Sadness

I’ve been trying to post something every Tuesday, Thursday and weekend (Saturday or Sunday or both), but this past week I didn’t get around to it until Friday. Part of the reason was, frankly, that I lost motivation to write due to being in a bit of a funk on Wednesday and Thursday.

A few years ago, when I was prone to more serious bouts of depression, that would have meant lots of rage and despair. In this case I just went a couple of days with absolutely no motivation to do anything. Also, I was really cranky. (Sorry, Kate and kids.)

Anyway, there were two features of this most recent time of discouragement that I want to comment on. Both are pretty typical for me, and both run counter to what people expect.

The first is that what triggered my depression was an attempt to get closer to God. A couple of days earlier I had spent some extra time with the Lord praying and confessing some sins and and meditating on a Scriptural passage in 1 Peter. The prayer and confession and time in Scripture were all encouraging, but trying to live out my faith honestly afterwards was tough. It’s so much easier emotionally to fake the Christian life than it is to walk with God for real. Facing fear, anger, denial or self-centeredness is so much harder than being in denial about them.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. In the long run my life is much happier because God pushes me to deal with things. Ultimately, knowing God is the source of all true joy for me. But on a day-to-day basis I often find that pursuing spiritual victory leads to feelings of discouragement, loss, and guilt. Until I fight through those feelings, it can seem as though pursuing God is the harder path.

The second thing I want to comment on is that when I’m really feeling melancholy, the thought of having to muster up encouragement is especially discouraging. Folk wisdom says that if you keep a positive attitude, if you count your blessings and express yourself in praise and thankfulness, you’ll begin to feel better. That’s the opposite of what happens in my case. When I’m sad, trying to be cheerful makes me a lot sadder. (It doesn’t sadden me to act cheerfully towards other people, just to try and mean it on the inside.)

I’ve always wondered why this is true. On Thursday I noticed something about my emotional state at the time that might be relevant. When I’m feeling low, I normally toughen up my feelings a little in order to hold everything together. I have to keep myself a little numb. Being genuinely thankful requires an emotional vulnerability that I can’t handle at moments of deep sorrow. Starting to praise or give thanks makes me feel like crying!

If I’m going to open up emotionally when I’m profoundly sad, what I’d rather do is just be melancholy in God’s presence. It reminds me of the Amy Grant song Better than a Hallelujah.

God loves a lullaby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

God invites our expressions of sadness just as much as our joy. You can see this all through the Bible, especially in the Psalms.

I’ve learned in the last several years that if I give it time, the depression will pass and joy will replace it. I am thankful to “the God of all comfort … who comforts the depressed” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 7:6). My family is also patient with me when I get blue, so I’m thankful to them too.

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