Sadness comes in all sizes. Sometimes it’s huge and powerful, a villain worthy of a heroic, medical take-down, and other times it’s just a quiet lump in the throat. Sadness can come on gradually or flash like winter lightning. It sets us up for failure, affecting both the body and spirit. It can surely be contagious.
And sometimes sadness is exactly the right thing.
Americans might believe that sadness is the negative detour that keeps us from the unrelenting prosperity and happiness we deserve. We are ashamed of it as though it reveals some weakness, and we attempt to cure it as quickly as it comes. Yet what if the role of sadness firmly belongs in the natural order of things?
So as a tribute to the month that is colder and darker than the rest, I offer some considerations:
Sadness can clear a path to God.
I wish it weren’t so, but grand, happy celebrations can drown out the quiet voice of God. In the darker hours, I listen for him because I need him desperately. Skeptics try to call it a weird psychological crutch, but children of God accept their desperation--and God’s faithful response.
Sadness is truthful.
Every person will grieve in his lifetime. Without it, we are not authentically human. Divorce, death, sickness, and sin--these not only allow for grief, but they require it. Across human history, the story of man includes his honest rituals of grief and despair. Self-medicating cannot bypass the natural order of grief; it merely postpones it.
Sadness is a paradox; it counterbalances joy.
Joy and sorrow are twins. Lebanese writer Kahil Gibran says that “joy and sorrow are inseparable. When one sits alone with you, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” Like most opposites, we might not even grasp one without the other. Anyone who has experienced great joy has done so only with sorrow’s help. Surely God allows for both as part of our human experience.
Sadness, when it arises from our sin patterns, is appropriate.
If I screw up, fail miserably, embrace evil, violate the law, or offend my Creator, I pray that I would suffer. Sadness that washes over me because of my stupidity should be expected; without it, I might be taught a lie about truth and consequences. Before I feel sorry for myself in the Valley, I should take inventory of such things.
Sadness awakens compassion.
I recently sat with a woman in great despair who added this footnote to her sadness. “If I ever meet someone who has gone through this,” she vowed, “I will come alongside and wrap them up in my arms. I now understand it.” Unlike pain that comes from sin, some suffering allows us in the months and years to come to bear one another’s burdens. Show me someone whose life is a chronic party, and I’ll show you someone who cannot hoist his brother’s burden. He might not even notice, or worse--if he does, he might not even care.
So, January, do your bluesy, cold, foggy best to bring me down. I’m ready for it.