Christian, It’s OK to Be Sad


Jesus wept

Jesus wept.
—John 11:35 ESV

Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, had died, and Jesus felt the pain.

Jesus knew Lazarus would rise again soon. He knew the man’s two sisters would rejoice at that resurrection. Yet Jesus wept anyway. Sadness gripped Him in that moment despite all He knew was to come.

We Christians know we have a heavenly Kingdom awaiting us. We know every tear will be wiped away. We know we will live eternally in the presence of the Lord. We know the joy will last forever.

Christian, in this world, it’s OK to be sad.

We all know believers who go around perpetually cheerful, even in those situations when it is better to weep than smile. Frankly, those people are a scourge. They are positive thinkers rather than true believers. They’ve bought into a Pollyanna mentality that the Scriptures do not support.

Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
—Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV

I dare any mentally healthy person to find anything good to say about a child dying. Who can go around cheery when a family member makes damaging choices again and again? What good can be found when a lifelong dream dies? Or when that hopeful union dissolves in tears and anger?

In this world, it’s OK to be sad. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him.
—Acts 8:2 ESV

Today, we rush to medicate people so they will not be forced to deal with sadness. We prefer the daze to sober reality. Escape over truth. To “make great lamentation” over anything is seen as problematic.

This downplaying of sadness is a frightening trend though.

Something in sadness restores a sober view of life. It forces us to confront pain and grow through it. When I look at the lives of the greatest believers I have known, the most distinguishing mark is their fidelity to Christ in the midst of overwhelming personal sadness. Whatever their experience might of been, they came out of it stronger, wiser, better. And because of their journey, they could impart a wisdom gained only by facing sadness and making it a part of their life.

Where we go wrong today in dealing with sadness is by not only medicating our sadness but also allowing it to become an idol in our lives. I wonder if our attempts to rid ourselves of sadness only perpetuates its stay. Better to walk through it with eyes wide open than to sleepwalk into the midst of it and then camp there.

What distinguishes the Christian response to sadness from the world’s is that Christians, by gaining Christ, have gained hope.

Depression is the scourge of our age. While some people suffer through it because of chemical imbalances, I believe we become depressed when we enthrone sadness. That idol not only changes the way we think, it rewires our brains physically. It’s as if sadness takes up residence by making our brains its home, remodeling the dwelling to suit its needs.

The hope we have in Christ wars against the idol of abiding sadness. It is OK to be sad, but like so much in life, we cannot let that feeling own us, because it will if we let it.

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not OK to be sad.

But don’t let sadness make you its dwelling place either.

We have our own, better Dwelling Place and a mansion in Glory awaiting us. Sadness won’t last forever. Hope is ours always. Embrace it.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust– there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
—Lamentations 3:21-33 ESV

Usurping the God-Shaped Hole


Bliss?When I was a younger Christian, I heard a great deal about the “God-shaped hole” that existed in each of us. Only God could fill that hole. Left unfilled, the hole drove people to despair as they tried to fill it with one inappropriate plug after another. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, riches, power, fame…nothing can fill that hole but God.

At least that was what I was told.

Now that I am older, I wonder. It seems to me that perhaps that hole still exists, but it also seems just as true that people are satisfied with whatever usurping item they’ve used to plug their personal hole. So close does the phony plug resemble the real patch, at least in their experience, that people go on just as happy with the fake as with the real thing.

Perhaps ours is the first generation so overwhelmed with godless plugs that we can endlessly try one after another, getting just enough jolt from a new patch that we’re sustained until the next one comes along. Ours is such an entertainment-based culture that the ennui of daily living that once plagued mankind enough that it sought for greater answers may no longer exist amid the endless amusement park of this 21st century.

Fact is, I don’t encounter as many people who seem unhappy with whatever plug they’ve chosen to fill the God-shaped hole, inappropriate or not. Ennui hasn’t set in like it once did. An XBox, Netflix, a decent paycheck, a stocked liquor cabinet, a hobby or two, an occasional descent into a beloved vice, a few positive thoughts, and some mumbled prayers now and then seem to cut it for a lot of people. No sense of the God-shaped hole even exists for them. Sure, psychoactive prescription drugs abound, but doesn’t everyone take them? Whatever gets you through the night is all right, right?

It makes me wonder how small we Christians have made God that the lost look at us and find such simple, yet total, substitutes for Him.

