A strange title, isn't it? I have been thinking about some unhappy situations while reading Necessary Endings, an excellent book by Dr. Henry Cloud, and the title above popped into my mind. I think it was the name of something I read back when I was a boy. It's a strange title. How can something be pleasant and miserable at the same time? Seems impossible. But it isn't. Consider:
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt miserable? Of course. Everyone has. But did you know not all misery is created equal? Some misery is temporary and moves us toward a goal. That's good. But other misery goes nowhere. It just sits there letting us hurt. Sometimes in this misery, we get into this kind of swamp where we only hurt, and worse, we don't do anything about it. We sit there, suffering, and becoming convinced there's nothing we can do about it. We learn to be helpless.
So we're miserable and we do nothing about it, and so it must be a fine place we're in, or we wouldn't just stay there, right? Oh, we might make some noise at first, and spin our wheels a little, but before long our minds adjust to the pain, and miserable becomes our new normal. A fine and pleasant misery. Except we need to remember one important thing: We think there's nothing we can do to help ourselves, because we're innocent victims, right? But we "choose," it's not imposed on us, and it's just not true that there's nothing we can do. If we are victims, we are so by our own choice.
Did you ever hear the principle that whatever we choose as the focus of a situation or relationship will come to dominate? If we have a relationship that is 95% wonderful and 5% problematic, we're actually pretty well off by most standards. But if we focus on the 5%, it will gradually expand in influence until it becomes the dominant factor in the relationship. It will change the entire balance.
The same is true in most of life: If everything's going great except for some small corner, and we begin to focus on that corner, it will grow and come to dominate all the otherwise good things in our life.
So here's the question: Where is our focus? Is it on the many things we cannot control? Or is it on the things, even if few, that we can control?
If we choose - that word again - to focus on what we cannot control, we set ourselves up for discouragement and disappointment, and ultimately, a life of passive despair. We come to see the pain as normal, and we begin to see ourselves as helpless victims. And we are on a short, fast road to a very unhappy life.
But I am a Christian, writing to Christians, so it's appropriate to ask what the Bible says about these things.
Paul had this to say in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."
As we choose to "dwell on these things," we cannot long remain in a pit of discouragement. And as we focus on the presence of God with us, the limits on our power are irrelevant.
Moses asked God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?"
Notice now God's response: He doesn't really explain or address Moses' question: "Who am I?"
Read on, to God's reply: "Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain" (Exodus 3:11-12).
Notice that God's response to Moses' doubt about his own competence was simply to say, "I will be with you." Simple. God's presence changes everything.
So when we get into that fine and pleasant misery, the swamp of despair, we should not buy the lie that there's nothing we can do. For us to live as a normal state in that place is not God's intent for us. And there certainly are things in our control, and we need to both focus and act on those things.
We can pray. We can draw close to the One who loves us and never leaves us. We can change thought patterns. We can begin to believe God, rather than the liar who tells us what a loser we are.
We can do a lot. And God honors that and fills the need where we can do isn't enough.