Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beautiful Sorrow

In the mornings and throughout my day, my Facebook is filled with people posting "uplifting" quotes. I know that many people feel supported and uplifted by positive thinking quotes, or lists of what to do to be "happy." I'm not trying to put that effort down for them, but just to mull over why it doesn't work for me.

When I hear things that say, essentially, "just think yourself out of sadness or negativity," I hear "your sadness is not valid, your negativity is all in your head. You don't (or shouldn't) feel what you feel. If you were a better person, you wouldn't feel that way." It's a lie, a pervasive and sneaky lie that masquerades as truth. Happiness doesn't drown sorrow, sorrow births happiness. We NEED to experience pain and sorrow, in order to know joy.

We tend to believe in our medicated, comfortable lives that pain is evil. If something causes us pain, it must be changed or avoided. Well, my life has an element in it that causes pain that I cannot remove. Though a part of me wishes it were simply gone, I am thankful for it. It has taught me that not everything which causes pain is evil.

It reminds me of childbirth. My mother gave birth to all of her children using the Bradley method, which was created in the 1970s as counter to the popular medicated childbirth culture of the time. When it came time for me to give birth, I wanted to do the same. I took the classes, read the books, and prepared. One of the classes helped us find our best resources for coping with pain. For most women, it helped to have a loved one talking to them or to have relaxing music playing in the background. The worst thing for them was to concentrate on the pain. Not so for me. I found I could handle the pain best when I focused on it, acknowledging and accepting it, allowing it to wash over me. By addressing my pain head-on, I was able to conquer it and learn from it.

I'm a naturally happy person. I see immense beauty and joy in my life. I find my joy in enjoying the experiences of this natural world. I love the look of a freshly-weeded flowerbed, the feel of rain on my face, the laughter of my children, the scent of their hair, the musical tintinnabulation of the wind chimes outside of my door, a smile of gratitude from someone. That joy that I find is built on having faith in my Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that my relationship with Him extends beyond the immediacy of this life, I am able to enjoy the journey. I find joy in the small, good things because I have felt deep sorrow in my life. I enjoy the bickering of my children underneath my frustration because I'd rather be frustrated and surrounded by bickering than be without them. I enjoy the rain because I know it makes the flowers grow.

Jesus was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . ." This tells me that it's okay to be sad, it's okay to recognize when negative things happen to you. You don't need to pray it away, or pretend it doesn't exist to be acceptable to HIM. Not only is it okay to feel that way, but it is necessary to truly follow Him.

If you can learn to embrace your sorrow, to let it wash over you, you can truly conquer it. Avoiding pain and sorrow, especially emotional pain, only leaves it hanging out there. It will always come back, and you will live in fear. As you address it head on, mull it over, allow it to hurt you, learn from it, pieces of it chip away until you are able to conquer it completely. Many people can't live like that. They feel they must avoid negativity and pain. Rather than mourning with you, they will cut you out of their lives if you express too much sorrow. They simply cannot handle so much pain. They will turn away from you, will be unable to handle your sorrow and you will be left alone—alone but for Him.

But as a disciple of Christ, you can do better. Once you learn to face your own pain to stop the "fake it 'til you make it," you gain the strength necessary to face the pain of others. Only in this way can you truly be a disciple of Christ, do as He did. When we were baptized, we promised to stand as His witness. That means more than simply proclaiming the gospel with your mouth. You must proclaim it with your life. You must lay down your life on His altar, work His work, be His hands.

Perhaps, for me, this is my calling. I recently took a leap of faith and began to pray for charity. As I expected, I have had to face and readdress much pain since I made that plea. But I have also been able to reach out to someone who needed me, someone I may not have been able to show love to before. I only hope that I can continue to embrace my pain, to allow myself to be broken and empty, to be filled with His Spirit and to be a living sacrifice to Him.

"If we think we have faith, we should ask, faith in whom or faith in what? For some, faith is nothing more than faith in themselves. That is only self-confidence or self-centeredness. Others have faith in faith, which is something like relying on the power of positive thinking or betting on the proposition that we can get what we want by manipulating the powers within us.