The Christian, Rage, and Powerlessness


It started with a lack of bacon.

Too many people at Wendy’s ordered items with bacon, so the crew had to cook more. The bacon lovers in line were told it would be six minutes, so we gathered calmly off to one side and began to chat. EnragedOne man steered the conversation to politics. In minutes, I wondered if a riot would break out.

While people were willing to wait patiently for food items filled with bacony goodness, patience is in small supply when it comes to waiting till November to “throw the bums outta Capitol Hill.” People aren’t just mad at the condition of America 2010, they’re downright enraged.

People are livid at overreaching government, at seeing their tax dollars given to scoundrels, at watching themselves move down the class ranks, at losing their jobs, at losing their homes, at losing out on every dream they once had.

They seethe because the gulf fills with oil while the people responsible for the disaster lie about its severity.  Companies that created the economic mess ask for more aid and then give it as bonuses to leaders responsible for the mess. The country has lost control of its borders. Nuts and flakes in Iran build the Bomb. Corporations lay off hardworking people and reward sloth because the slothful know where the skeletons are buried. Health insurers begin terminating policies, arguing that Obamacare will take care of everyone—some day—leaving the average Joe buried in debt as he pays either outrageous costs for replacement insurance or nightmarish costs for  health care, living in dread that he may one day get sick and need medical attenti0n that will  cost him all his savings, his kids’ college funds, and even his home.

The inability to stop this downward spiral breeds fear. Like a tapeworm, powerlessness eats at people’s guts. They can’t stop the insanity; they can only be carried along with it. And that spawns this stark rage that many feel.

I have known Christians who seem to escape these trials. I have known Christians who have been buried by a relentless series of landslide-like events. Both groups have been faithful, yet one seems to attract trouble like a bare bulb at night brings in the summertime moths.

And it goes much deeper than just calamity or human failings. I was talking with a friend on Monday about the way we live our lives, and it seems to both of us that trying to fall back to a more sane position only creates chaos in the poorly thought-out systems we’ve created for ourselves. Eating locally grown food sounds like a wise idea, but what instabilities are created by a large-scale move away from food trucked in from long distances, instabilities whose ripple effects can’t be predicted easily?

It is one thing to pray that God will deal with the wicked people who knowingly hurt others in the pursuit of cold, hard cash. But what of the janitor who cleans the wicked people’s buildings? Is he in collusion with evil? And is he us?

And how does one pray about entrenched systems that are not so much empowered by evil principalities but by mistaken notions that were innocent five decades ago but which have now bred dependencies from which we cannot escape readily? Are all wrongs rightable? And was that wrong truly wrong at the time of its conception? What do we do when black and white have dulled over time to gray?

If others are like me, then I suspect more and more people wake up feeling inadequate to the task. In simpler days, choices seemed to come easily. Now, though, it feels as if every decision that life presents is like a bucket of murky water with something awful lurking at the bottom out of sight. We have made everything in life so complex that any simple act of deciding is fraught with danger, consisting, in many cases, of wondering whether the potential sea snake hiding in one bucket is more lethal than the possible blue-ringed octopus in the other.

What this means for modern Christians is hard to fathom. Are we immune to bad outcomes? If not, how then do we navigate the complexity of modern life? How does one break out of the system when one is a product of that system? Would Jesus even have us attempt to break out? Or does conformity and relenting not matter in the wider scheme of things? Is powerlessness good or bad? And is numb consent to the downright infuriating aspects of life a sin?

We in America are definitely control freaks; we want everything just so. That’s not of faith. But then the counter to that is to wonder whether simply allowing ourselves to be swept along powerlessly is not of faith either. And if it isn’t, where is the happy medium?

As a Christian, my tendency is to immediately answer by saying that faith,  prayer, abiding in Christ, and Bible reading are the answers. Certainly, faith brings us through all trials. Yet what is the faithful answer to a nuclear Iran that will certainly attack Israel? How do we meet the health care needs of people without bankrupting our country? Does every issue have a solution, or are some problems destined always to diminish us?

And most of all, how should you and I, such small people, live in the face of these issues?

I feel for angry people. I truly do. Jesus has an answer for them. My deficiency is that I don’t always know what that answer might be or how to bring it about. And I believe that if we were honest with ourselves, many of us will realize that more and more issues are harder to resolve than we might think—that is, if we are thinking at all.