“Sad is happy for deep people.”
The quote comes from a Doctor Who episode which my husband and his older kids like to quote from time to time.
Recently, Desiring God, a website by the ministry of John Piper, posted a blog titled “Why sing sad songs when I don’t feel sad?” Of course it made me think of Elton John and how sad songs say so much. And it’s true. Some of the very best writing, as far as poetry and novels and films, all have a profound sadness about them, pushing us to wrestle with the dark spots of life and this world.
Oh Lord, teach us to lament well. Teach us to engage that part of our minds and hearts that cause us to clearly see our pitiful states, to truly understand exactly what great lengths you had to go to in order to save us, from ourselves and sin’s despairs.
Nothing shows us the bittersweet balance of joy and sorrow quite like the Psalms. As Saint Ambrose, a 4th century Christian, referred to the Psalms as the gymnasium of the soul, when we read through the book, our hearts and minds are exercised in every way, stretched and pulled through multiple emotions almost simultaneously. What benefit would there be to only read the “happy” psalms, the ones that are all exciting and joyful? It would be, in my opinion, to ignore an entire portion of God Himself, to refuse to learn about ALL of Him through careful exploration of ALL of us. We must delve into the parts of us that aren’t so pleasing. We must be willing to contemplate the complex disappointments and despair of life, for ourselves and for those around us. “Blessed are those who mourn.” There is no comfort without mourning, and God is the Great Comforter. We deny the full character of all of God’s heart when we don’t fully place ourselves into the Comforter’s hands.
I wonder how many people can truly engage the darkness of life and of their souls for even just one day. It makes me think of when Jesus was in the garden praying and his friends couldn’t stay awake with him. He asked them, can you not stay awake and pray with me for just one hour? Of course he knew. He knew they weren’t capable of understanding and really engaging in what was happening and what was going to happen. How could they? They didn’t have the depth of sorrow and the weight of just how epic the event that was about to take place really was.
And I wonder if we can be that unsure and that uneasy without driving ourselves to the edge and actually going over. Because quite frankly being on the edge of despair is a good place for more people to be. I have become convinced that more people need to live there, camp out there for awhile, let themselves peer into the pit and dangle a limb or two over the side. Why? I’m not sadistic. But I am all about realism. I think especially in our American culture we are so good at placating ourselves, whether it’s prescription drugs or all the other distractions we employ – movies, TV shows, drinking, sex – all of our thrill seeking is like that person who only reads the happy psalms. We can easily drown out sorrow and pain, for the most part, and just go about our shallow lives, jumping from happy lily to happy lily in our small little pond.
But sooner or later, it will come. It will break through. There are so many sadnessess knocking on your door at any given moment. Disease, suffering, fear, loss, death, they are all there. Like a big horde of zombies crowding your door, just waiting for you to come out or for the door to break. And then what will you do? Is your heart prepared for it? Have you been exercising your soul and mind in the gym of life, learning to engage the sad and letting the joy and hope of the gospel counterbalance it? Like a zombie apocalypse, it’s all about being prepared. About being ready with the provisions and ample supply of the scriptures, shielded by faith in that coming glorious renewal and restoration of all things, guided and girded by truth and being able to chase away all deceitful thoughts and recognizing lies from a great distance away. It’s about getting to learn the full character and nature of our God, how He works, how He loves, what He has promised and how He will complete us and renew us through His great grace and power daily or more often as needed.
So on this Good Friday, I encourage you to read the Psalms. I encourage you to read the difficult, gut-wrenching ones. I implore you to be sorrowful. I beg you to delve more deeply into the pains of Jesus, broken and spilled out for you. And then, oh blessed hope, I promise your celebration of the gospel and our promise of new life and resurrection will taste that much more sweet on Sunday.
Here’s a good place to start. This blog post below talks about these Psalms and how they mirror Christ. So Psalm 22 for Good Friday, Psalm 23 for Saturday (try to read it as if for the first time ever), and Psalm 24 for Easter. Read it through the lens of Jesus talking about himself. It could very well blow your mind! 🙂