The beauty of that line of Hebrew poetry came afresh today. The thickest of the cloud storm would be just where He is passing. We see the dust now. We shall see His Footprints when He has passed along the way. Diary 17 August 1919 and 20 September 1924
How does one prepare oneself – or, for that matter another – for the inevitable blows of life? Many years ago a tragedy struck our small southern town, claiming the lives of four children in one family. Our community was devastated by this mother’s loss as was our family. Our lives had been interwoven with theirs. We were without words or consolation.
The schools brought in counselors to help classmates process this loss. And we, as parents, tried to determine what effect it had on our children – particularly our oldest son who was in a youth group with one of the children. They didn’t want to talk about it.
One day, soon after, I saw young David on the front porch sitting quietly on a rocking chair. An uncharacteristic posture for this active boy. I joined him and pressed the question: “How are you doing?”
“O.K. I guess.” Then he added, “I just have a sad inside that won’t go away.”
A sad that won’t go away. . . One cannot turn on the television, radio or computer these past several weeks without witnessing the unbearable sufferings of families who mourn loved ones. No satisfactory answers have been given or resolutions provided that ease the reality of massive loss. One cannot go through life in avoidance of the reality of staggering suffering – whether for ourselves or for others. We all experience, to varying degrees, “a sad that won’t go away.”
What do we do with a “sad that won’t go away?”
This question was addressed, in part, for me by an unexpected source. I was driving to the grocery store listening to a speaker who captivated my attention from the start as he talked about sadness. So compelling were his words that I sat in my car and listened to him talk to the end wanting to know who he was. He talked about “sadness” as an appropriate response to loss. He went on to differentiate between clinical depression (for which professional help even, at times, medication was appropriate) and the everyday brand of depression which is, in fact, an appropriate feeling of sadness in response to loss. The degree of “sadness” (depression) is usually in proportion to the loss – but the loss itself can be small or immense. Loss is loss.
He proceeded to illustrate how even a relatively “small” loss can result in a surprisingly significant sense of depression. With the unaccustomed royalty for a book he authored, he bought for the first time ever a new car off a sales lot with all the bells and whistles – to say nothing of color choice, exterior and interior. On his way to a speaking engagement, he stopped at a pharmacy to pick up a prescription. He drove over the curb and hit an unbending concrete trash can container. He heard the crush of metal. The fender was bent though still attached. What had begun as a merry drive to a happy destination continued as dark journey with a heavy heart.
His name was Dr. Archibald Hart and his talk was about loss and depression, the subject of his book: Unlocking the Mystery of Your Emotions. He told his story and asked his audience, “What do you think was the loss that triggered my depression?” The answers were varied. Loss of pride. . . loss of money. . . loss of time . . . Then one person suggested, “Loss of perfection. It will never be perfect again.” Inexplicably tears welled up in his eyes as this young man inadvertently hit on a nerve that even he, the distinguished psychologist, had not considered. The man was right. His car for one shining – short – moment had been perfect. And it never would be again.
His point was this: if something so very trivial could “make him sad” one could only imagine the emotional power of something more significant. And his message was to understand and embrace our sadness for what it is: an appropriate response to an event or occurence in our lives.
Where did we ever get the idea that we are to always be happy? I suspect it is, in part, the message of a culture that specializes with a host of gimmicks to distract, avoid, sublimate, medicate, eliminate all manner of discomfort. And yet, way down deep in our souls we know that we can’t truly pass through this world and escape pain or suffering or at the very least, discomfort. Nor can we avoid the fear of the same.
Scripture speaks of a joy that transcends circumstances but it does not promise immunity from difficulty. It is only as we accept our true feelings – of fear or sadness or depression – that we can even begin to deal with those emotions.
There is no escape from “a sadness inside that does not go away” but there is a promise of Someone who will walk through that sadness with us. Who will not leave us comfortless. Who has walked this earth before us and experienced every emotion common to humankind.
During a time of exceeding difficulty Lilias saw with spiritual vision a perspective, taken from a line of Hebrew poetry, that illuminated her darkness and speaks to us today: “The thickest of the cloud storm would be just where He is passing,” adding, “We see the dust now. We shall see His Footprints when He has passed along the way.”