Sadness, Peace, and the Next Thing
I don't know about you, but as I look around of late, I find myself increasingly confronted with tragedy and loss. Mercifully not at the heart of my own life, but certainly in the lives of those I care about, and across the world, with the unceasing tapestry of disaster which confronts us on 24 hour news. Simultaneously I struggle with smaller things: like when I find myself incapable of doing the most basic of tasks, or when you know you've got a huge exam coming, with a week worth of revision to do and only a few days to do it in. You're not even sure what you're doing in the place that you are.
What do we do with that? Where do we go from there?
This is certainly not a post about the problem of evil and what to do with it, or the struggle of mourning and how to work through that. Nor is it an answer to the trials of anxiety or depression that many of us face. I'm supremely unqualified to talk about those things. I have no big answers, all I have is a small thought from the unspectacular vantage point of being a human person in this confusing world.
I think that when things are not okay, when we are overwhelmed, we need to take the time we need to breathe. To cry. To lament. To be alone. To admit that things aren't okay. A friend reminded me recently how we need lament - it is an important part of remembering that things are not as they should be. It's being emotionally truthful. We're not obligated to try and twist everything into a happy ending or an 'it had to be this way' cliche. Without a proper room for sadness and lament, we lose something essential to being human.
This is wonderfully illustrated in the movie Inside Out. I'll try not to spoil it but the movie gives us Riley, a girl who finds that suddenly her whole world is changing, and she can't do anything about it. She has been used to sidelining the emotion of sadness because it seems bad and unhelpful. Early on in the film the question is essentially put to (the personified emotion of) Sadness: "what is the point in you?" So Sadness is pushed away, and Riley nearly destroys her own life in the crisis that comes from that inability to truly feel. But her being able to grow into her new stage of life is impossible without Sadness. Ultimately Riley learns that sometimes sadness might just be - rather than an awkward interference - the most important emotion of them all.
But after the sadness, then what? I think we need to know that things could somehow get better. That we're not alone. I believe we need a comforter - and I believe we have one.
Jesus once said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
He does not give as the world gives! What God gives you is not equal to the stuff which happens to you in your life. God is not simply another name which we give to 'fate' or 'luck'. He is not the source of evil - he is the father of lights. The world gives us war - he gives us peace. He is a father who gives kindly, lovingly and generously - if we have the eyes to see it in our lives. He does not hold back on us, he has given us the fullness of himself! It's just that in this dark world, it might take us a while to see that.
'Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.' That can sound trite can't it? Don't be afraid? But I am afraid! Is it so easy, to just hit the 'off' switch on fear? No, it isn't. But this isn't God calling out from the sidelines saying "Hey, stop worrying. You're being silly. Don't be afraid." I believe it comes from the heart of who God is: the "perfect love that drives out all fear." Because God is perfect love, he can tell us not to be afraid. When you know you've encountered perfect, fully present, enduring love - not simply the affection of being liked, but the tangible embrace of God- then that is when fear flees. And maybe we don't see that as much as we'd like. It takes time, but it is always there.
So we take a deep breath. Take the pain and the suffering, recognise the things that aren't right and call them out. Questions remain, and we should ask them. But don't just stay there. Don't let sadness become bitterness. Receive the peace that God gives. Claim the good things and give thanks for them.
And then step out - one step at a time. That is all we can do. Get your footing, set your course, and then step out. Do the next thing. Who knows what will happen when we do? There are no guarantees. All we have is all that we have and all we can see is all we can see. In light of this, what will we do? There are dangers at every turn, and despair will not be hard to find BUT we have a God who meets us on the road, who has promised to be with us - to provide, to heal, to guide. He is a humble God; he does much of his work invisibly, without receiving thanks or praise from us. He counsels our despair and tells us not to be afraid. I find this to be an encouraging thought.
Enough from me. I hope some of this may be a help to someone. Remember sadness, and remember peace. Do not let your hearts be troubled; be brave! And in the season where we remember light that shines in the darkness - against all odds and expectations - Merry Christmas.