img_3554Today I’m filled with sadness.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I try to go about life with a spirit of gratitude and joy. Yet, I have known for several years now that the tragedies we encounter on almost a daily basis—whether personal, related to family or friends, or on a global scale—pierce me on an increasingly deeper level with each passing year.

I first noticed this deeper piercing a few years ago when I read of two local college girls, home on a brief break, gassing up a father’s SUV for a trip into the mountains, whose vehicle was hit by another car pulling into the adjacent gas pump. One of the girls was in the gas station buying snacks; the other pumped the gas, standing between her SUV and the gas pump. The collision caused a spark which became a conflagration that burned the girl alive. Paralyzed bystanders could only watch in stunned horror.

All of us have witnessed or felt deep sadness in the world around us, in the lives of friends, or our own families.

This past week the sadness has surfaced for me more than usual:

  • The father of a friend, both genuine Christian men, took his own life to free himself from the agony and embarrassment of depression.
  • A very close friend, who has experienced traumatic deaths of several friends, was told by his counselor, “I think a spirit of sadness has settled in your heart.” He cried for the first time in 6 years.
  • A friend Beryl and I became close to over the summer returned to her home in Europe facing family issues of terminal illness and challenging relationships, in the midst of her own questions about God’s existence.
  • 7 high school students committed suicide in my town within the last year. A few were from Christian families. One had gone through the Passage to Manhood program I provide for dads and their teenage sons.
  • As I opened my laptop to start writing today, a calendar alert popped up reminding me that my dad passed away 4 years ago today.

This series of events or reminders has left me with an aching pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes. I’m no longer surprised by the tragedy that surrounds us. But I’m still deeply saddened by it.

You may have seen me write it or heard me say it before, but it bears repeating: This is simply not the world our hearts were made for. In the beginning God created us with profound longings for deep relationships and an unshakeable sense of significance and worth.

He designed us with a longing for:

  • Hearts- that know deep, fearless intimacy and connection with friends, a spouse or family
  • Souls- that live in a constant, transcendent relationship and presence with God the Father
  • Minds- that learn and grow in wisdom and knowledge, and that provide fruitful impact
  • Strength- bodies that are healthy, alive, and serve us well in our daily lives and efforts

When our fore-parents, Adam and Eve, distrusted God’s grace and goodness, and chose instead to believe the Deceiver, all was permanently changed. In addition to the knowledge of Good, mankind was now condemned to the overwhelming consequences of the knowledge of Evil:

  • Hearts- broken, sad, and hungry; looking for love in all the wrong places
  • Souls- filled with spiritual thirst, but turning our backs on God, the Source of living water, digging substitute “broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jer. 2:13
  • Minds- that pursue superficial knowledge that puffs up, separates us from those who think differently, or causes us to renounce the possibility that there might be a Supreme Being, who though mysterious, is real
  • Strength- bodies that age, fall apart, succumb to pain, disease and death

It’s enough to make you weep. Today it was enough to make me weep.

It made Jesus weep. When he saw the grief experienced by those who lost their friend and brother, Lazarus, he wept. As he walked with friends toward Jerusalem, heading toward abandonment by friends in Gethsemane and separation from God at Golgotha, he wept again.

Perhaps more than any other chapter in the Bible Romans 8 brings a deeper perspective on the sadness that surrounds us:

  • Creation waits in eager anticipation…was subjected to frustration…and survives in bondage to decay v. 19-21
  • All of creation groans as in the pains of childbirth v. 22
  • We, who have the Spirit in us, groan inwardly as we await redemption v. 23
  • The Spirit goes to the Father on our behalf with groans that can’t even be expressed with words v. 26

Everything around us, and in us, groans with the tragic consequences of the selfish, distrustful choices of mankind at the beginning, and even since.

So what do we do? Live in agony? Face every day and each new disappointment with yet another set of tears? End it all? Or, ignore the pain, pretend it doesn’t exist or matter, and live in a state of numbness or search for pleasure? There are many who choose one or more of the above options. Some are friends; some are loved-ones. Sometimes we do the same.

The good news is we can reject either extreme response, and choose instead to live with an honest acceptance of both. We can honestly acknowledge the sadness around us while choosing to be hope-filled and joyful at the same time. We grieve with those who grieve; including ourselves. But we keep our eyes on the end of the story. Those very same verses in the middle of Romans 8 are preceded by this,

         “I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” v. 18

Our honest acknowledgement of suffering around us fills us with compassion for those who are personally struggling. We can sit in silence with them and enter into their pain without dispensing superficial advice…because we know what pain, and insincerity, feel like.

Our intentional embrace of grace, hope and even joy fills us with a spirit of encouragement that can feel like a drink of cold water to a parched soul.

2 Cor. 1:3-7 makes it very clear that there is a direct link between suffering, compassion and the ability to provide comfort for others who suffer. When we embrace all of the above, we can become “wounded healers” in Dan Allender’s insightful language.

The spirit of sadness that sometimes fills us with grief or despair can lead to a harmful end for us or others we love. But when carried along with a spirit of joy and hope, we can bring honesty and comfort. Just like Jesus did.

Romans 8 ends with these words of hope:

       “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

        For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any

       powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God

      that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” v. 38, 39

None of us are invulnerable to the pain and tragedy of life. But nothing, nothing…nothing…can separate us from the hope we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.