3 World-Changing Habits of Happiness
- Lisa Harper Author
- 2017 2 Jun
World-Changing Habits of Happiness
One of my favorite healing stories in the Gospels occurs when Jesus encounters a woman who’s been hemorrhaging for twelve years (Mark 5:21-34). Mark explains that she’s lost both her health and her wealth:
In the crowd was a woman who had been sick for twelve years with a hemorrhage. She had suffered much from many doctors through the years and had become poor from paying them, and was no better but, in fact, was worse. (vv. 25-26 tlb)
Theologians concur that because of the nature of her illness and Old Testament ceremonial law, she also lost the joy of close human interaction. Miraculously, the blood flow stopped and her body was instantaneously healed when she reached out and touched the tassels on the edge of our Redeemer’s robe:
For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his clothing, I will be healed.” And sure enough, as soon as she had touched him, the bleeding stopped and she knew she was well! (vv. 28-29 tlb)
Her interaction with the Great Physician could’ve/should’ve ended right there because she’d gotten what she came for: physical healing. Plus, Jesus was en route to Jairus’s house, a leader in the community, to attend to his dying daughter (vv. 22-24). But instead, Jesus stops in the middle of a seemingly more important mission just to listen to her:
The woman, knowing that she was healed, came and fell at Jesus’ feet. Shaking with fear, she told him the whole truth. (v. 33 ncv, emphasis mine)
I believe Jesus stopped because, despite her medical cure, He knew her heart still needed care after twelve long years of suffering. So the Lamb of Judah paused for a moment to lean in and listen to one lonely woman’s entire story.
Really listening—leaning in and giving our full attention to what someone else is communicating or attempting to communicate—is one of humanity’s most powerful expressions of compassion. Unfortunately, in our digitized, hyperstimulated, selfie and social-media obsessed culture, being actively present while someone else tells their true, unfiltered story seems to be going the way of the Dodo bird. I’m sure, like me, you’ve found yourself awkwardly trailing off and not finishing a complete thought because the person in front of you stopped paying attention as soon as their phone started vibrating. Leisurely, device- less conversation between two people seems to becoming passé.
One of the happiest and healthiest listening experiences I’ve had recently happened after being invited by Jessie, the leader of an Alcoholics Anonymous group, to sit in on several of her meetings because of my mentoring relationship with a few women in the program. After calling the meeting to order and asking us to bow our heads for her beautifully articulated invocation, Jessie bellowed, “Okay, now y’all need to put those phones away because y’all NEED TO HEAR what your sistah’s be saying or ain’t none a y’all gonna be healed! And y’all bess not interrupt each ah-tha ee-tha or I’m gone bust y’all upside yo fat heads!”
My part of the deal in being allowed to attend Jessie’s AA gatherings was that I wouldn’t disclose anything shared during the meeting or speak during the meeting since I wasn’t a recovering alcoholic. However, she didn’t tell me I couldn’t get tickled, for which I was very grateful, because I burst out laughing over her listening parameters! And I wholeheartedly endorse them, too. Honestly, I think the whole world would benefit if we’d all practice putting down our phones and not interrupting whoever’s speaking . . . unless they’re a windbag like me and you’re about to miss an appointment or something.
Look People in the Eyes
You’ve probably heard the familiar adage: “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but did you know it’s true? Research shows we can actually read someone else’s emotions by gazing into their eyes.7
In The Happiness Track, Dr. Seppälä explains how empathy research data has been gleaned by asking participants to look at photographs only revealing someone’s eyes and describe the subject’s emotion. And participants were able to accurately describe the emotion portrayed based on the angle of their eyebrows and the creases on the side of their eyes.8
One of the habits I’ve been teaching Missy from day one is to look people in the eyes when they talk to her or she’s talking to them. When my little girl is being praised, taught, nurtured, or reprimanded by an adult relative, caregiver, or authority figure, I’m teaching her that making eye contact is a sign of respect and relationship. When she’s engaging with her friends, I’m teaching her that making eye contact is a sign of respect and relationship. And when she doesn’t know—or isn’t particularly fond of—the adult or child she’s interacting with, I’m teaching her to make eye contact anyway. When she asked me a few weeks ago why she had to make eye contact and be “is-is-spectful” with a certain ornery boy in her Sunday school class, I told her that just like every- body else he is an image-bearer of God and therefore worthy of respect, whether he’d smeared the glitter-glue stick on her picture of Moses or not!
