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.
After a quick glance over this article I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. “Is he really going to say what I think he is?” So I read and as I read I thought “Is he putting into words what I’ve known, but not been willing to admit?” There were moments of I felt I was reading my own words. Like someone was typing my inner thoughts. I am challenged and ready for more in my walk with Him…Thank-you.
I must admit I found your blog via social media, through a random article popped up a guy in Chicago. *awkward silence* But I can already so God’s hand at work in it! Just think if you hadn’t talked to the news people? If I hadn’t ready the article? If I have been blessed already, just think how many more people will be? A door has been opened for you to share Jesus with so many people! I am, from experience a firm believer that everything that happens and every person we come in contact with is for a reason. Even if we never know why during our time on earth.
From just the couple of articles I have read so far I am blessed not only by your writing style, but also your honestly and brokenness…Thank-you! Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading more!
Blessing and Merry Christmas,
This is so beautiful
So I came to this website (probably like most people in recent week) because of the WGN article.. But I was blessed to find posts that resonate with me..
I’m deep smack in the middle of what you are writing.. The past couple of years have been a dark period in my life and I thought the solution was moving to a whole new continent and I find myself alone & missing home. My solace of choice? Friends! I like to think God and I have a decent relationship.. We havent been intimate in over a month now but hey, I say hi here and there, I thank Him when good things happen, ask for support when I’m especially stressed. But I have not faced my troubles, REALLY faced my troubles and been open with Him for the past 3 years… And although I have been leaning on Him, our relationship is suffering. So thank you for your posts. For so eloquently putting in words what I think deep down I need to do. I love the psalms but I always preferred the ones with a good ending like the one below. I’ve been living a psalm 13 life, trying to make verses 5-6 a reality but the truth is, sometimes it’s hard.. My head knows that is the truth, but my heart does not always feel it. In any case, thank you for this post!
PS: I hope you do find what you’re looking for! 🙂
“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
Psalm 13:1-6 NIV
Very well written. A perspective very few consider. My daughter explored you a bit more after a clip on TV about your running in the cold and rain! She was just curious to see how many responded to you being single. She then discovered your blog and started reading and shared with me. I’m following for sure and I look forward to reading!
I came across your blog like probably hundreds or thousands of other people because of your Chicago interview. I saw the video yesterday and didn’t think anything about it really other than “hey I’ve been to Chicago and know people there and that guy is really attractive” but that’s not why I’m commenting. I realized you know one of my friends from growing up in NC, Sara Beth Abbey. That’s how your Facebook page popped up on my timeline and I found your blog.
Here’s the reason for this comment: thank you for being so honest on this blog. I’ve read a lot of your posts already and this one really spoke to me. So thank you for writing so openly and beautifully and with such conviction. It touched me.
Thank you for this post. I am currently going through the darkest time of my life so far – my mom is dying, my dad has mid-stage dementia, my special-needs sister requires complete care, I will be having surgery within the next couple months, and my two sisters and I (ages 22 through 33) have our lives on hold to take care of the three of them, while two of my brothers are ignoring us.
I have been struggling with being angry at God for what is happening, particularly in regards to my mother, and yet still needing to turn to him for help. How can I ask him for strength when I want to scream at him? How can I justify screaming at him when I also ask for his strength?
Thank you for reminding me that he already knows my anger and not only doesn’t condemn me for it, but in fact understands and can & will comfort me through this, and that I don’t have to be not-angry with him to talk to him and ask for help.
I pray that he will bless you greatly
Honestly, I hate that I found this blog post. Much the same way an overweight person would hate the scale for reflecting the true state of affairs. Ironically, I just finished watching a netflix movie. I am in the middle of the biggest disappointment of my life, and although God and I had been close, I can’t even pray at length anymore. I am comforted to know that He knows me so well that He can understand the meaning of a simple sigh. I feel like I go through the seven stages of grief several times a day, if that’s even possible. Although I am an avid writer, I am afraid of what I will write if I sit down to do it intentionally. And yet I think I have to…thank you for the reminder!