So often, I find within myself a deep sense of sadness. I have no reason for sadness, but it’s there none the less. I can step back and look at the facts of my life–the fact that I have a happy marriage, a good job, a cozy home, loving friends and family, the hope of God–so much to be thankful for and to look forward to. And yet, even among the facts of my happy life, I find sadness. Unreasonable, inexplicable sadness. I have always felt this sadness something I need to change, to overcome; I have viewed it as a weakness and a flaw…until recently. I have lately started to wonder if this sadness actually has anything good to offer–if it is perhaps a good and important part of my nature rather than a part that need be weeded out.
In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis says, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.” I’ve been thinking a lot about these words and have started to wonder what lessons I can learn from sadness that I might not learn any other way. I see the following:
- So much of what I write grows out of sadness, out of the dark times that give me reason to pause, to reflect, and to think harder and deeper. Perhaps if I had a lighter nature and didn’t struggle with sadness so much, I would never be able to think, feel, and write as I do. I feel deeply, which sometimes leads me down a dark road. But if I didn’t feel so deeply, perhaps I would never stop to think deeply, and in turn never write or create beauty out of that darkness. I’m reading Mood Tides by Dr. Ron Horton, a teacher I became acquainted with at the university I attended. Dr. Horton says, “Scripture does not require us to suppress these emotional states but asks us rather to make good use of them. I suspect that apart from emotional lows some would never entertain serious thoughts. Certainly apart from emotional highs it is difficult for the spirit to rise in praise. ‘Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing,’ commands James (James 5:13). Notice that this injunction does not propose correctives to these emotional states. James is not saying jerk yourself out of these moods. He is telling us what to be doing while we are in them.”
- Sadness helps me look inward and see myself and all that lies within me, good or bad, in a sharper light. How would I ever grow or change if I never stopped to take a sober look at myself? I don’t always like what I see within, but looking away and ignoring the problems doesn’t help me change.
- Sadness gives me a contrast to happiness that helps me develop a deeper appreciation for all the good in my life. When everything in life is perfect and I’m perfectly happy, I tend to take for granted all I’ve been given. But after a time of sadness and reflection, all the good in my life seems that much brighter and I am that much more thankful for the beauty I’m surrounded by.
- Sadness helps me better relate to and value the suffering of others. I can say, “I know how you feel,” but I won’t really know unless I’ve been there myself. Sadness and depression are common infirmities and taking my part in them helps me know how to help others in their own darkest hour.
Even with the good I’m starting to see in sadness, I realize too it must not go unbridled. I cannot use sadness as an excuse. I cannot mistreat people around me because I’m upset or down. I can’t live a life of doom and gloom marked only by complaining. If sadness is to be used for good in my life, then I must learn from it and be always moving forward, not wallowing in self-pity. C.S. Lewis says, “Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.” Sadness is only good so far as it helps me reflect and change; anything beyond that is very likely self-indulgence.
Again in Mood Tides, Dr. Horton says of the emotional ups and downs we face, “But if emotional variation is inevitable, spiritual variation is not. Satan delights to attack us at the extremes of our emotional cycles as well as at seasons of life that push us up or down. He need not succeed. We can resist him better if we understand that it is not the extremes themselves but what we do with them that brings about spiritual victory or defeat. We can condemn their indulgent states, pride, and despair, without condemning the fluctuations themselves. For elation and depression are normal moods intended for good. They are moods, it is true, which some must endure as acute and chronic infirmities. Yet they may be endured like other infirmities with the assurance that God can turn suffering to positive gain. There is divine purpose in the rhythms of life.”
I love the poem Desert Places by Robert Frost. Frost’s words about the empty, desert places we find inside ourselves remind me that I’m not alone in this experience:
“Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it–it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less–
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.”
Desert Places by Robert Frost