Is There a Place for Sadness in Authentic Christianity?
I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears.
I grew up in a culture, church, and family that didn't have much room for sadness. If ever people in my life were feeling sad, it was my responsibility to "cheer them up." As Christians, we knew we were supposed to "Rejoice in the Lord, always!" God was the one who wiped away every tear. Thus, sadness was inconsistent, not only with our cultural norms, but also with our understanding of authentic Christianity. Real Christians were happy, not sad. They always had smiles on their faces. And they certainly didn't drench their beds with their tears.
Of course, there was a problem with the cultural assumptions of my early years. People did get sad. Sometimes their sadness seemed unavoidable, if not reasonable. Beloved friends and family members might get sick and die. Our nation watched as tens of thousands of our young men died in Vietnam. Wasn't it appropriate to feel sad at times?
The notion that true Christians aren't ever sad also stumbles upon the teaching and examples of Scripture. Many of the psalms express deep sadness to the Lord, without sense of shame. In Psalm 6:6, for example, David prays, "I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears." Now that is serious sadness, even if it does reflect a poetic use of hyperbolic language.
If the Psalms are given to us to teach us how to communicate with God, then there is surely a place for sadness in authentic Christianity. Scripture invites us to be honest with God, to share what's really going on inside of us. The Lord will carry our sorrows as we offer them to him, without hiding or pretending.
Moreover, authentic Christian community includes a place for shared sadness. Remember Paul's instruction in Romans 12:15. We are to "be happy with those who are happy" and "weep with those who weep." If someone we care about is grieving, our job is not to "cheer them up," but rather to join them in their sorrow, and in this way to bear their burdens. As we do this, we come to know more deeply the heart of Jesus, who is "a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief" (Isa. 53:3). Moreover, when we deal openly with our sadness, as well as the sadness of others, we open our hearts to a deeper and fuller experience of God's joy.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Did your culture, family, and church teach you about sadness? Are you free to share your sorrows with the Lord? And with other believers? What helps you express your true feelings to God in prayer?
PRAYER: Thank you, merciful God, for the example of David in Psalm 6. Thank you for the invitation to speak with you honestly, not holding back our sadness or desperation.
Thank you, dear Lord, for hearing our prayers just as they are, for wanting to have an intimate relationship with us in all of our messiness and confusion.
Thank you, gracious God, for entering into our sorrow through Christ, for knowing the inside of sadness.
Thank you, O God, for meeting us in our pain, for offering peace that passes understanding, for turning our mourning into dancing.
Help us to be authentic in our relationship with you, sharing our true thoughts, feelings, fears, and hurts. Help us to weep with those who weep so that we might also rejoice with those who rejoice. May your church be a place of safety and freedom, where broken hearts are mended.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the man of sorrows. Amen.