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What does it mean to be blessed? Are Christians entitled to happiness, fulfilment, and perfect peace? Holy Unhappiness explores these questions and challenges the false beliefs many in the church hold about “the good life” and what it means to walk in communion with God. American Christians have developed a long list of expectations about what the life with God will feel like. Many Christians rightly deny the Prosperity Gospel—the idea that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy— but instead embrace its more subtle spin-off, the Emotional Prosperity Gospel, or the belief that God wants you to always experience happiness and fulfillment. Our society has become increasingly averse to sadness and emotional discomfort. Too often, people of faith assume that difficult feelings are a result of either God’s judgment or our own lack of spiritual maturity. Some even equate happiness with holiness.
In Holy Unhappiness, Amanda Held Opelt, author of A Hole in the World, grapples with her own experience of disillusionment when life didn’t go the way she expected. She examines some of the historic, religious, and cultural influences that led to the idolization of positive feelings and the marginalization of negative feelings. Unpacking nine elements of life that have been tainted by the message of the Emotional Prosperity Gospel – including work, marriage, parenting, calling, community, and church – she points to a new path forward, one that reimagines what the “blessed” life can be like if we release some of our expectations and seek God in places we never thought to look.
While Opelt acknowledges the dignity of desiring happiness, she ultimately pleads for the normalization of sadness, anger, grief, disappointment, and other uncomfortable feelings as a part of the Christian experience, making a case that there is holiness to be found even in our unhappiness.
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