I bet most audience members of the movie Inside Out were okay with the idea that Joy should be in charge. After all, we like to be happy. No religious belief can be true if it doesn’t match up with our internal smiley-face-meter. We shouldn’t have to do work we aren’t passionate about, stay in relationships that no longer serve us, or deny ourselves any desire or pleasure. Pretty much the entire world is telling us that our goal should be to be happy, happy, happy, all the time, even at the expense of others.
And who’s telling us that joy and sadness can, and should, exist at the same time?
Pretty much just Pixar and Jesus.
Long before Pixar made a delightful, whimsical movie about the emotions inside a little girl’s head, Jesus summed up the moral of the story this way: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Joy, with her blue hair, twirly dress, and unflagging optimism, would stare at him and say, “Excuse me, what?” just like the rest of us. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s true. Here are some things I think Christians should be sad about.
Often, I’m not really sad about my sin. I’m sorry for the results—for the look on someone’s face when I realize I hurt them, for the awkwardness when I’m sure a friend knows I lied, for the burning shame when I realize that, once again, I am making everything all about me. I’m even sorry for the distance I feel from God when I disobey him. But I don’t feel the weight of what my pride and pettiness and hypocrisy and angry outbursts and distortions of the truth really are: rebellion against God.
Paul was pretty hard on the Corinthians for their sin. In his follow-up letter to them, he says, “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.” Paul was excited that they were sad after reading his first letter, but not because he was a killjoy who wanted people to suffer. No, he was excited about the change. It seems that repentance only really happens when you are genuinely sad about what you’ve done wrong.
I need to have that reaction more often.
Two: Horrible Choices
This is not actually the same thing as sin. When I talk about Horrible choices, I’m actually referring to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Without going into detail for those of you who haven’t seen it, I’ll just say that the main character is faced throughout with the choice between one thing he really wants and another thing he really wants. There are times when he thinks he can have both, but in the end, he has to choose.
There are times when to get everything we ever wanted we have to give up everything we ever wanted. You know, those crossroads in life where we choose either this person, place, dream, vocation, plan…or that one. We often want competing things, and we can’t have both, and we don’t always clearly know what to do.
I had to make one of those choices recently, between two things that I wanted very, very much. They were mutually exclusive—saying yes to one meant saying no to the other. I made my choice…and I let myself be sad for the one I gave up. I actually scheduled time into my life to journal and pray and mourn what I turned down—and then commit my choice to God.
I will not regret the choice I made. I will not. End of story. I refuse to live trapped in “what ifs” and “could-have-beens.” Not with this choice, not with any future choice. Yes, it’s because God is sovereign, but I also needed to give myself time to say, “The choice is behind me, and I am sad, in a way. But it was the right choice, and, anyway, it is made and God is good and let’s keep going forward.” That time, I think, is important for avoiding a build-up of resentment, jealousy, and daydreams of a future that never was.
1 Corinthians 15:54 is often quoted at funerals: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
But notice the timing for when this is true in the verse before it: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written.” And we are still living firmly in the perishable, mortal world.
Or…are we? Because Jesus has already defeated death. We have an example of what resurrection looks like. Death doesn’t have the ultimate victory, and that’s where joy touches even our sorrow, because we have faith in that ultimate ending.
But, oh, death still has a sting, like peroxide on an open wound, telling us something’s wrong, something is not as it should be. It hurts. It’s temporary, but it hurts.
People die. Relationships die—quickly or slowly, faded by distance and time and stages of life that inch apart bit by bit. Dreams and future plans and optimistic views of the future…all of them can meet little deaths.
Please, do not write grief out of your sympathy cards. Don’t crowd it out of your journal entries or Facebook statues or prayers. Don’t draw a circle around it and tell it not to move, not to speak, not to touch.
Grieving with hope is one of the greatest testimonies to the goodness of God, because it both acknowledges the incredible pain of life in a fallen world and has faith in God’s promise that one day everything will be restored. Don’t tell half a story. Without grief, the happy ending isn’t as beautiful, because it isn’t a glorious answer to the chaos and obstacles of the first part of the story. Let yourself—and others—mourn death as an act of faith.
Four: General Brokenness
Tucked inside what I’d say is the most joyful chapter of the Bible—Romans 8—is a lot of talk about crying and groaning. In the middle of talk about victory and beauty and the undeserved, unstoppable, redeeming love of Christ is sorrow because we’re not there yet. All of creation is groaning, and we groan with it.
All of creation. Every ruined masterpiece or species gone extinct, every ended marriage or fatal disease, every abandoned building and abandoned child, from the natural disaster of a lightning strike burning down a forest to the heartbreakingly unnatural disaster of a person consumed by hatred burning down a church—all of creation is groaning.
It’s okay to be sad about these things. Join in the lament. But remember, when you turn to Revelation, the last song isn’t a lament. It is a joyful hymn of praise to the God who will make all things new.
Inside Out tells us that it’s okay to be sad—that it’s even good—and I agree. For the Christian, though, I think there’s a reason better than the ability to empathize with others or to heal and move on.
So, be sad, Christian! Don’t be self-pitying or stuck in cycles of shame or hopeless. But be sad to the glory of God, because godly sorrow tells the truth about the world we live in and the God who will someday redeem it.