Actin' mad when I'm feelin' sad...

Last night I went to sleep confused:  part of me was rejoicing and part of me was grieving.  The whole day was like that - a mixture of celebration and sorrow - and it took the better part of the night to sort things out. When I came back from worship, you see, I was feeling "cranky" and a little out of sorts, but I couldn't say exactly why. After about 45 minutes of conversation, however, Dianne asked, "Why do you act angry when what you are really feeling is sad?" Hmmm  ... that's a damn good question, one a lot of men wrestle with, too. 

So I gave pause to why I was feeling so profoundly sad but acting so mad. It was only this morning that things became clear: I am grieving the life choices being made by a number of people I care about at church because these choices seem destined to end up in tragedy.  And as much as I love them, there's nothing I can do to fix or change things.  Such is often the pastor's dilemma: time and again, there are people in our congregations who are hellbent  on barrelling down the road of self-destruction with a "take no prisoners" bravado.  We can see the train wreck coming but because these loved ones neither request nor want our insights or words of caution, we remain silent. Yes, we hold them close in prayer and trust that maybe when their wounds get bad enough they will be open to a road less travelled, but there are no guarantees in this work.

Thank God it happens sometimes - but all too often it doesn't and good, smart, creative and loving people find themselves enslaved by "forces which have captured  (them) and prevented (them) from becoming what God intends for us to be.  (Indeed) we are as surrounded by – and even possessed by – as many demons as those whom Jesus encountered: mental illnesses, schizophrenia, paranoia, addictions, obsessions, destructive habits and I would add sin. 

Jim Nelson, in his book Thirst, writes that "sin is best described as profound estrangement. It is relational brokenness, separation from everything meaning full. It is alienation from ourselves, from those around us and from our environment.  It is separation from life itself." (67)  And the reason why I must include that complicated word once again comes from something else Nelson understands:  we need all the insights into our brokenness possible and no one school of thought has a monopoly upon wisdom.  "Theology adds critical elements beyond those provided by medical and psychological interpretations. For one thing, theology adds mystery to the equation - and science does not suffer mystery gladly. By its very nature science presses for answers, not for living the questions. But theology reminds me that now I must live into the the questions, accepting the fact that more facts will never be enough." (p. 70)

And here's the killer for me:  the reason we include the theological into the mix of all the other ways of living fully into life is that "when we try to understand why good things have turned bad, why relationships have gone wrong, it is more than idle curiosity. We want to know why so that we might draw on the healing resources that can restore life's goodness." (p. 60)  We want to know how others have learned from their mistakes - and what the mistakes look like before we make them. We want to be nourished by the wisdom of the ages and the insights of grace.  As Eugene Peterson has sadly noted, however, one of the forms of idolatry in our age is our obsession with adolescence so that we act like we are the only ones who have EVER known this or that type of suffering.  He calls it historical amnesia:

The adolescent, of course, has NO history. He or she has a childhood, but no accumulation of experience that transcends personal details and produces a sense of history.  His/her world is highly personal and extremely empirical... the result is that people have little consciousness of being part of a community that carries in its Scriptures, its worship and its forms of obedience a life twenty or more centuries in the making. (The Contemplative Pastor, p. 125)

Sometimes - often before I head out for retreat and/or vacation - I have a nagging desire to shout to those I love: please stop now before you crash and burn. But I wonder if anyone is listening to what I try to share on Sunday mornings?  You see, in scripture and experience, there is evidence that we can change direction. Christian tradition calls it repentance - turning away from the destructive and towards the source of life - and we can learn how to do this with practice. We can also learn how to become open to grace and forgiveness so that we actually benefit from our sins. It isn't automatic - it takes a long time - but even the wounds born of sin can be part of God's blessings if we are willing to honor and learn from them.  St. Paul wrote:  we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

And that's when it hit me: part of my sadness is rooted in my resistance to my own powerlessness. It makes me crazy and mad, but it is true.  And the other part of my sadness is my failure to hear God's loving whisper in my grief: let go and trust me more deeply.  It is hard for me to accept that even my sadness is a part of God's healing but such is the mysterious way of the Lord.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 55)

1) Confusion by Roswita Szyska @
2) Confusion and Disorientation @


Barbara Barkley said…
A couple thoughts. First, I think we (not just males, though perhaps it is more common in men. Still, this is where I usually go, too) go to anger instead of sadness because if FEELS more powerful. When we are angry, there is energy behind it, energy that feels like it might change the situation. Sadness is resignation, acceptance of that which we don't want. Second, I know what you mean about watching people self-destruct, and feeling powerless to help them. But I want to state, for the record, that if you ever see me making a bad choice or doing something or writing something potentially damaging, you not only have my permission to tell me about it, but I am asking you as a friend to please tell me as soon as you possibly can. I want to grow (and I know others do too) and as hard as it can be to hear criticism, we all have blind spots to our own actions, choices, world-views that put up blocks to our growth until they are pointed out. I know not everyone is open to hearing critique. I am stating publicly that I am. My hope and prayer is that people will help me grow through their honesty with me, as hard as it may be at times to hear it. Thanks as always, for your words and wisdom. I am blessed to call you friend.

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