Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
In the past months since the last Intimacy post, I’ve done a good bit of thinking. And one thing in particular keeps wandering across the spectrum of my consciousness, so I’ve decided that it’s time to once more try to capture it, tame it, and lay it out for the rest of you to nibble on.
The thought began with all of our new best friend: Netflix.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when this began for me, but I’ll start from the beginning. Hopefully many of you will resonate with this.
I remember being in middle school and having my first major crush. A girl liked me and I liked her and there was much rejoicing. My musical tastes, awful as they were in 2005, turned to the upbeat and joyful sounds of spunky guitars and hopeful lyrics. Then came heartbreak. For some unfathomable reason, it didn’t work out between this cute thirteen-year-old and me. Sure, my musical tastes devolved into this poppy form of mourning, but what did I seek out? Some kind of comedy or romantic chick flick to make myself feel better. A happy book with a hopeful ending. Rather than experiencing the pain of the rejection, I turned to something with a predictable and controllable happy ending.
Fast forward to today. Our culture is one of selection and taste. And if any of you are like me, you’d rather watch something with a happy ending than something that takes a realistically depressing slice of life and lays it out before its viewers. We are quick to call this form of entertainment an ‘escape.’
When I feel lonely, do I want to watch something depressing to make me feel worse? No, I turn on Friends reruns or stream Arrested Development, in which the protagonists are always in some sort of comedic peril, always with their close friends or family, and always lighthearted. We viewers can make quick friends with these characters who always seem to be there for us, to cheer us up and make us chuckle.
There has to be a reason comedies rake in billions at the box office and sad dramas are reserved for the sparsely-attended art house theaters. (However, it is just as possible to escape into any series with a good plot and realistic characters. i.e. Breaking Bad or House of Cards.)
How different is this from the way the psalmists walked through suffering and loneliness!
By far, the Psalms of lament outnumber the other categories of psalms. They compose about a third of the psalter, which in itself should be a wake-up call to this laughing generation. In these psalms, I’ve found that the writers don’t avoid the tough and ugly parts of what they are going through. Nor do they try to make their trials sound prettier than they are. In many of the psalms, the writer is angry at God or his enemies, and states what he wants to see happen to his opponents (i.e. Psalm 137, which ends by saying how blessed is the man who takes the infants of my enemies and dashes them against the rocks. Note that the author is not doing this, but being honest in saying what he wants to see happen. He is being honest with God. But the imprecatory psalms are for another day and a smarter author).
Take for instance Psalm 88, arguably the darkest psalm in the book, as there is no glimmer of hope, even at the end, but rather, an ending Simon and Garfunkel would be proud of. Note several things. First off, the psalmist is totally honest with God. He spouts phrases like, “my life draws near to the grave,” “You have put me in the lowest pit,” “Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide Your face from me?” and finally, “the darkness is my closest friend.” I think that if Christians learned to be honest with God the way the psalmists were, rather than dressing our prayers in a polite spiritual piety, we would experience a nearness to Him that is foreign to so many in our “Christian culture” today.
Also note that the author engages his troubles. He says that he has cried out to God day and night; his eyes have grown dim with grief; he has called to the Lord and spread his hands to Him. The writer repeatedly talks about crying out to the Lord, in the morning and in the evening. It is clear that He faced his sorrow head on. In other words, he didn’t jot down this honest little poem and then flip on The Office to relieve him of his burden and shoo the ugly suffering under the carpet, laughing to avoid the pain.
He faced it in the morning.
He faced it in the evening.
He faced it day after day and gave it to the Lord.
The last thing I noticed is that the psalmist does not lose sight of God in the midst of his trial. He opens up the psalm by calling God the “God who saves me,” and offers up other statements to declare truths about who God is. We need to do this too. We need to remind ourselves and remind one another who God is and what He has done for us, even when we don’t feel like He is with us.
Is your tendency like mine? Do you flee your pain and loneliness and scroll through any number of social media outlets, looking for the one laugh that will satisfy once and for all? Or perhaps you just soak in hours of Netflix comedies, feeing closeness to these digital people.
I think there’s a reason there’s no book of comedy in the Bible.
I think we need to learn to grieve and suffer better.
Next time a trouble comes upon you, or if you are in the midst of grief right now, put down the TV remote. Shut the laptop. Get alone from the noise and the distractions and pray. Journal. Read the Word (hey, try the Psalms!). But don’t escape the Lord. Don’t run from Him, but to Him. He cares about your woes. David was deemed The Man After God’s Own Heart, and he somehow learned to walk through the hard times of life with the Lord, rather than by keeping his problems in the closet and out of sight.
Learn to emote well.
Be honest with the One who understands.