"The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this faith, the prophet Mormon said, we 'are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church' (Moro. 7:39)."

—Dallin H. Oaks, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”, April 1994 General Conference


  1. This is similar to a journey I've been on recently. After 20 years of thinking that I had conquered bad things in my past, they've come back, or they've gotten more intense and I can't deny them any longer. I'm not sure which. But it doesn't matter which, what matters is that now I am at a place where I want to investigate the pain, I have support in order to do so, I have help in sorting it through. Like your childbirth analogy, I had the same experience, delving into the pain helped. But there was still a point at which I panicked, I needed a nurse to support me through it.

    Sometimes we need to ignore the pain just to get through the day, we don't have the skills, strength, or support to confront it at that time. Later, something (the Holy Ghost, our inner drive, etc.) will remind us that it's still there waiting to be dealt with. For me it was an overwhelming sense that things weren't right, I was derailed, my hope was gone because I couldn't seem to fight my way out. I had to feel enough negative from ignoring the pain that I was willing to go through anything to be rid of it. Even if it meant going into it deeper, which I did, I'm still investigating.

    That point at which we're ready to delve into the pain comes differently for everyone, which is why we can't ever pretend to know someone else's time table. We can't shove things in their face in the belief that they'll want to change. Their time will come, it always will. We are creatures made for progression, we will eventually find ourselves at a starting line which we desperately want to cross but we've got to build up the true desire for action. It is crucial that when we get to that point we have faith in Christ so that we know our efforts will result in good - so instead of giving up we will start.

    There is a line from an essay I wrote recently that keeps coming back to me, "We drop our sins at the Savior's feet and run away." This I think is what you are getting at, that we don't stand there with Christ and really investigate our sins (or those of others that have hurt us), and the pain attached to them. But that is what repentance is, forgiveness is, looking the ugliness dead on, probing the pain, to understand it thoroughly so it doesn't happen again.

    All of that said, I need the positive affirmations, even though they seem silly at times. I need to remind myself that I am a progressive being, a daughter of God, that my capabilities are eternal and infinite so that I will have the courage to delve into the pain. Sometimes those affirmations go too far though, so far that they sound good but in reality are lies. I am careful to think through my affirmations, that they are encouraging of my dependence on Christ, and based on truth, not wishful thinking that the world is fantasyland.

    It reminds me of the part in the book Alcatraz and the Evil Librarian where they talk about the idea of being anything you want to be. The narrator explains that kids are told this all the time, but it's not really true. If you wanted to be an orange popsicle you couldn't be, it isn't possible for a person to be an orange popsicle. So, being anything I want to be isn't one of my affirmations :)

  2. Thank you, Jen. There is a vast difference between "you're a daughter of God, and are strong," and "think away the bad things." One is reassuring you of your intrinsic value, the other carries the hidden negative message I indicated in the OP. One inspires courage to face mortality, the other encourages you to stick your fingers in your ears and sing a hymn.

    You have a good point that the latter might be necessary in the short run. The sheer bulk of the memes and links of this nature, however, indicate that this is a permanent solution. It is not. It cannot be. I think that is what Elder Oaks is also trying to say in the above quote.

  3. I agree. Denial is dishonesty. The gospel has never supported dishonesty. When something is bad we should never deny it, in any way. Doing so is not seeking truth and will always subvert our progress and happiness. Sometimes it is so hard wired into us by cultural expectations (especially as women)to think good thoughts and make life pleasant for those around us that we don't realize we are being dishonest. It can also be a knee jerk reaction because we're afraid that if we open the flood gates of pain the watershed will never stop.

    There is a part of everyday where I have to lay aside my strivings in pain for moments of rest. That isn't denial, that's knowing my limitations and making a plan to cope.


Unfortunately, I've found it necessary to screen comments. Unless your comment violates the commenting policy, it will show up as soon as I can approve it.

Popular Posts