The Role of Sadness In the Christian Life
Recently I have found myself abnormally sad. Worshiping at home on Sundays rather than with the church body and news stories about how people have been affected by COVID-19 are two things that have triggered this emotion. Sadness is not something that I experience often, but I have found myself weeping at times. I don’t want to be sad. I don’t like being sad. Yet, I honestly don’t know what to do with this emotion. I am tempted to see sadness as a weakness or as pointless.
Sadness is Not Pointless
The movie Inside Out portrays five primary emotions: joy, anger, fear, disgust, and sadness. The portrayal is somewhat limited, but the problem in the story is that Joy wants Sadness to keep her hands off the control panel. The movie gives a good picture of what we often believe: that sadness should be avoided. Just think about the measures we often use to escape it. Any time my child cries, I seek to relieve his sadness. At funerals, we put on a brave face and try to act as if all is well even though deep down we are hurting. Often, we use humor and laughter to cover up our pain.
Yet sadness is the emotion God has given us to understand the brokenness of the world. Sadness is our body informing us that something is wrong both with us and the world around us; it tells us that these things have disappointed us. The role of sadness is to push us to look for hope outside of ourselves and outside of this world.
Jesus Experienced Sadness
The only perfect person to have ever lived experienced sadness. Jesus, fully God and fully man, wept. John 11:33–35 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.”
The text conveys to us that Jesus was upset, not only because his friend died but also because death exists. Jesus was sad because he experienced the odor of brokenness. Sadness was his response to the pain that the curse of sin brought to this world.
Let Sadness Play its Role
Whether we suppress or express it, sadness is inevitable. We will experience the odor of death in this world. We are experiencing it right now through the worldwide pandemic. Brokenness is literally at our front door, on our Facebook feed, on our TV, in our Zoom meetings, and in our worship services. We can’t avoid the pain of brokenness. We will all inevitably experience sadness.
So, what are we to do with it? We must let the experience of human sadness play its role. Our human sadness informs us that something is wrong with the world, and it creates a longing in us for a time when sadness will not exist. Sadly, we can’t always see the finish line. We don’t know when the pandemic will end… or if job losses will be restored. Unlike Jesus, who was able to raise Lazarus from the dead, we can’t fix the problem ourselves.
But when we let sadness play its role, it will produce longing, and longing will produce faith, and faith will produce hope. Our sadness forces us to look beyond our situation and helps us long for God to intervene.
The role of longing in our hearts is to produce faith. Faith is depending on someone or something outside of ourselves. While longing looks for help, faith sees what we long for and clings to it. Faith is never blind. Faith looks to God for a solution to our sad reality. Even when we don’t understand his plan or his granular purposes, faith tells us that he is good and gracious and worth trusting.
Lament is Where Faith & Longing Meet
Lament is the conduit by which our pain is taken to God. It expresses the truth that we don’t like the pain we’re experiencing but that we know there is only one place to bring that pain.
Once human sadness results in faith, hope is sparked. Hope banks on a future outcome. Faith teaches us that Christ has paid for our sins by purchasing the redemption of this broken world. Our hope is to rest in God who is working everything out for our good and who will crush the head of sadness upon his return. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
A day is coming when sadness will no longer be necessary because this world will no longer be broken. Our hearts won’t have to long, and we will not have to hope because all things will be fulfilled in the new earth.
At the end of Inside Out, the young girl runs away from home, and the only way to get her to go back was for Sadness to get involved. Only Sadness could help her realize what she truly loved and longed for. This is a wonderful portrayal of how sadness is necessary to navigate this life.
As we see COVID-19 death totals rise, as our friends or family members are in the hospital or laid off from work, as the weight of this virus sinks into our hearts, know this: sadness is real, and it has a role in our lives. We can’t suppress it, dismiss it, or let it consume us. We must embrace it as a God-given emotion meant to lead us to hope.
Friend, God is near to the poor in spirit and the brokenhearted. You are never alone in your sadness, and your sadness is never wasted. Embrace it, redeem it, and long for the day when your sadness will no longer be needed. When we do, God will use sadness to form us into better disciples of Jesus.
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The beauty of the gospel story is that we are not a bride with a father who has withheld a bridegroom to take care of us. He provided one. Jesus was given to us so that we know we will be taken care of. With his broken body and his blood, he met us at the alter vowing with his life to take care of us and love us forever. That’s the story of gospel. That’s your story.
In a world full of self-love and apathy, we don’t need less self-clarity, we need more. If you read this and see no need for self-clarity or self-awareness, then I might encourage you that you are the very person who needs this. I’d urge you to be curious about how you are being experienced by others, to find honest people to tell you how you are doing in loving others, and find tools that might help you on that journey.
It’s alarming how easy it is to forget what we were saved from and that it was not because of our own effort, but only by the grace of God. So subtly can we start to believe that our spiritual maturity simply happened or that we’ve gotten to where we are merely by our effort.
I believe there is an underlying narrative surrounding the value of women that threatens the influencing and flourishing of women in the local church. Beginning to grasp that reality was a painful and confusing process for me. Sometimes this narrative shows up in the most heartbreaking of ways in the local church—like in stories of the devaluing and abuse of women in the church. Sometimes the narrative is less extremely represented through the absence of women in ministry. And sometimes, like in my case, I didn’t think this narrative applied to me at all because of the good ministry situation I was in.