by Caroline Saunders

when happy feels scary

Our sweet little 15-month-old, skin slick with sunscreen, belly poking out of her yellow striped swimsuit, face shaded under the brim of her white eyelet hat. She’s just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. My husband is holding her close to the edge of the shore, both of us watching to see what she’ll think of the crash and splash of the waves, and the Happy is so big it’s about to smother me.

“Don’t let the water hit her face!” I call out. But he’s not really listening.

“Hey—don’t let the water hit her face!” I call out again, this time with a little more panic in my voice.

But he’s immersed in the moment, busy being the playful dad.

I feel the worry creep up and form a lump in my throat, and then a wave of resentment. Resentment for being the one that has to worry.

Then another wave—a real one, and it crashes over baby girl’s head.

I lose it. I rush over to them and yell at him right there on the beach.

This is something I don’t do. I’m not really a yeller, I’m not into confrontation, and I never, ever pick a fight with my husband in front of other people. But I read an article a few weeks back about drowning on Facebook, and it’s been haunting me ever since. Why did I let it haunt me?

My husband looks half hurt and half angry. The people around us shift uncomfortably. Baby girl looks totally fine. That’s when I backtrack.

“I’m sorry,” I stammer. “I’m so sorry.”

Because I realize what it looks like—like I don’t trust him to take care of her. Like I don’t know how to trust anyone.

And maybe that’s true. It’s hard to trust when things are bad, but it’s hard to trust when things are good, too. That’s the scary thing about Happy—you suddenly realize how far you have to fall.

It’s rocking the new baby to sleep, crawling into bed in sleepy satisfaction, and then being jolted awake by your own brain, chanting “SIDS, SIDS, SIDS.” He’s fine, but you’re not.

It’s watching with pinched shoulders as a loving and helpful friend feeds your baby and finally snatching her away because you read on Facebook about a baby that choked, and it’s all you can think about.

Happy is terrifying. Because what if we really leaned in, savored the relaxing moments, enjoyed the help from those around us, loved with abandon, dove headfirst into the laughter and the fun? Wouldn’t that make it hurt more in the end? Haven’t the movies taught us that scenes of blissful happiness are always followed by tragedy?

The what-ifs start to speak more loudly than anything else—what if the story of the child with the chemical burn from baby lotion or the boy who ran out into traffic or the unexpected miscarriage—what if those stories become our stories? We armor up with hyper-awareness and tell ourselves it means we’re prepared, but really we just end up more afraid. In fear, we sabotage the good times—the beach waves, the sleepy nights, the roughhousing with Daddy.

Strange, isn’t it? That we often choose to embrace Paranoia and Fear rather than Happy? That motherhood could be full of great joy but instead feels like it’s laden with landmines we must carefully tiptoe around?

Certainly motherhood is hard, and yes, life is full of difficulty and sometimes tragedy. But what about when it isn’t? Do we jump in full force?

I don’t. Even when things are lovely, I often find that I’m busy tiptoeing, praying that if I’m careful enough, informed enough, in control enough, we will all stay safe. But while I’ve been so distracted by my own plight of “enough-ness,” something has gone missing. Joy—stolen from that moment on the beach, that time swinging on the playground, that sloppy kiss from the dog.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” John 10:10.

He came that we may have life—life to the fullest. I imagine that means it’s pretty important. That we should guard our joy with the same ferocity that we guard our children. After all, they are in good hands—the same hands that provide abundant life. Who will teach them about Joy, about Happy, if not us?

I think we often remember to surrender to God in the midst of tragedy, in hurt, in desperate need. But may we remember also to surrender to Him in the midst of Happy. May we live abundantly. May we embrace life, letting it crash into us like a wave.

Caroline Saunders


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