I spend a fair amount of time in airports and on airplanes. On almost every trip, someone inevitably asks me what I do for a living. I generally want to answer, “It’s complicated.” There should be a special club for those of us in indescribable vocations. In the last year I have settled on, “I’m a trauma therapist. I specialize in the intersection of faith and mental health.”
Diving into spiritual trauma, my own and others’, over the last ten years has taught me many things. It has especially unveiled to me the challenge many people find in holding the emotions that have little value in our culture: sadness, anger, fear, hurt, distress, exhaustion, and sorrow.
The Church Year and Our Emotions
Sitting with people in their stories and the emotions that come with them as a deaconess and as a therapist, I have stumbled upon a new appreciation for the seasons of the church year. When God is hard to see in the world around us, these seasons keep our eyes and hearts grounded in the story of Christ in our lives. These seasons come in a cycle year after year, mimicking the steady faithfulness of God as we travel around the sun. We celebrate the sense of community God created for us in the Church at Pentecost. We sit in the watching and waiting of faith during Advent. We rejoice in the triumph and victory of Christ with Easter.
And then there is Lent.
As a kid I used to dread Lent. It meant listening to my Catholic friends lament about their long forty days without chocolate or pop, and a ridiculous amount of purple (my least favorite tone on the color wheel). The worst part of Lent was watching my mom cry in church every Good Friday. As a kid, I would have given anything to keep my mom from crying. By the time I was two years old, my mom found herself a young widow, and from an early age I spent a good deal of time singing and dancing and quipping, anything to diminish the number of tears and bring out her magical smile.
I learned with time and age the value of allowing those tears their space. My mom understood Good Friday in a way I didn’t when I was young. She understood her need for Jesus, her need for God’s tender touch that comes into the brokenness of this world. The pain and brokenness Christ took on Himself, which we celebrate as Good Friday, as Lent, reminded her that God understood, that Jesus had walked our roads and taken on our suffering to save us and also to be with us for eternity.
A Season to Be Sad (Without Judgement)
Lent is a season of accountability, a time for repentance and contemplating just how much hurt humans are capable of, you and me included. Lent gives us a moment to acknowledge our own sin and receive sweet absolution, God speaking wholeness over us in Christ’s forgiveness.
There is a hidden benefit to Lent I’d invite you to embrace as well: Lent allows us a time when we can be sad without judgment. During Lent, we don’t have to choose joy or step outside of suffering. We can do the work of noticing suffering —our own and others’—and call it what it is in Christ: challenging, yucky, frustrating, apart from what was meant to be, and somehow, somehow, through the touch of Jesus Christ, good.
During Lent, we are invited to stay in the sadness for a moment longer than we normally would. The world and culture around us asks us to smile and nod. The Holy Spirit gives us permission to drop the facade, to honor the struggle of life in a broken world, and find a unique peace and calm in decrying the challenge of it all, the harshness of our daily landscape.
Sadness and Joy in Tandem
We have joy in our lives in Jesus, maybe even in our family and friends, in our vocations, and in ordinary and extraordinary moments. And I promise that joy is brighter when we allow the sadness and hurt to be heard and seen, by God, and by others, in and outside of the blessed season of Lent.
After all, there is sadness and joy in Someone dying for sin and salvation.
There is sadness and joy in the coexistence of the wonder of the world and its heaviness.
There is sadness and joy in the weird connecting reality that you have pain and I have pain and Jesus knew pain as well.
There is sadness and joy in the coexistence of love and loss.
There is sadness and joy in that we are the betrayed and the betrayer, and that God has room for both at His table.
There is sadness and joy in our humanity, that God calls us very good and also came down from heaven to bring our prodigal selves home.
Joy comes in the morning, friends, but sorrow deserves its night. Our psyches are best served by leaving room for both.
I have often thought of Revelation 21:4 as a now and not yet promise:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
There will be a day when the pain ends; when sin and sorrow and all of this mess ends. But until then, the same God who pours water over our heads and touches us with His Spirit’s saving grace, the God who feeds us His very self, touches our cheeks and collects our tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8) letting us know that He sees and is with us in every falling drop. After all, God is the Creator of tear ducts and nervous systems and all the things that bring us the relief of leaking water from our eyes. He knew we’d need it. Even those tears are not apart from His kindness.
How might you allow a space to honor your sorrow this Lent, or possibly leave room for those in your life to honor theirs?
God hears and sees. God in Christ is compassion incarnate and Easter is never far off. May your Lent leave room for both sadness & joy.
Learn more about how to examine your emotions in a healthy way with Heidi Goehmann's book Emotions and the Gospel.