Surprising Sadness

“Jesus became perturbed and deeply troubled … he wept.” – John 11:33, 35

In the past few years, I have encountered a consistent kind of sadness. Older adults and younger adults have expressed mild to deep sadness that their friends and loved ones no longer engage God or the Church. As I tried to pay attention to this sadness, I began to discover that my feelings echoed those of Jesus for people he loves, such a Lazarus and his sisters. Yet, because these feelings were uncomfortable and became poignantly painful at times, I avoided them in prayer (or when they surfaced inconveniently at other times).

However, my wise spiritual director challenged me to return to Jesus’ sadness; to pay attention to his sorrow rather than to mine; to listen more. It was not easy, nor was I that generous with God. Nevertheless, I did try, frequently confessing to the Lord that I really didn’t want to. Gradually, something surprising happened. The sadness subsided and turned into gladness, a joy deeper than the sadness. As this joy unfolded, something else emerged. I noticed a deeper invitation to join Jesus in this desire to engage young adults for a deeper connection with God. His eyes conveyed greater trust and confidence. He wanted me as companion, partner, friend-in-mission. The poignancy of his trust surpassed the sadness I felt previously. His confidence humbled me. It also strengthened my call to serve.

Henri Nouwen puts this movement of grace in a different way: “The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. The choice you face constantly is whether you are taking your wounds to your head or to your heart. In your head you can analyze them, find their causes and consequences, and coin words to speak and write about them. But no final healing is likely to come from that source. You need to let your wounds go down to your heart. Then you can live through them and discover that they will not destroy you.”

We may be invited to wait where things seem difficult or painful, yet turn to Christ. The God of surprises will bring greater life in our hearts and relationships in ways we least expect.

What inconvenient feelings might I be invited to stay with and turn my attention to how Jesus responds?