One of the most frustrating things about feeling sad is that most people always want to fix sadness or make it go away. Their efforts also make it seem like we ourselves need to try to fix our emotion or make it go away when we are feeling the gray waves of sadness. In my experience, this labels my sadness as something wrong or shameful.
In 2015, Pixar came out with Inside Out, a comedy-drama about the emotions that live inside us and how they interact with one another. As a fan of NBC’s The Office, I was so excited to hear that Phyllis Smith and Mindy Kaling were both voicing main characters, Sadness and Disgust. As I watched the movie, I saw that Sadness’ character seemed to be the antagonist at first. All the other emotions, especially Joy, became irritated with her interfering and “messing up” the day-to-day experiences that Riley had. Sadness and Joy ended up working together to make a pathway of healing for Riley. Inside Out painted a beautiful picture of the importance of all emotions, as well as the reality of feeling multiple emotions at once. The movie also pointed out a major flaw in our society’s understanding of emotions: that sadness needs to be fixed.
When we look to Scripture for examples of sadness, the story of Lazarus usually comes to mind. This story is found in John 11, and also features the shortest verse in the Bible. The story opens, as Lazarus of Bethany, brother of Mary and Martha, is ill. If you read on, Mary and Martha send for Jesus to come heal him, but Jesus doesn’t come right away. He meets Martha after Lazarus has died and been in the tomb for four days and Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha then tells Mary that, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” Instead of greeting Jesus, Mary cries out to him saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
The most curious thing happens here. Instead of trying to reassure Mary that her brother will soon rise again, Jesus is moved with empathy and compassion, and Jesus experiences sadness himself—“Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Jesus already knew what was going to happen, but took the time to hear Mary’s emotions and respond to her. What this tells me is that Jesus is not always interested in “fixing” the problem, but he rather wants to ride the wave of sadness beside us.
The Lord already knows the outcomes of our situations; just like he knew that Jesus would restore Lazarus. Our Lord also loves us, and is present for our reactions in processing and healing.
My own life has been filled with moments of sadness and despair. I have been in and out of counseling since high school. My experience in the counseling room is a piece of why I am pursuing a career in the counseling field. One of the most healing moments of my life did not happen when I was sitting across from my counselor a few years ago and sharing a secret that I had never spoken aloud before. But the healing came with the tears I cried after sharing that secret. My counselor responded in a way I had never seen before; she sat and cried beside me. She did not jump into an intervention. She did not hand me a box of tissues. She did not jump up and rub my back. She settled in for the ride and let me feel the sadness beside her. That was a moment of true, raw empathy.
Sadness looks different for many people. Sadness is also deemed uncomfortable because of how our society always responded to it is like Bob the Builder, and tried to fix it. Sorry folks, you can’t fix sadness—because it isn’t something to be fixed. Sadness is an emotion to embrace, to feel, and to hold. Sadness is a wave that we have to ride—the whole way through.