Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

No More Happy Face Christianity: Getting Real about Life as a Christian

  • Carla Laureano Author
No More Happy Face Christianity: Getting Real about Life as a Christian

If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time, you’ve seen them: the well-dressed, perfectly coiffed Christians who speak in catchphrases better suited to hand-painting on a reclaimed-wood wall sign and wear stretched, plastic smiles anytime they’re in public.

Meanwhile, beneath that shiny facade, their hearts are hurting. They’re troubled by a fractured marriage. They’re worried about a struggling child. Perhaps they’re facing financial or health problems. The outside world—even their church—would never know that inside, they’re crumbling.

Perhaps you’ve been one of those people before. Perhaps you’re one of them now.

I like to call this “Happy Face Christianity.” And if you fall into that category, it’s not your fault. You’d probably like to be honest about what you’re going through, but you just can’t. What will people think? As a Christian, aren’t you supposed to have joy at all times? Shouldn’t you be able to ignore the slings and arrows of the mortal world if you keep your eyes closely fixed on the eternal?

In my upcoming novel, Brunch at Bittersweet Café, my main character, Melody Johansson, struggles with those same questions. In the process of writing her story, I began to think closely about why we as a church feel so deeply that we need to have it all together.

Why, as Melody believes, do we think that acknowledging the trials in our life is somehow a betrayal of our salvation?

By the time I finished the book, I had narrowed down the reasons to four main myths that we as Christians believe…and we may not even realize that we believe them:

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Myth #1: Joy is the same as happiness.

Myth #1: Joy is the same as happiness.

If you look up happiness in the thesaurus, chances are joyful will come up as a synonym. But the two words actually have very different meanings.

Happiness is a temporary state brought on by a temporary condition. Getting a birthday card makes me happy. Eating a nice meal makes me happy. Chocolate makes me happy. But when my birthday is over, the plate is clean, or the chocolate is gone (perish the thought), that happiness is gone too.

Joy, on the other hand, is a lasting, deeper state that has absolutely nothing to do with our circumstances.

James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

The words used here are not of ephemeral, situational happiness, but rather endurance: trials, testing, perseverance.

In this context, joy comes from knowing that circumstances are being used to mold us into mature believers to be used for the glory of God’s Kingdom, not from the momentary happiness that our current condition can create.

Joy can be found in the middle of unhappiness, because as Peter writes, “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9). This is the joy of knowing that whatever we might face on earth, it’s temporary. God is with us, and our eternal joy still awaits us.

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Myth #2: If you’re a Christian and you have enough faith, your life will be smooth.

Myth #2: If you’re a Christian and you have enough faith, your life will be smooth.

Even the most solid, scripturally based church can find this fallacy creeping into its midst. We inadvertently feed into this myth when we brush off our comfortable lives with the falsely modest statement “Oh, we’re just blessed.”

While we usually intend to recognize that all good things come from God, we can also secretly believe that material success is a reward for our faith. We read Jesus’ statement in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” and start to think that a full and abundant life means a full and abundant house, filled to the brim with the best of the world’s material possessions.

Conversely, when members of our church or community fall into debt or sickness, we secretly wonder if it’s a result of lack of faith or unconfessed sin in their lives. Which is, of course, completely untrue, especially as we look at our brethren in developing countries who live in what we would consider unimaginable poverty.

Is their faith any less real? No, and I would contest that it’s more real, because they are experiencing the joy of their salvation and not the happiness that comes from material comforts.

However, when surrounded by this tacit belief that health and material wealth are indications of their spiritual state, many Christians would rather paste on a plastic smile and pretend that everything is fine. It’s hard enough to deal with current trials without having to defend the solidity of your faith.

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Myth #3: Feeling grief, hurt, or pain is a sign of lack of faith.

Myth #3: Feeling grief, hurt, or pain is a sign of lack of faith.

The Western world, as a whole, is uncomfortable with the concept of grief.

Other cultures have elaborate mourning rituals, in which people are allowed to express their pain over the loss of loved ones. In much of Western Europe and America, we’re supposed to be stoic and quiet, bearing our losses in silence.

This attitude has carried over into the church, perhaps even more so because when the loved one is a believer, we know they’ve gone to be with the Lord. This completely ignores the hole that a person’s departure leaves in our life. To show extreme distress is considered to show a lack of faith, as if our salvation makes us immune to human emotion.

Repressing hurt, grief, or pain can lead to longer-term problems like anger, irrational fear, and depression that endure long after the grief would have, had we just faced it. But more importantly, when we refuse to feel these emotions, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to experience a different facet of our relationship with God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 expresses the idea beautifully: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (emphasis added).

God recognizes that grief is a natural part of the human condition and provides a safe place for us to experience that emotion in His presence.

Far from being a lack of faith, expressing our hurt and pain to the Father can actually strengthen our faith. We learn in a real way that we serve a Savior who was fully human and experienced the same emotions as we do; we are never far from someone who truly understands what we’re going through.

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Myth #4: Christians who aren’t cheerful at all times are a bad witness.

Myth #4: Christians who aren’t cheerful at all times are a bad witness.

I’m not actually sure where this myth began. Perhaps it’s the numerous verses about cheerfulness we find in the Bible, perhaps it’s confusion over the difference between joy and happiness, but somewhere along the way, we began to believe that Christians are required to always have a smile on their faces.

A good portion of the time, however, that’s a put-on to hide our true feelings from others. Perhaps we’re worried that if we open up, they’ll reject us and make us feel more alone. Maybe we’re not ready to talk about our trials. Or maybe we truly believe that we’ll be judged for our feelings.

However, when we act in an inauthentic way, it’s for the convenience of others, not our own good. It’s certainly not for the benefit of nonbelievers looking in. The world doesn’t need more Christians who seem to have everything together. They need to see real people who struggle with trials and yet experience true joy while acknowledging their own pain.

It’s only through that example, that display of “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7), that others will want to experience what we experience, to know whom we know.

If you recognize yourself in one of those descriptions, take a moment to acknowledge that you’re allowed to feel what you feel. Bring your feelings to God in prayer, even if you don’t know what to ask or say.

The next time a friend asks how you’re doing, instead of replying, “Fine,” try something like, “Actually, not so well.” I think you’ll be surprised by the understanding and empathy you find from your brothers and sisters in Christ, most of whom are probably going through similar trials.

It’s only by rejecting surface-level Happy Face Christianity that we can experience the depths of true faith and comfort.

Carla Laureano is the RITA Award-winning author of contemporary inspirational romance and Celtic fantasy (as C. E. Laureano). A graduate of Pepperdine University, she worked as a sales and marketing executive for nearly a decade before leaving corporate life behind to write fiction full-time. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and two sons, where she writes during the day and cooks things at night. Her latest book is Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe.

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