A little while ago, Jan and I went to the movie theater to see Inside Out. The reviews were pretty good and a few people that I know had seen it and liked it, so we decided to give it a try. We both really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. I thought the film had a good message that is relevant to those of us who follow Jesus.
In the movie, Joy was the leader of the emotions rolling around in the lead character's head. The other emotions were Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness. As the main character, a girl named Riley, went through different experiences in her life, the emotions all had a part to play. The only emotion that was sometimes shut out was Sadness. Joy was so dominant that she wouldn't let Sadness do much of anything. As the film progressed, the girl and her family moved to a new town. Somehow, in spite of the best efforts of Joy, Sadness touched some memories and things began to rapidly deteriorate. At one point Joy and Sadness were sucked out of Riley and Anger was left to run things. Things went from bad to worse, until Riley decided the only thing to do was to run away and return to her former hometown.
As Joy and Sadness desperately searched for a way to save Riley, they went through a wide range of memories and things that had happened in her life. Finally, Joy realized that the only way to save Riley was to let Sadness play her part. That caused Riley to become sad and, in that sadness, return to her parents. As happens in most movies, everyone lived happily ever after. Joy realized that Sadness had an important part to play in Riley's life.
I think that lesson is something that many Christians need to learn. We tend to want joy all the time. Our worship songs speak of how wonderful it is to be a Christian. "There is joy in serving Jesus." We are told that the world out there needs to see us happy and "joyful" so they will want what we have. Some of us are told that bad things happen only because satan is attacking us, and we need to believe and rise above it, in effect pretending that we are not hurting. It is implied (and sometimes stated outright) that if we are sad, there is something wrong with our faith.
That way of thinking is contrary to so much of what we see in Scripture, and has not been the experience of God's people through the ages. Even a quick reading through the Psalms shows a range of emotions, from joy and gladness to sadness and despair. A number of Psalms are songs of lament, asking God why evil happens to good people or why the wicked prosper. Most of those do end in confidence that God will act and that justice will be done. There is always a sense of trust in God even in the midst of deep despair, but the psalmists are always honest about their feelings. God's people have always faced trouble. Jesus told us that we will have trouble in this world. We live in a broken world with broken people. The difference is the knowledge that our Father is in control, even when tragedy strikes.
By denying any of our emotions, we deny our humanity. We also deny our own brokenness and our own need of a Savior. By denying grief, we deny the opportunity to experience the deep comfort of our loving Father, and the chance to comfort others who may go through the same things. Life is not all sweetness and light. Evil still is active in the world. Sin is still around in us. There will be plenty of opportunities in life to experience sadness and grow from it, just as there will be plenty of opportunities to experience joy and happiness. We are citizens of a kingdom that is now, but not yet. Now we still must deal with grief. Someday all our tears will be wiped away and all sadness will be gone.
Until then, grieve when it's time to grieve. Grieve well, as those who have hope. Rejoice when it's time to rejoice. Rejoice well, as those who have hope. Don't put on a happy mask and deny the sadness. Give space for the Spirit to do his work through everything that comes into life. Be a whole person.
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