Sisters in Spirit is a series of essays by a group of women who felt a spiritual perspective lacking from the steady stream of daily news. They each agreed to carve space monthly on their blogs for a spiritual conversation. The topic this month is choosing happiness as an act of faith.
I’m too old for ribbons in my hair, but this hasn’t ever stopped me. For a few brief months in 2000, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in western Africa. During, I was in courses with a half dozen other American kids — mostly in our 20s. One woman took an immediate dislike to me. She made it very well known she did not like me, and her husband was not to like me either.
There were only 6 of us. That left three others to be friends with. Remember, I had to spend 12 hours a day with her and the sweet husband, Mr. He “who-was-not-to-speak-to-me!”
After exhausting my few charms unsuccessfully, I wandered around a muddy market one day in a funk, watching the dirt climb up the edges of my fraying jeans. I was the youngest in our group by years, and in need of a friend. As I sulked, I came around the corner to find a vendor selling Chinese-made ribbon by the spool. (You never know what you’ll find in a rural African market.) I bought several pieces of brightly colored ribbon and started tying my bobbed haircut into a tiny ponytail. Each morning, I’d prep for our agroforestry coursework with a steamy bucket bath, a fresh t-shirt, a coat of mascara and a tiny ponytail, decorated with one of these pieces of ribbon.
I would also slap on a smile and make myself as cheery as I possibly could, never mind I was dying of homesickness inside. It was a fake-it-until-you-make-it scenario, and I was going to put on an Oscar winning performance in the category of “damn happy.”
I suspected correctly that wearing a juvenile ribbon and wide grin regardless of her antics would completely and illogically piss her off. The happier I was, the darker she became. I could only imagine the ridiculous conversations with her husband as the sun set over the equatorial horizon.
“But she was so nice to me! And did you see that stupid ribbon?! Urg!”
We all know about the less fortunate. There is always someone in greater need. Someone hungry. Someone with real problems who should keep us from complaining about our slice of life.
But that is not the way happiness works. As an act of faith, we should choose happiness daily. There is a constant tug between happiness and discontent that each of us must wrestle with — regardless of circumstance. And if I let myself, I readily succumb to darkness — a pit that begs to be fed with self-loathing and doubt. It is easy for me to let myself be blue; in this space, I complain a lot. I make the situation worse by doing everything else too much. Shopping. Eating. Drinking. Sleeping. Worrying.
And then, by grace, there comes a break in the pity party fog. Time spent with children, so wrapped in their own joy, a bit of it can’t help smudge off. A puppy with a wagging, optimistic tail. A great piece of art that brings tears to your eyes — it is just so profoundly beautiful.
You get shaken up — the taste of happiness hits you like an ice cold tart margarita on a blazing hot day in Phoenix: little is more perfect. These moments are a reminder; it is worth the work to get back to that place of joy, even if I have to fake it for a while. This means saying kind things to myself in the mirror. Looking at strangers on the street on the way into the gym and greeting them with a smile. Dropping extra change in the barista tip jar — not because the coffee is great, but because I am so very thankful to no longer have to work in the service industry. Writing fan letters to my favorite authors, because it always feels good to know your work is appreciated.
The book of Ruth is a reminder of fighting for happiness. After losing her husband, brother-in-law and father-in-law in war, Ruth could have walked away from her mother-in-law Naomi, like her sister-in-law Orpah did. She could have stayed in her own land, with her own people. But Ruth knew this would leave Naomi forever alone. Instead, she took the old woman back to Naomi’s people — staying steadfast by her side. I can only imagine she was a constant source of love, and hope for a better time.
Ruth’s happiness and good attitude didn’t go unnoticed. Boaz scooped her up after he caught her scooping up grain left in his fields after the harvesters were done. She was hungry; Naomi was too. Soon enough, she was remarried to Boaz and she and Naomi were well cared for.
She could have made many selfish choices, including diving within herself instead of fighting for joy. (Ruth would go on to have children with Boaz, and be in the direct lineage of Jesus.)
Ruth’s story is one of my favorites. Ruth chose happiness.
May someone’s happiness smudge off of you today, especially if you’ve forgotten the carefree simplicity of a cheerful, bright day.
“Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Sarah is municipal attorney, mom to TWO toddler boys, and United Methodist’s pastor’s wife. (She does not play the organ.) She is a life-long Missouri girl with a heart for hospitality and social justice. Sarah enjoys cooking, running, knitting and embroidery, reading, and playing in the sprinkler. Sarah blogs at
Bianca is a Navy wife from the great state of Texas (where she coincidentally currently resides), and she and her husband welcomed their first child in the fall of 2012. She has a passion for serving others, asking hard questions and sharing The Gospel with both her words and actions. Bianca loves Jesus, her hubs & her son, authentic friendships, traveling, making lists of all kinds, and trying new recipes which she blogs about on BecomingBianca.com
Rhonda is an attorney and native of Missouri. She is known for being overly-emotionally invested in her three, elderly dogs and dabbling in a ridiculous amount of hobbies, including sewing, music, and writing, while mastering none. She was baptized in her late twenties and is amazed and grateful that Jesus continues to put up with her. She blogs at bigsnafu.com.