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Okay, I’m a cheap-skate, I can’t bring myself to shell out the money for movie tickets. It’s been more than ten years since my wife and I have actually seen a movie in a theater. But we do subscribe to Netflix and get DVD movies delivered to our mailbox for those newer releases not yet available for live streaming. One recent DVD delivery was the Disney-Pixar production of Inside Out. As many of you undoubtedly know, it is the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The movie depicts a number of “emotions” including joy, sadness, anger, disgust and fear which exist inside of her head. In spite of each “emotion’s” role, they all seemed to root for Riley to successfully overcome the many challenges inherent in such a move. As both a pastor and counselor, I was intrigued by the way these “emotions” were portrayed. Of special interest to me was how “sadness” played a significant role in the resolution of the plot.
It appeared to me that Sadness was most instrumental in helping Riley come to terms with and overcome the challenge she faced. Sadness helped her reflect upon how she had overcome difficult times before, (like the time she missed the chance to score the winning goal for her youth hockey team) and seemed to enable her to come to terms with her current dilemma (loneliness) and re-connect with her parents.
If I suggested that sadness plays an important role in the life of the Follower of Christ, is often received as counter intuitive. I would dare to say that some would even accuse me of being un-biblical. It is common for Christian caregivers to recite the words of Paul to the Philippians when he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).
My fear is that we have become more comfortable with platitudes and insincerity, rather than with walking along someone in genuine sorrow, and Christian empathy. While serving as Pastoral Counselor on the staff of a rather large church, I was called upon to minister to a family who had lost their teenaged son in a fatal auto accident. As anyone could imagine, the family was devastated and grief-stricken. Days after the memorial service, when well-intentioned church members would ask me how the family was doing, they seemed to expect me to say “Oh, they are doing great.” But when I responded with just one word, “Lousy,” those who inquired were speechless.
As ministers and Christian caregivers, we often fall into the same trap. We prefer to admonish those who grieve and struggle with words—even Scripture—that will lift them out of the apparent sadness of their struggle. This is usually an attempt to protect our vulnerabilities and sorrow. When this happens, we are in danger of getting in the way of how the Spirit of God might be moving in a person’s heart.
While we are to remember to “rejoice in the Lord” (emphasis mine), it is also important to note how often the Bible mentions sadness. Jesus was described as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Let us not forget that each follower of Christ begins his or her relationship with Christ with the “Godly sorrow” of conviction which leads to repentance and faith (2 Cor. 7:10).
I find it interesting that times of sadness precede some very important milestones in the Biblical narrative. Elijah was depressed and sorrowful while hiding from Queen Jezebel. I believe his sadness allowed him to hear the “still, small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12).
Jesus told his disciples that he was “exceedingly sorrowful” during his time in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest (Matthew 26:38). During that time of sadness in the Garden, Jesus admonished his disciples for their inability to stay awake with Him for an hour (Matthew 26:40). At another juncture, Jesus referred to his disciples as friends (John 15:14-15). I can’t help but think that on the night before Jesus was to fulfill the purpose of his coming, and as He wrestled with obedience to His father’s will, that He just wanted His friends to be there with Him.
As ministers and Christian caregivers, we are called to do no less. To walk along with others in their sadness, to help them to hear God’s voice and overcome challenges, is a high and holy calling. Let us be courageous enough to experience the sadness with them.