15 Feb 18 Inches: Myths About Sadness
This is the third installment of our blog series, “18 Inches: Myths that Disconnect the Head From the Heart”. Our goal is to identify some of the lies we’ve been taught about our emotions and counter it with the truth. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Myth #8: I have to keep it together “for” _____.
Many of us, whether due to our jobs, personalities, or leadership positions, have experienced what I like to call the caring conundrum. The caring conundrum happens when you’re the person who feels like you have to keep it together for everyone else – which inherently means that you’re unable to express your own emotions and needs.
The truth is, you cannot feel for others. You can only feel with them. While this is true for all of the emotions, it may be easiest to see how this works in sadness. When you are sad, I cannot be sad for you. I cannot literally climb into your skin and feel what your sadness feels like. The best I can do is show empathy and be present with you in your sadness. I cannot do the work of grieving on your behalf. This truth is uncomfortable because it means that “keeping it together” won’t keep you from experiencing grief. I cannot rescue you from the pain of your sadness.
When God commissioned us to be ambassadors for His Kingdom, He promised us provision for the journey. That provision is His presence. He promised He would never leave us. He would always be with us. And the gift of presence is something we can offer to others. We cannot do the work for them. But we can follow the example of Christ and offer to be present with others so they are not alone in their sadness.
Myth #9: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
“Don’t cry over spilled milk.” “Suck it up.” “Get over it.” “It’s no big deal, just water under a bridge.”
These are phrases we hear often when it relates to dealing with sadness. Even though we say it’s just water under a bridge, our hearts know better. Have you ever stopped to wonder where all that water under the bridge goes? It goes to a dam. And if the water keeps building, the dam will break and we will be be forced to deal with the floods that follow. Ignoring our sadness won’t make it go away faster. Sooner or later, we have to face it.
Honoring our sadness means we get off the proverbial bridge and trace where the water actually goes. What started as sadness may lead you to feel anger, which may lead you to feel fear, which may lead you to another emotion and then another emotion. Sadness takes you on a journey. Honoring our sadness means we are willing to travel the journey and follow where it leads us.
When we face sadness, we allow our hearts to honor and acknowledge what we lost. Chip Dodd defines sadness as, “The feeling that speaks to how much you value what is missed, what is gone, and what is lost.” The truth is, when we honor our sadness, we are more willing to accept it. Honoring our sadness validates the love and connection we shared with someone we lost. It honors the importance of life and the meaning it has. Honoring our sadness highlights the beauty and dignity of what we lost, whether it be relationships, pets, life seasons, or other changes.
Myth #10: All Grief has a Silver Lining
In Romans 8:28 Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” In seasons of grief, Christians are often guilty of using this verse to try to find a silver lining in someone’s pain. We may spiritualize situations with this Scripture, but the essence of what we are doing is diminishing someone’s grief.
Our problem in applying this verse is that we stop at verse 28. Romans 8:29 tells us that all things work together for good, IF you think that looking good means looking more like Christ. The truth is, all grief can conform us to the image of Christ.
All things working together for good does not mean your situation will become less sad. God is at work. He is trying to make us look like His Son. But that doesn’t mean your grief has a silver lining. There’s not a silver lining to a parent losing a child. There’s not a silver lining to a child losing a parent or a sibling. But, we can grow and learn from our grief as God gently uses it to make us more like Christ. We can learn what it’s like to suffer and to suffer well, and we can rest assured that while there may not be a silver lining, God will not waste our grief. He will not only be with us, but He will use it to make our hearts look more like Him.
Myth #11: Grief has a Time Limit
In 2008 when I lost my dad, people told me I should expect to grieve for about a year before the grief would subside. In essence, people put a timestamp on how long it was appropriate for me to feel sad. But the truth is, grief can last a lifetime. When we put timestamps on grief, we end up encouraging each other to hide our sorrow and stuff our sadness.
We live in a broken world. And there are certain things in your life that you’re never going to get over. Some losses don’t ever become less sad. If we are going to honor our sadness, we need to stop believing the lie that our grief always has a finish line. We have to learn to accept our journey and feel our sadness, no matter how long it lasts.
Myth #12: There is Only One Expression of Sadness
Sometimes when we see others who don’t cry, we think they must be strong or brave. In doing this, we can be guilty of limiting the expression of sadness to tears and a melancholy manner. But the truth is, grief has many different expressions. You can’t put it in a box. Each person will experience and express sadness a little differently. We can help honor and support each other’s sadness when we validate and create space for sadness to be expressed in many different ways.
Dhati Lewis is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia and the Executive Director of Community Restoration with the North American Mission Board. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.
Follow Dhati on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram