A Case for Sadness

We live in a society obsessed with ridding itself of sadness. Countless books are published year in and year out describing how to think your way and believe your way to happiness. Dozens of sermons are preached Sunday after Sunday telling us that God desires nothing more than for us to be at our happiest, because it is the indicator that we are living our lives in the way that makes Him more pleased and garners His favor. However, we live in a culture plagued with depression. We see this deep sadness that so many of us bear, manifest itself through substance abuse, acting out in violence and anger, and even suicide. We’re a people running as hard as we can from sadness yet unable to outrun it. We suppress our sadness, ignore our sadness, trying to pretend our sadness doesn’t exist, attempt to positive think and pray and meditate our sadness away but it always finds itself circling back into our lives (or never really leaving in the first place). Why can’t we break free of the curse of sadness and depression into a utopian state of bliss and happiness that God intended for us? But wait. Did God really intend for us to constantly be happy?

When we look throughout the Bible we see examples of sadness throughout the Bible. Job’s testing caused him deep anguish and the book of Psalms is full of David’s cries to God during times of profound sadness. While these aren’t the only examples, the common thread that we see throughout the Bible is that sadness and pain was not an unusual occurrence, and it was actually something that was allowed in moderation. Sadness was openly expressed and acknowledged in the public. It was not something that was relegated to be dealt with behind closed doors. Expressing grief and anguish was an act that was acknowledged and respected by the entire community. And maybe that’s where we have it all wrong.

Sadness and pain are not a plague that should be avoided at all costs, as our culture has pushed us to believe. It is a natural and healthy part of the human experience. There are times in our lives that truly warrant sadness. When life deals us a blow, it is perfectly fine to feel the emotional, mental and spiritual pain that comes with hurtful experiences. It is okay to take a step back, not pretend that you are happy and deal with that sadness in healthy ways. When we have the space to openly express sadness AND have a community that embraces us and respects us as we are dealing with that sadness, it leads to full recovery and healing. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a culture that allows us to do that anymore. We don’t live in a society where we can literally and figuratively tear our clothes in anguish and adorn our head with ashes to express our grief. We’re often told to deal with our pain in private, move on quickly and show the outside world that we’re happy, even if we’re not.

Although I think that those who preach the message of always being happy mean well, I think the message has very negative consequences and does far more hurt than it does help. Constantly being told that we should always be happy, makes us feel guilty and ashamed when we’re not. We often are made to feel that something is terribly wrong with us for not having enough gratitude, or not having enough faith in God, or whatever. When in all actuality, sadness may be an indication that we’re on the right path.

Sadness is something that has to be worked through. There are no shortcuts. There are no easy ways out. Sadness brings us to the depths of our souls and allows us to find things there that we could never see at the heights of our happiness. Sadness teaches us lessons and transforms us in powerful ways that happiness simply cannot. That is not to glorify pain and suffering or to say that you should always be sad. Too much of anything is bad for you. However, sadness is a part of the natural ebb and flow of life. And in a world that seems to be in the constant pursuit of happiness, that can be a particularly tough pill to swallow. Happiness feels great, but in excess it breeds complacency and inertia. There’s no need to change and self-examine if we’re in a perpetual state of bliss. When we find ourselves in a state of happiness we often do our best to maintain that state. We often try our hardest to keep things exactly how they are so that we can continue feeling happy. However, our purpose in life is not to remain happy at all times, it is to become the person God created us to be and remain obedient to His will for our lives. Doing that means constantly growing and changing, and sometimes sadness is the only that will catapult that necessary growth.

So here’s my case for sadness. Maybe we should look back at and model King David and Job, and others who openly expressed their deep sadness and pain to God and to the community around them. Maybe we should make the effort to be more like the Israelite community that allowed people to express their grief and hurt without telling them to “just get over it,” or consider them to be weak. Maybe we should come to terms with the fact that God created us to have a life that is sometimes filled with unspeakable happiness but is also etched with unbearable pain. And maybe, just maybe when we do that, we will be able to truly heal from the pain that so many of us deal with, rather than just hiding it.

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