When Sadness Becomes Your God

I laughed at work today. The kind of laugh you laugh when something is funny but you’re also kind of embarrassed and so you can’t stop laughing.

The office manager had come into my office this morning with donuts and he asked, “Would you like a diet doughnut?”

But that wasn’t what I heard.

And so I asked him, “…Did you ask if I wanted to buy a doughnut?”

And he laughed and told me what he had actually said, and I laughed too.

And I know it’s silly and not even that funny, but later while I was driving I thought about that and I sat there in my car at a red light and smiled. Alone.

And then I realized I was smiling, and how incredible that I have enough joy within me to smile- and not just to smile, but to smile for me.

No one else was around. I wasn’t smiling to keep up appearances or make other people feel good and I wasn’t even smiling about something that someone else said or did. I was smiling, without even realizing it, because the joy within me bubbled up and a smile is just a human’s automatic reaction to feeling your heart fill with lightness.

I was alone. And I was smiling.

And usually when I’m alone I struggle. I battle all sort of thoughts and feeling and it’s fierce and exhausting and scary and I have to live that time in a constant inward posture of being on my knees at the cross.

But that moment alone in my car was easy.

I was surprised by my smile, yes, but even more than that, I was surprised to find that I was actually just enjoying my own company.

And I turned to Jesus and said, “Do you see this, Lord? I’m smiling!” And I know He was smiling too because yes, of course He saw.

And yesterday on my walk, I cried. I walked and walked and at one point I felt my chin begin to shake and my eyes filled with tears and I just let it happen. Because I was safe. It was safe to feel, walking alone down that neighborhood street as the sun set, with Truth coming through my earbuds and into my soul. It was safe. And important.

And I got home and I was tired. It wasn’t even 9:00 yet, but I showered and went to my room and I slept. I slept really well.

And that’s life, isn’t it? To make space for yourself to exist as a person with physical and emotional and spiritual needs, and not just as a doer- the one responsible for getting out of bed in the morning to an alarm and making it through your to-do list for the day.

I’m having to consciously take care of myself in this season. I don’t have another choice. I have to over and over again sit my heart down and say, “You matter.”

My job matters, yes, but that’s an easy fact to accept. The world won’t try to convince you that your job doesn’t matter because your job is how you get paid and keep a roof over your head. And I’m blessed to have my job matter for much deeper reasons than that. But still, believing my job matters isn’t the struggle because my job is where I am a doer. And doers, productivity, those things always count as far as society is concerned.

It’s the heart stuff, the feelings and experiences that the world shrugs at. Because it’s there that you are just you, not as a doer but as a human being.

And if you wait for the world to say, “Yes, that thing you experienced? It matters! And the things you’re feeling? They matter too!” you might be waiting a long time.

And even if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life to say those things matter, as I am, having someone to validate your pain is only one of the steps in healing it.

And there’s danger in that, too, I’ve come to learn. Wanting people to validate your pain isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think, but it can become a hiding place. A source of comfort. And when that happens, you keep running back for the reminder that it mattered.

And that makes people tired. And it makes them sad because they love you and they don’t want you to get stuck in that place of self-pity, of needing them to take care of you. And so at some point you have to tell yourself that it mattered, it MATTERS, but other things matter as well.

And that’s when the Lord mercifully will open your eyes to Joy.

It’s not entirely up to me to know how to balance Joy and Sadness, because He is a good Father. And indeed, He is my Father. I am an adult and I am a child, His child. And I don’t always know what’s best for me or how to cope. But He does. He seems to know how much Sadness I can take, and when I keep my eyes open and my heart soft, He also surprises me with Joy. Joy rushes in like a Labrador Retriever puppy.

And Sadness? It used to feel like a heavy wool blanket, but not anymore. Sadness, when it arrives, sits down beside me and places a hand on my knee, offering me a small measure of comfort even in the midst of its presence. With its hand on my knee, it reminds me, “I’m not here to hurt you.”

Sadness? It’s work. It’s spiritual warfare, and healing the brokenness within me, and grieving what was lost and what isn’t and what may never be. It’s work. And if I try to stuff it down and ignore it, or if I run to other people and grasp onto them like a drowning person, pulling them down too, then I’m missing the lesson in the sadness.

Sometimes Sadness requires professional help or medication, yes. And we DO need people. But ultimately, our sadness is between us and the Lord. We have to learn to sit with it rather than run from it or hide beneath it in surrender.

I’ve used that word a lot lately- surrender. And oh, what a mistake I’ve made (and still struggle not to make) when I’ve surrendered to anything other than the Lord- when I’ve surrender to Sadness, or Fear, or my hopes, or other people. How many times I’ve exalted a thing above the Lord.

It’s so imperative, not just because He is Lord, but also for our own well-being, that we keep Jesus on the throne. It is to Him that we must surrender.

And when Sadness comes and the Lord is on the throne, it doesn’t come as a blanket. When I let the Lord use my sadness, when I trust Him with it, Sadness almost comes as a friend. Gentle. Tender. Apologetic. It exists for a reason, after all, and it’s my job to allow it to sit down beside me when it comes.

It’s much easier to sit side-by-side with Sadness than to allow it to cover me like a blanket. And that’s what happens when you don’t make room for Sadness to sit down when it arrives. It becomes a wool blanket.

At first it comes uninvited, and you struggle to crawl out from beneath it, but you can’t. And so you give up. And it’s easy, tempting even, to say, “Okay. Come. And I’ll hide under here because nothing is fair and I can’t fix it and I quit.” Because Sadness is on the throne now and you can’t see anything but the darkness or feel anything but the weight of it on top of you.

One way or another, the matters of your heart will demand your attention.

But if you listen. If you remember that you’re Someone’s child and that your Father is the Ruler and Creator of all, you’ll hear the Lord gently beckon, “Bring that to me.”

For me, Sadness comes with most force when I’m alone with my heart, not being my Doer self, and without anyone to say that my heart, or that I, matter. And I have to tell Sadness, “Yes, you can come, but my Lord is still on the throne, so have a seat beside me please. I’m not going to hide beneath you, curled up, bowed down to you as if you’re bigger than my God.”

And then I have to sit my heart down, me and Sadness side-by-side and Joy panting at my feet–not demanding my attention but still there, present, breathing–and I have to tell my heart, “Yes, we know. It hurts. And it’s going to take time to feel better. Let’s go for a walk. Let’s smile at the rising moon and the setting sun and breathe deeply. And if you need to cry, if you need to talk about what you’re feeling, that’s okay. The Lord will listen. We’ll all listen. We’re not afraid of big emotions or circumstances beyond our control because the Lord will be there with us, rising the moon and setting the sun and reminding us that He’s bigger than anything. He’s bigger than Sadness and Circumstances and He is the author of Joy. And He’s bigger than you, too, Heart. In this world we’re a tangle of emotions and thoughts and it’s hard, but it won’t always be this hard. And we don’t have to be afraid. When it’s hard, we just have to admit it, accept it, and surrender it to the Lord for Whom nothing is hard.”

I am my Father’s child.

And I am the parent of my heart.

I am both child and adult.

I am Sadness and I am Joy.

And that’s okay.

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