Linnea: “If I could describe the gospel in one sentence, I would say that it is the secret to being happy.”
Out of place
When I was little, my parents were not Christians and we never went to church or anything. So, I don’t know where I had learned this, but I remember I knew a whole evening prayer by heart in Swedish. In English, it’s something like this:
“God, who holds the children dear,
Watch after me, I who am little.
Wherever in the world I wander,
My happiness is in God’s hands.
Happiness comes, happiness goes.
Whoever loves God finds happiness.”
I would just say the prayer at night, even though I didn’t know how to pray. I would say the prayer when I was really scared, like in an airplane or when there was a thunderstorm.
But then I grew up and things changed. I was busy with doing other things in my life and didn’t really think much about God. But somehow, I always felt like God protected me. I never felt very comfortable with going out drinking with my classmates, for example, and I always felt like I was out of place in a way. I just had this feeling that there was something missing. God had put something in my heart, but I didn’t know it at that time.
“Is it possible to always be happy?”
In my family, my brother was always the kind and good one, and I was always the one shouting and getting annoyed and irritated. I knew that that was not how I wanted to be. I wanted to be good to the people around me, but I didn’t know how. You know, when it just comes out in the moment and then you lie in bed at night thinking, “Why did I say that?”
I was on my last year of high school in Asia, and one day while we were on a field trip, a boy in my class who is a Christian started talking to me about church. He didn’t say much, but he gave me a card with a question on it that said, “Is it possible to always be happy?”
A week later there was a guidance counselor who came to our class to help us prepare for university and real life. The counselor asked that same question, “Is it possible to always be happy?” My classmate put up his hand and said, “Yes, it is possible.” And the counselor said, “No, because your feelings will go up and down, and you can’t know that you’re happy if you’re not sad first.” My classmate said, “Yes, but it doesn’t have to be about your feelings,” and he didn’t say much more. But that sentence just stuck with me.
At that point, I was also feeling very down, very depressed. I didn’t really know what the meaning of life was. What was the point of just going to school, getting good grades, getting into the best university and getting the best job? I was like, okay, you do all that and then what? You sit there when you’re old and you’ve achieved all this, but would that make you happy? But since this was what everyone was pushing for, I felt like it had to be something I should want as well. Life felt so hopeless and meaningless. I started to think that I was just a burden anyway, so it would be better off if I wasn’t around. I was ready to give up this world and all it had to offer.
One day I took it a little too far and my mom had to take me to the hospital. As I was lying there in the hospital, I remembered the card that I got: “Is it possible to be always happy?” So, I sent a message to my classmate and asked if I could come to church.
I have to become new
I didn’t understand much at my first church meeting. The only sentence I remember from the whole meeting was the verse the speaker read from in Matthew 9:17, “Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” I realized this meant that I can’t just put these new things into who I am—I have to also become new. Something had to change with me. That was the solution. At that time that was all I understood.
About half a year after I came to church, we were reading about the three crosses on Calvary and what they symbolize, and that everyone in this world will follow one of those. One cross is the one who doesn’t turn to God ever, the other cross is the one who turns to God at the end of his life, and the last one—the cross of Jesus—is the way that you go on every day.
That was when I started to understand that the gospel is something more practical. I got to see how I could become this new wine skin in a way, this new person. It is something I do in the small little decisions every day. It can’t just happen overnight that I’m suddenly this holy person, you know?
One of the first things I understood to change in a practical way was not to worry about how I was going to do in school. There is a lot of pressure to do well in Asia, and I had to know that I wasn’t a failure if I didn’t get into the best university. What is most important is that I do my best in what I do, not that I put my whole worth into just getting good results, or into the practical things. I started to really get help from the gospel, and saw some practical changes as well.
That year, my brother came to visit me, and he said, “Wow, you’re like a whole different person. It’s like you’re glowing. There’s life in your eyes. Something has changed.” He asked me if it was because I had started going to church, and he really had respect for that. He saw that I had more hope and life and energy.
Giving up everything for God
About a year and a half later, I got baptized. I felt that I had to make a covenant with God, a testimony that I am crucified to this world—that this was something I would continue doing no matter how my feelings are or what my situation is.
Because that’s what baptism is. You’re promising to give everything to God and in return He promises to help you with all that is in His strength. And when I keep my part of the promise, He will guarantee that He will keep His part. That has helped me a lot after, when times were tough, when I suddenly didn’t see the point anymore, or when things were dark for my soul.
Giving everything to God for me means that it’s not up to me when I’m going to do what’s written in God’s Word. It’s not like, “Today I feel like I want to do this,” or “This verse is good for me, so I’ll do this, but this seems a bit hard, so I’ll just drop that.” It means for me personally that when my feelings say I have to be irritated, then I have to do what God’s Word says first. Then I’m giving up my own will, and I’m prioritizing. And I know He will help me to manage it. He will give me the strength. And in return, I also get happiness! So actually, I’m the one who wins out on it.
How it is possible to always be happy
I stop and take every single thought and judge it against what gives eternal value. “Does this really make me happy?” For example, when I’m tempted to be irritated, I ask myself, “What is the best right now?” Is it to be irritated, or is it to deny that thought and think positively about the person? When you take everything step by step, stop up and weigh it against God’s Word or at least your own conscience, then you realize more and more the way to go, the way that Jesus went. It’s not what I feel in the moment, but what will this bring me if I do it? Will this lead me forward as aor hold me back?
Before, when my feelings went down, I was down. Especially when you have depression, it’s easy to just accept that your depression is you. The Word is a double-edged sword. (Hebrews 4:12) Maybe my feelings are down, but now I can feel in myself that my feelings and who I actually am are separate. I’m not dependent on my feelings anymore. My day doesn’t get ruined because I wake up feeling like it’s a bad day, but I can smile inside. In my spirit, I am happy.
I once heard someone say that your weakest point can become your strongest. I have a hope that I can be more and more like Jesus, that one day I can feel complete rest from things that are now a bigfor me. It’s written that the Word became in Jesus. (John 1:14) In 1 Corinthians 13 it’s written that love is patient and love is kind—I want to be able to put my name, one by one, in front of it. Linnea is patient, Linnea is kind. One by one, one after another won’t even feel like a battle anymore, because bit by bit, God’s nature becomes part of my nature. That is my longing.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.