In Defense of Sadness

Topics: Suffering

There are some joys that are only possible on the other side of sorrow. -John Piper

Sadness is a holy emotion. I don’t know many people, though, who welcome it as such. Most of the time, we run away from sadness as fast as we can. And who can blame us? Being sad feels…bad. It’s painful and sometimes scary. We feel small and exposed by the fact that we’re not quite as strong as we thought, and our instinct is either to fight or flee.

But sadness isn’t a “bad” emotion; it’s the incredibly human response to something that has gone wrong in the world. Living on this side of heaven is hard. We suffer loss and disappointment. The ground beneath us moves unexpectedly, and our hearts wince. Sadness doesn’t necessarily mean we’re failing to trust God. It may simply mean we’re bravely experiencing our humanity. As Zack Eswine observes, “In this fallen world sadness is an act of sanity, our tears the testimony of the sane.” Sometimes what is most warranted in a heart-breaking situation is to be heartbroken.

Instead of running from sad times, many of us would be well served to stay put and embrace them as a gift, an invitation to draw near to the heart of the Father and receive the comfort of His presence and love. Here are three things we have the opportunity to do in seasons of sorrow.

Receive the Compassion of Christ

God the Son entered the frailty of the human condition, which means He knows what it’s like to be us (John 1:14; Heb. 2:17). Jesus was called a Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53:3). He was acquainted with suffering, loneliness and grief. He endured insult and experienced rejection. Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15). He is our sympathetic High Priest. Jesus does not despise us in our weakness but instead bids us to run with all our might to the throne of grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). He is there with arms outstretched, ready to receive our burdens and carry our sorrows (Matt. 11:28-29; Isa. 53:4). We need only to humble ourselves and turn to Him.

Trust the Promises of God

Sad times give us the opportunity to work our muscles of faith and trust God’s promises apart from our feelings. Pain and sadness can lead us to accuse God of being unfaithful, but that should never be our response. Despite our emotion, we can stand firm, keep our eyes on Jesus and hold tight to what God has said He will do. We recount His faithfulness and pray His promises back to Him: “Father, I am brokenhearted and undone but I know you love me and I believe your promise to be near. Please help me to feel your presence” (Ps. 34:17-18). Even if we don’t feel immediate comfort, God is working in our hearts to strengthen our faith and cause the roots of our confidence to grow deeper.

Consider the Suffering of Others

Walking through seasons of sadness gives us the chance to extend compassion to others and empathize with them in times of sadness. What may be a relatively brief experience of sorrow for us is likely a more enduring ache for someone we know. As we let ourselves feel—actually feel—the weight and pain of loss, disappointment and sorrows of this life, our compassion for others increases. The comfort, companionship and patience we desire from others become what we are eager to extend to those who need them. Our perspective on the weakness of others changes, becomes humanized, and we’re humbled.

There can be a beautiful nobility to sadness, and it’s a place where God frequently and faithfully meets His children with treasures in tow. Instead of fighting sadness or trying to flee from it, maybe we can learn to sit still in our sorrow, just for a moment. As we do, we may begin to see that God is there, ready to speak in ways we might not hear otherwise.