For the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of thinking about joy, happiness, and sadness. A godly wise friend reminded me that, “Happy and sad are emotions. Christian joy is a state of being, or a source of our feelings.” Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” To know Jesus is to know joy and that joy gives us hope. But sadness is also a fact of life and happiness is fleeting. Things happen that are out of our control and sadness can sneak up on us and temporarily mask our joy. In a little over a week I will experience the two year anniversary of my husband’s death. I tend to be a pretty joyful person, but both last year and this year, as the date of David’s death draws near, a deep sadness settles on me. Consequently, I have been thinking and praying about the two powerful emotions of sadness and happiness and how they relate to the underlying joy of being in Christ. Permit me to share with you some of my thoughts about joy, happiness, and sadness.
I have come to appreciate that there are many different kinds of sadness. I have been calling them “shades of sadness” because each type has its own unique characteristics. There is the deep, overwhelming, numbing sadness of a great loss; the sharp, stinging sadness of unkind words or rejection; the empty, aching sadness of loneliness, the stoic, accepting sadness when you realize reality is forever changed, or what I call the “blanket” of sadness that seems to settle on you and have no clear cause. Sadness at its worst can cause us to withdraw from the very things we need most. It can essentially paralyze us into inaction and begin a descending spiral into hopelessness and depression. As followers of Christ we have access to “tools” that can help us deal effectively with sadness, overcome it, and find joy again – even in the midst of the sadness.
So how do we handle sadness? How do we rediscover joy? There is no one answer that fits all situations and people. The subject is complex and profound. I firmly believe that being sad does not mean that our faith isn’t strong enough or that we are failing as Christians. It means we are human and we are dealing with a difficult part of our life’s journey. Sometimes the sadness is so overwhelming we need outside professional help (pastors, counselors, etc.). I see those professionals as gifts from God to give us encouragement, support, and a “road map” to help us find joy again. It takes work to overcome sadness and the journey is sometimes long and hard. I have been blessed with loving friends willing to walk alongside me and I thank God for them. In addition to the help of professionals and good friends, I have discovered one place to go where I can rediscover joy. That one place is the presence of God which I access through two approaches. This is the place I need to go to again and again because even though the sadness does lift, it has a way of finding me again and happiness is elusive.
First, I choose to come to the foot of the cross and pour out my heartache. The cross is where I experience God’s greatest expression of love and grace. It is where I am free to lament the loss, the rejection, the loneliness, the new reality, the confusion, and despair. Here in His presence I am neither judged nor rejected. Here I find The One who truly understands, who cares deeply, and who loves me more than I will ever understand. To be honest, it is not pleasant to allow myself to experience the full impact of the sadness. It would be so much easier to try to ignore or bury it, but then I would not find the healing and freedom He wants to give me. It is in His presence that I am able to claim this beautiful promise from Psalm 30:5b, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (NRSV) Joy comes when I am in His presence!
The King James Version of Psalm 22:3 is the guiding principle of the second choice I make. It says, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” As I thought about that verse, I came to the conclusion that if God is found enthroned on the praises of His people; I will encounter Him and spend time in His presence if I choose to praise. So that is what I do. When I am feeling sad, I immediately begin praising God. It is not always easy. In fact, often the tears are still pouring down my face as my mouth is praising Him. I praise Him for who He is, for what He has done through Jesus Christ, for His providential care, and His unending love. I praise Him for the big and little things in my life from people to possessions. I praise Him for opportunities to serve others and to grow in His likeness. I even praise Him for the difficult times because they bring me into His presence. No matter how sad I feel I continue to praise and you know what? Joy comes! Not necessarily happiness, but joy – true, deep, abiding, soul-nourishing joy. And hope is restored.
I invite you to come. Join me in choosing to come into His presence. Come to the cross and lay down your sadness at His feet. Pour out your heart and let Him fill it with His love, hope, and grace. Come and experience His presence through praise and thanksgiving. Of one thing you can be sure: In His presence, joy comes!!