Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon: Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved, as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
II Corinthians 7:10
“…joy and sorrow are inseparable…together they come and when one sits alone with you… remember that the other is asleep upon your bed”
A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow real poverty.
I frequently facilitate debriefings with people who have served for years in some far-flung nation. Some of these people serve in places where life is bleak and hope is limited. Often they share their experiences of friends living with great suffering, poverty and injustice, and they often speak of the sorrow and helplessness they feel. They share that it’s hard to know what to do with those feelings that overwhelm any positive reflection on their experiences. Often I direct them to look at two yellow rubber ducks I keep on the shelf in my office. One is clean and new and the other is beaten up, battered and scuffed. They are my “pair-a-ducks” and they stand for the paradoxical nature of life–a life where joy and sorrow are often intertwined. As they continue to share from their lives, I help them to see where the paradoxes exist, sadness and joy coexisting. Two contradictory things being true at the same time.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Joys are hidden in our sorrows!…We keep forgetting this truth and can all top easily become overwhelmed by our own darkness. We easily loose sight of our joys and speak of our sorrows as if it is the only reality there is.”
I am convinced that if joy cannot exist where sadness exists—two contradictory realities paradoxically existing at the same time—we couldn’t endure the lives we live.
Paul points out the difference between two types of sadness (sorrow) in I Corinthians 7:10; worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow. I think that worldly sorrow must be sorrow that has no hope in it. There is no hope that there is a paradoxical reality of joy. Without hope of joy, sorrow deepens because the person living under it is compelled to manufacture something to make life bearable on their own.
Father Thomas Keating describes this as what begins at infancy as an instinctual need for security/approval, esteem/affection, or power/control and develops, if left unchecked, into fossilized “programs for emotional happiness”. Many of us relate these instinctual needs and our expectation that they will help us “feel good” to our relationship with God, self, others, and worldview. we can see this right now in our COVID 19 reality where so many people (many who profess faith in a God who is in control) are unable to relinquish their fear which drives them to take control–control of the narrative (“There has to be a conspiracy, this cannot be really happening”), control of their safety (“How dare you not wear a mask!” “How dare you tell me too wear a mask.”) and control of the blame (“This was China’s fault.” “Fauci funded the lab that started this.” “The government is overreaching/not doing enough.”…). All of these boil down to man’s need to control because a world that we cannot master is unbearable to perceive.
How do I find the joy hidden in my own fear, pain or sorrow let alone be an instrument of sowing joy where there is sadness? If it is instinctual in me to avoid and withdraw from pain and sadness in order to feel some kind of manufactured joy (or at least to feel nothing which is better than pain and sadness), how can I be expected to live any other way?
The answer lies in the very nature of redemption itself. Keating writes, “The need for redemption is not just an issue of getting to heaven, but of God’s intent to radically heal us at the very roots of where it began.” Namely, in the programs for happiness that still manifest themselves in daily life and unconsciously influence our decisions throughout life, unless we take the spiritual journey to begin working on these issues.”
It is not about arriving to the place of our healing, where sadness magically falls away and joy replaces it. It is about the journey and process of life. That is where we become healed. Nouwen describes it as learning to “look at our cup” before drinking it.
“We need to remind each other that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, that precisely what causes us sadness can become the fertile ground for gladness. Indeed, we need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow, but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”
So Paul’s worldly sorrow sees our own instinctual programs for happiness as the only way out. Choosing this option leads us on an endless cycle of hopelessness. But Godly sorrow is the path that, if reflected on and “drunk” will lead us on a journey of healing and redemption because it leads us to the place where the loving embrace of Christ meets our own inadequacy to find true joy on our own strength.
Reflection is essential for growth and healing. Recognizing the joy that God Himself is present in our sadness comes about only through a willingness to face the sadness and even enter into it. When we avoid it or self-medicate ourselves through busyness, substances, or inaction so that we don’t have to face it, we will only find ourselves in a deeper state of sadness than when we began.
This is why lament is such an important practice. Over and over again, we read the Psalmist express deep sorrow at some injustice or loss, tell God how he would want to see it change, but then find hope and joy and peace knowing that his pain is now in the hands of The Advocate, The Provider, The Healer. A complaint turns into a praise. Joy is found intertwined in the sadness.
Lord, make me an instrument of joy in a world that experiences so much sadness. Give me the strength to face my own sadness for what it is and to embrace the Cup of Life that you have given me, drinking it to the dregs. For it is in drinking my own cup that I can accompany others to lift and drink of their cups full of both the sorrows and joys of life.