June 21, 2015 • Life for Leaders
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.”
I grew up in a culture, church, and family that didn’t have much room for sadness. If people in my life were feeling sad, it was my responsibility to “cheer them up.” As a Christian, I knew I was supposed to “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” God was the one who wiped away every tear. Thus, sadness was inconsistent, not only with the cultural norms of my tribe, but also with our understanding of authentic Christianity. Real Christians were happy, not sad. They always had smiles on their faces. And they certainly didn’t flood their bed with tears.
Of course, there was a problem with the cultural assumptions of my early years. People did get sad. Sometimes their sadness seemed unavoidable, if not reasonable. Beloved friends and family members might get sick and die. Our nation watched as tens of thousands of our young men died in Vietnam. Wasn’t it appropriate to feel sad at times?
The notion that true Christians aren’t ever sad also stumbles over the teaching and examples of Scripture. Many of the psalms express deep sadness to the Lord, without a sense of shame. In Psalm 6:6, for example, David prays, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Now that is serious sadness, even if it does reflect a poetic use of hyperbolic language. It’s unlikely that David’s bed was literally flooded with tears, but we get his point.
Since the Psalms are given to us, in part, to teach us how to communicate with God, then the answer to our question – Should Christians ever be sad? – is yes. In Psalm 6 and in so many other passages, Scripture invites us to be honest with God, to share what’s really going on inside of us. If we’re sad, we should feel free, not only to be sad, but also to share our sadness freely with the Lord. God will carry our sorrows as we offer them to him openly, without hiding or pretending.
Moreover, authentic Christian community includes a place for shared sadness. Remember Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:15. We are to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep.” If someone we care about is grieving, our job is not to “cheer them up,” but rather to join them in their sorrow, and in this way to bear their burdens. As we do, we come to know more deeply the heart of Jesus, who is “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isa 53:3, NLT). Moreover, when we deal openly with our sadness, as well as the sadness of others, we open our hearts to a deeper and fuller experience of God’s comfort and even joy.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
What did your culture, family, and church teach you about sadness?
Are you free to share your sorrows with the Lord? And with other believers?
What helps you express your true feelings to God in prayer?
Thank you, gracious God, for the example of David in Psalm 6. Thank you for the invitation to speak with you honestly, not holding back our sadness or desperation.
Thank you, dear Lord, for hearing our prayers just as they are, for wanting to have an intimate relationship with us in all of our messiness and confusion.
Thank you, gracious God, for entering into our sorrow through Christ, for knowing the inside of sadness.
Thank you, O God, for meeting us in our pain, for offering peace that passes understanding, for turning our mourning into dancing.
Help us to be authentic in our relationship with you, sharing our true thoughts, feelings, fears, and hurts. Help us to weep with those who weep so that we might also rejoice with those who rejoice. May your church be a place of safety and freedom, where broken hearts are shared, comforted, and mended.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the man of sorrows. Amen.
P.S. This devotion is based on one I wrote for The High Calling and is used with permission according to a Creative Commons license.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.