Gladness through Sadness seems so contrary to all we were told growing up, the messages we hear today in society, and even at times in our churches. Yet in Ecclesiastes the opposite is proclaimed. Over the past 12 months of my life I have found this to be profoundly true. When I accept my feelings and allow them to flow freely, my heart lightens and gladness returns even in the midst of some of the hardest things I have ever faced.
How does gladness through sadness work?
It’s actually pretty simple.
If we believe the messages our parents may have expressed when we were hurt, crying or sad like:
- Toughen up
- Suck it up buttercup
- Real men don’t cry
- Just move on
Or if we encounter messages in society and the church that indicate we should be joyful in all circumstances without first facing the reality of the situation and finding compassion and mercy like Jesus showed, we can shut down emotionally.
We can learn to deny our deeper, more negative or painful feelings when we believe it will help us fit in, be accepted, or feel loved. Yet as we live this way, our emotions, hurts and wounds of the heart begin to build up.
One girl I coached who was suicidal, cutting, depressed and having major anxiety attacks put it this way when we began delving into some of her suppressed emotions/hurts. She blurted out “stop stirring up the muck in the bottom of my pond”. Frustrated by where the conversation was going, she said, “the water in my pond has been crystal clear and now it is becoming dark and dirty.” She had not truly cried once in seven years. She had learned by age 6 to suppress her emotions given her family’s perspective, messages and culture!
I asked her a question. Have you ever experienced how heavy muck is and how easy it is to become stuck in the muck in the bottom of a pond? She said, “Uh huh,” already picking up on the reality of her situation.
I told her that she had have been stuffing her feelings and hurts for so long that as more stuff happens, the muck in her pond gets deeper and deeper, heavier and heavier. It was so heavy that she was depressed, frustrated with life and wanted to exit. Then I asked her, “Is that correct?” and she said, “Yeah.” I responded that the only way I knew to get rid of the muck was to stir it up and run it through a giant water filter. The filter would remove the dirt from the water, leaving the pond crystal clear again without the heavy muck in the bottom of her pond/heart. I added that the heaviness of the muck she was denying led to her not wanting to go through another day.
A heavy heart impacts us in many ways; it keeps us focused on the negative, increases our frustration and causes us to lose hope and joy.
There are passages that indicate we are to consider all things pure joy. Yet these passages do not spell out how to live there consistently. We need to see the truth of Ecclesiastes and Jesus who encountered sadness and tears so intense that He sweat blood. Trying to live a life of pure joy by denying our emotions and just moving forward like the famous song from the 90s that goes “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Aint nothing going to slow me down, oh no. I got to keep on moving!” is not a recipe for lasting joy. It is a march towards growing negativity, frustration, disappointment, and isolation as we separate from people to avoid pain and acquiring more layers of muck that weigh us down.
Whether we like it or not grieving is a biblical truth. God designed tears to be an outlet for both physical and emotional pain. When we pretend to be happy and joyful over a span of time, our hearts become heavy and burdened. Gladness, peace and joy vanish in the muck of life that builds up in the bottom of our ponds/hearts! This robs us of life, happiness and peace.
If you are feeling sad, hurt, alone, isolated, depressed, filled with anxiety and thinking life is not worth living, find someone who understands the pain of life and will encourage you to face it and be there with you when you cry. Consider becoming this person for your child when they are weak, failing and falling short. Failure hurts them more than we realize.
It’s time to stop pretending everything is good at church on Sunday morning. Stop acting the part many of our parents taught us to play. While not popular in the pain avoidance culture that is deeply engrained in us it may be time for you to go ahead and be sad.
My therapist encouraged me to stop viewing my sadness and tears as though they were not supposed to be there or like it meant that I was not being godly.
God designed us to have tears and to cry. It is hard to turn and face the muck within especially if we have bottled it for years. Denial is not a sound long term plan for mental health or for recovering a glad, light, joyful heart we once had when we were kids.
Turning and facing our pain, allowing ourselves to feel it and release it through deep agonizing sobs before the Lord lightens the load. It also creates a place of intimacy with the Lord and grows our dependence on His help to restore a glad heart. This then enables us to consider our present trials pure joy as we deal with the situation, the hurt and pain authentically as God designed as opposed to artificially with the act we have come to rely upon!
So like Pat, my Christian counselor who understood the heart as result of a long battle with cancer, said to me in 2002, “My assignment for you this week is to feel bad.” I became upset and thought to myself $150 an hour for “feel bad! You have to be bleeping kidding me.” She was right. I broke down crying so hard on the drive home I had to pull over.
Recently Lisa who has helped me process a current trial in my life said, “Stop viewing your sadness as weakness or lack of faith.” Tears are good and healthy. Be kind to yourself and let them flow. Every time I find myself feeling sad, pain or hurt I no longer seek to stuff it and pretend. I seek out a place and allow them to flow. Behind this less than fun practice a glad heart follows just like Ecclesiastes says it will!