) would show that they are not the same. paul, you initially stated that you could be completely in the middle of God’s will yet be sad all the time. My question is, if happiness and joy are the same, and you’re sad, even though you’re in God’s will, does that mean you have no joy at all? I find that highly unlikely.

    Watchman, you stated that you respond to Him the same way you respond to any kind of beauty, that your heart overflows by the encounter. I guess I don’t experience things that way. I don’t respond to the beauty of my wife and the beauty of creation the same way that I respond to the beauty of God’s sacrifice through His son for my salvation. That is on a completely different level, and one of the many reasons I don’t find joy and happiness to be the same.

    Joy is more profound, harder to define (like faith), yet very real. When Paul says to “rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1), he is saying to have joy. Why…because as believers we are citizens of Heaven (3:20). I don’t think this is an issue of being a category to put things into and live by, but a truth found in scripture. And I don’t think this means that your children can’t bring you joy. One, I don’t know that you’re defining joy the way it’s found in the NT. Alternatively, if by joy in your children you actually mean that your are rejoicing in the Lord for Him giving them to you and for the blessing that they are in your life then I think that is the kind of biblical joy I’m talking about.

    Thanks for the dialog.


  11. Watchman said


    your position makes sense logically, but my problem with differentiating joy and happiness is experience.

    I was raised on the fact/faith/feeling train and lived for years with guilt that I was not as confident as all the big dog leaders who taught that illustration. they would go on and on about love and the joy of the Lord, how they are not feelings, and so here’s me wondering how I’m supposed to feel about God, life and such.

    So for years I cut myself off from my emotions, assuming they were bad and I should just live inside my mind.

    What I didn’t realize was that I was increasingly living in fear, becoming depressed, believing this was as good as it gets. But since I was in ministry, leaving seemed like a cop out. My conclusion was to gut it out.

    Unlike many, I can’t say for certain God told me to do any of this. Ironically, it took leaving the ministry to find my faith again, and to find what I call “joy.” I can’t tell if its joy or happiness, but bottom line is this: I am in a better place out of ministry than before while in it.

  12. shorty said

    watchman – sorry it’s taken a while to return your last comment.

    I think your last paragraph is the key. Spiritually you are in a better place. I think that’s the important thing to focus on. Maybe be shouldn’t get bogged down in what we call things. If God’s given you peace about where you’re at (out of the ministry) then who am I to tell you it’s not joy, but happiness, or vice versa.

    For me, I have to see the difference. I have to rest in knowing that my prize (Christ) isn’t tied to what I do. There are days that I’m not happy, but I still know that this is the place I’m supposed to be. On the days I’m unhappy about things I have to have faith in something bigger…joy in Christ. That seems to be the only thing that can get me through the bad days.

    Thanks again for the conversation.

  13. Watchman said


    thanks. thats probably the best “agree to disagree” statemtent I’ve read in a while. The fact that I am in a better place is probably what is meant by the tree being known by the fruit. we can’t always explain it, but can agree that it is bearing something good.

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