Now, about happy places.
Happy is an emotion. Like sad, mad, glad, angry, sorrowful, regretful, nervous, fearful, and so many others. The 70,000 thoughts each of us entertains everyday are the triggers that ignite them. And, to be honest, I'm not all that into the idea of happy or any of the other emotions ruling us. Like all of our other emotional responses happy is circumstantial. It can overwhelm us in an instant and go away just as quickly. That's why I often ask people, when they say they're unhappy, what does happy have to do with it anyway? The goal for me is to have joy, peace, hope and the other spiritual virtues so that I can endure those moments when the negative emotions overshadow everything else.
Still, I've discovered the value of happy places. Let me define what that is for me, for whatever that's worth. A happy place is that state of mind where---
1. The input data from my brain can be changed.
2. The noise and clamor of the moment can be altered.
3. Genuine reflection about life can occur.
4. The deeper truths about life can be experienced.
5. There can be a vacation from the rigors that dictate so much of life.
After forty-five years of marriage my most often visited happy places are wherever and whenever Harriet and I are together. Just the same, there have been times when the pace of life and ministry has been so stressful that I've needed additional happy places so that Harriet isn't dragged into the quagmire of whatever is pulling me into the pit of dreadful emotions. Yes, those are times when I may be praying Help Lord, I Need a Vacation but just can't work out the details of being off for a few days. A week at the beach or an island in the Pacific aren't always possible. I mean, get real.
So, for thirty five years of pastoral leadership there have been three happy places where I could go for moments of recovery and refreshment. They are familiar locations that I could visit in short order. Each of them had some meaning in my life. There I could disconnect from the troubling issues that were pounding on my brain, places where I could take stock, reflect about life on a broader scale, and make some sense about what was happening at the moment. These three are---
Binkley Chapel at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
My first pastorate was in a rural community six miles from the seminary campus.
Being a new pastor was often overwhelming. So, on occasion I would check out
of church life and go to Binkley Chapel. It was usually quiet there. The
environment of the chapel was peaceful, a serene and reverent sanctuary from a
busy world. It was a place where I could experience the voice of God and touch
base with my deeper spiritual leanings.
Pretty Place, in Cleveland, SC
Fifteen of my pastoral years were in Greenville, SC. Pretty Place is this incredible
chapel hanging on the edge of a mountain close by. At Pretty Place I could see
vistas of mountain valleys and experience the peace and quiet of being on a
mountaintop. When I was at Pretty Place, which was often, the grueling schedule
and troubling issues of life, whether church or personal, could be set aside for
moments of prayerful solitude in a choice spot of God's creation.
Summerall Chapel, The Citadel
Eighteen years of my pastoral ministry and now, three years into retirement, have
been in the Charleston suburbs. As a Citadel graduate Summerall Chapel was
already a precious place where I had spent some important hours, especially in
my knob (freshman) year as a cadet. It is holy to me in many respects, not only
because of some prayerful times there as a cadet, but also because of the
memorial symbols that adorn almost every inch of the decor. Even today time in
the chapel helps me put life in perspective, remember what really matters in life,
and get a true grip on my personal values.
Not every moment in these three places could actually be classified as "happy". I've been to woodshed there many times too, have been confronted by some things in my own life that weren't always fun, and have made grueling decisions that were hard to make. But, they were always places where I could take a short vacation to get a handle on what was happening around me at the time.
More than anything, these three places were escapes from realities that were stressful so that I could think and reflect on more substantive matters. They were places where I could sit quietly and make contact with important things and not merely the urgencies of the hour. In these three places I could accomplish what the Apostle Paul wrote about---
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any
excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8, ESV
Need a vacation? Can't take one right now. Perhaps the usual maze is just too distinct and controlling. Veer off course for a change. Go to a happy place, and think on the things that are most significant in life.
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