Eye contact is a big deal in our family because I believe it’s difficult to have a deep connection with someone else without it. You can have a superficial conversation or endure a lecture or make a monologue without eye contact, but it’s hard to have a genuine, heart-to-heart connection that matters. And as image- bearers of a perfectly relational God, we’re all wired for this type of connection.
Several months ago, as I was nearing the end of a very long book-signing line at the end of a very long conference, I noticed a young woman who’d been waiting to speak with me. After thirty-plus years of teaching ministry, I’m still hugely honored and slightly discombobulated that anybody besides my mom or a bill collector would actually wait in line to talk to me or ask me to sign something. But on this particular day, I was just flat worn-out. I’d taught four sessions in a row, had been wearing “two-hour-heels” for about ten hours, and my compression undergarments were kind of cutting off my circulation, so all I really wanted to do was hobble back to the hotel, change into pajamas, and channel surf. But I could tell she’d been crying, so when she approached me, I looked her in the eyes and asked gently, “Honey, would you like to tell me what happened that broke your heart?” And that’s when her walls came tumbling down.
It took her well over an hour to describe the torment she’d suffered from early childhood through high school. The abandonment by her father—incarcerated before she was born. The physical abuse by her mother—addicted to crack cocaine and men who cracked ribs with their fists. The sexual molestation by multiple men, closely related to her. The bullying by kids—classmates who mocked her second-hand clothes and self-conscious stutter.
About midway through her torrent of sorrow, I led her to a bench in the church foyer so she could be more comfortable and I could take my hateful shoes off. But I didn’t dare take my eyes off hers as she continued to expel wave after wave of the emotion she’d bottled up for years.
That first conversation with my new friend led to several more. Since that time, she’s been enveloped into a nurturing small group at her church and is slowly but surely healing under the loving care of a safe community. I saw her at another event a few weeks ago where she told me she’d like to speak with me privately again but winked and said she promised not to wipe her nose on my shirt this time. It seemed fitting to find another bench where, once again, we sat down facing each other. Then she confided softly, “Miss Lisa, thank you for the way you treated me while I fell apart telling you my story when we first met. The way you looked me in the eyes and let me finish made me feel like I mattered. And I don’t think I’ve mattered much to very many people in my whole life until here lately.”
It’s an exquisite privilege to peek in the window of someone else’s soul, isn’t it?
Love Hard, Even When It Is Hard
I lost two adoption attempts before beginning the arduous process with Missy; the second one left me reeling like a punch-drunk boxer. Friends who’ve experienced both late-term miscarriages and failed adoptions tell me the grief is similar. That both losses leave a similar-shaped hole in your heart and mind. I only know I felt like I’d been hit by a semi afterwards. Like the wind had been knocked out of me and I couldn’t catch my emotional breath.
It probably sounds masochistic that it was only a few weeks after my second adoption attempt failed when I said yes after a friend called, explained about this very sick toddler in Haiti who desperately needed someone to stand in the gap for her, then asked if I was willing. Of course, I knew it was probable that my battered soul would get pummeled to smithereens again, but I was oddly at peace about it most days of our two-year, roller-coaster trek. And now that Missy’s been home for longer than I waited and prayed I’d get to be her second mama, I’ve realized the pain of parenthood will continue until I take my last breath or Jesus splits the sky riding a white horse. Because the biggest chunk of my heart is now wandering around outside of my chest and attached to her. However, I’ve also come to realize that I prefer it out there as opposed to being sealed up on some lonely, self-protective shelf. Motherhood has been the hardest love I’ve ever fought for in my life, and my only regret is that I didn’t begin slugging away for it sooner.
Now I’d rather forego carbohydrates than winnow my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes down to just one. That’s saying a lot since I think hot rosemary bread dredged in olive oil and chips dunked in queso pretty much make the world go round. But if forced to choose a single of Sir Lewis’s citations to hang my hat on, it would have to be this one:
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and positively broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.9
If we will choose to love hard, even when it is hard, I’m willing to bet all the hot bread and tortilla chips of my future on the fact that our planet will be a much better—much happier—place to live.
Lisa Harper is a master storyteller with a masters of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary. She’s lauded as an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher. She’s been in vocational ministry for thirty years and has written fifteen books and Bible study curriculums but says her greatest accomplishment by far is that of becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole. And then diving in the pool immediately afterwards instead of dutifully waiting the recommended thirty minutes.
Image courtesy: Pexels.com
Publicaiton date: June 1, 2017