When I am Sad

Photo by RachJose via morguefile.com

Things happen that make us sad. No one escapes, and it is not often voluntary. The culture of this decade tells us ever more forcefully we should quickly do things to make ourselves happy again. But sadness is not a problem to be solved, it is an emotion to experience. We seem to fear that giving way to sadness will create depression, but the opposite may be more true. There is a season for sadness. For many, that will be poignant and piercing during a holiday season as memories of lost loved ones surface.

So, if we must go to this place of sadness, and if getting back to happiness immediately is not the optimal goal, how do we do sadness well? The book of Numbers is an amazing teacher in the lessons of how to do sadness well. We are given both positive and negative role models, beautifully explained in Paul M. Alexander’s audio exposition of Numbers. Here are six rules for doing sadness:

  1. Lament.

Lament means to passionately feel or express sorrow or regret. When we lament, we say how we really feel. We don’t cover it up and paper it over. If there are no humans close to you willing to listen, find the places in community where there is help. For loss of a loved one, an example place is GriefShare. God is always willing to listen.

2. Do not complain.

When we complain we demand different circumstances. We lean in to a spirit of “I deserve better” or “we could have had”. We often remember the past in a distorted way, all positive or exaggerated negative. I am uncomfortable with Mary Lee Settle’s rendition of Roger Williams when she has him say things like “If only I could have saved the books.” Roger Williams laments often, but always retains hope for future enlightenment of his fellows, and does not in his own writing ever engage in “what ifs” or “if only”. He is fundamentally submitted to God’s plan, and focused on the knowledge that God’s glory is the end in mind.

3. Ask.

We can ask for a better future. Don’t demand a better future here on earth, as if it is for sure what God would want. Do request God’s mercy and His strength. Trust Him to know what is best.

4. Reflect.

Sadness precedes an opportunity to recreate. The historian Andrew K. Frank noted in his history of Miami that rampant destruction always preceded new construction. Loss causes sadness, but our beings are created to recover. We are given access to more our brain capacity while we are sad to enable a recovery. There is beauty in a minor key.

5. Lift your eyes.

Sadness is local. It is caused by our loss. There is another perspective, not self-centered but broader. The sunset and sunrise are still given every day. Others are in need and we can help them. It is when the Israelites stop bemoaning their plight in the desert and begin to obey toward larger community objectives that they rise above their sadness to experience God’s joy.

6. Integrate.

Some sadness will always be with us, but we can make it a component of our lives, not our whole life. It is an emotion, eventually not the only or dominant emotion. We have rites of remembrance to commemorate what we have been through, rites that give us a healthy periodic return. Then we move forward.

Doing sadness well can help us do three things:

  1. Stay in God’s best plan while we are sad.
  2. Emerge stronger than we entered.
  3. Gain insights we would not otherwise have. It is even possible to know joy while sad, and it is possible to be happy again after a season of sad.