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Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Function of Sadness and a Jesus who Weeps

Two years ago, almost to the day, my son Jacob was born.

He came into the world with his fists clenched and his mouth open wide, bellowing louder than seemed possible for a 7-pound, 11-ounce newborn baby.

Lying down in the hospital, I remember at that instant what immense relief I felt when I heard his cries. Until I heard those cries I had never quite allowed myself to believe that all was OK. Those were the happiest cries I'd ever heard.

Of course that didn't last long.

Like most parents, I would from that instant go on to a lifetime of attempting to ensure that Jacob never had anything to cry about again. Happy children - not smart, not wealthy, not athletic, not beautiful - but happy children, are the Holy Grail.

Be happy, be happy, be happy! the world screams. Buy these yoga pants and say Namaste. Juice. Drive this car. Take antidepressants. Smile! And when you do, make sure your wrinkles are smooth and your teeth are white.

Commercials filled with sulking faces are replaced in an instant, with a cold beer and a juicy hamburger; whitewater rafting and ballroom dancing - and a flash to people smiling and slapping each other on the back.

Tears are hidden. It is a shame to be sad.

We shun the sadness among us because we know its side effects. Depression, isolation, addiction, suicide, obesity, anorexia. Yet sadness itself does not cause depression, isolation, addiction, suicide, obesity, anorexia -- rather it is our inability to healthfully deal with and go through and share sadness that makes our modern society so susceptible to these silent killers.

I have been deeply sad in my life, and at times I have slipped into situational depression. 

I have felt the weight of sadness. The death of a family member. The end of a relationship. The loss of a job. A major health scare. Betrayal. Fear.

In these moments I have felt not only sadness but shame for my tears. It is embarrassing to be sad. 

So in the shame and isolation our sadness grows and blossoms. It slows down our movements to a crawl, inching out of bed, listening to that same song on repeat, eating nothing all day and then an entire bag of chips at night.

Sadness has been put into the closet. And in this closet of fear and isolation: depression, addiction, suicide, obesity, anorexia, self-doubt -- they grow to become insurmountable and life seems impossible.

It wasn't always this way. For Jesus, sadness was a necessary part of life and even of salvation. People were sad together, and out of that shared sadness - new life began, even out of death.

In Mark, chapter 5, Jesus is summoned to the bedside of Jairus' daughter, who has died. When he comes to Jairus' home, he sees "a commotion of people weeping and wailing loudly."

In John, chapter 11, Jesus goes to visit Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Many friends and neighbors had already come to their home before Jesus to mourn with Mary and Martha. They even followed Mary to the tomb, to accompany her as she wept. As they walked on, they were weeping with her. Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. Soon, he began to weep.

Mary's friends didn't surround her and say: Don't cry, Mary. Be happy! Everything happens for a reason! 

Jesus' mother didn't follow him, begging: "Don't cry! I want you to be happy."

Despite his status as Savior of the world and God Incarnate, for most of his life Jesus was not a particularly happy man. He had moments of joy: in the temple as a young boy; in his friendships; on his baptism day in the Jordan River as his Father blessed him.

But the Bible never says Jesus was happy. It never says Jesus smiled, even. No, instead we are granted a portrait of a God who weeps.

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus wept so hard his tears became tears of blood. He was in great anguish as he prayed alone. Then an angel came to give him strength, and Jesus went to go and wake his friends.

Somehow, the Bible seems to say, we are not meant to hide our tears - but in crying together, in reaching out and sharing our tears, sadness finds its function.

Sadness creates empathy and real relationship. It is through the pain and sadness of betrayal and death on the Cross that God is forever changed in relationship to human beings. In Jesus God experiences the depth of human sadness, and as a result God understands forever how we feel, how death feels - and God decides by God's plan to forever save the world from death by the gift of eternal life.

If I have never felt sadness I can never share in full relationship with my brother or my sister who is sad. But when we have known sadness together, we are confident we can defeat it together. Through the presence of my brother or sister in the midst of my sadness, I can see beyond the closet doors of sadness into the future of a redeemed life in a world touched by the presence of Jesus.

As a ninth grader I read Brave New World, about a utopian society where no one feels pain, anxiety or sadness - and a savage named John who chooses to feel and die rather than live in a superficial world of "happiness."

At the time John was my hero and there was no question what I'd choose. "I claim the right to be unhappy!" I shouted with the tragic hero.

As a 29-year-old wife, mother, and pastor - sometimes the artificial ease of soma sounds somewhat more appealing. Life's burdens are too heavy to carry alone. But rather than squeezing our eyes tight and trying to pretend our burdens don't exist, perhaps we're meant to share the load.

When I cry, Jesus does not say: "Don't cry. Please be happy."

He says: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

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