In the last post, a good question to ask people is “What is your favorite Disney-Pixar movie?” My wife’s family asked this question at our family reunion this summer. There were different categories for what could be considered “the best” but one of the most discussed movies was Inside Out. (Sawyer provided a good summary here)
The story focuses particularly on 10-year old Riley. She is trying to figure out how to respond after her family moves from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco. But, the focus of the movie is not on the events themselves but the emotions underneath these events and how it effects one’s memory. Inside Out takes viewers “inside” of Riley to watch five of her emotions respond to various events throughout the movie. These emotions are: Fear, Anger, Joy, Disgust, and Sadness. They take various turns at the “controls” of Riley’s emotions, at least most of the characters.
The emotions are led by Joy. She always tries to put a positive spin on everything that happens. Joy wants to make sure Riley can smile, laugh, and enjoy life, regardless of the circumstances. The movie shows the complexities and challenges of emotions when we encounter various events, especially hard ones. When Sadness try to take control of Riley’s emotions and core memories, Joy pushes Sadness to the side, tackles it, and tries to contain sadness. Simply, there is no room for Sadness in Riley’s life.
Pixar identified a major issue, not only in our culture, but one the church needs to learn. Sadness does not have a place in our culture or churches. Simply, there is no room for sadness in our churches.
I began to reflect upon my own experience in the church and found sadness pushed to the side there as well. There were years of my life spent with a smile on my face at church. But, my car was the sanctuary of my soul. I could shed tears with openness knowing the seat belts and steering wheel would not shame the presence of sadness in their midst.
Over time, I began to realize my experience was not unique. While the circumstances were and are unique to each person. Sadness, it seems, was not welcome in the church for others either. In one sense, this is understandable as we are surrounded by a culture obsessed with happiness and comfort. We make sure to smile in our photos, select the right filter on our posts, and portray our lives as peaceful, ordered, and beautiful. We carry this expectation, sometimes unknowingly, of perfection and orderliness into the church. We aren’t quite sure if we can bring pain and sadness with us to church.
The message I was told and find many other Christians hear is, “Real Christians don’t doubt God in the midst of sadness” or “If your faith was strong, then you wouldn’t question what God is doing” and even worse “If you doubt, then it means you’re not a Christian.” The theological bandaid for dismissing grief was “Real Christian don’t cry because Jesus has overcome death and we don’t have to be sad anymore.” With those statements, death and grief are dismissed. Pain is ignored. Statements like these can make people feel guilty for grieving. Like the movie Inside Out the church is not sure what to do with Sadness.
Yet, it has been my experience growing up in the church, sadness is a part of the Christian life. Pain, sickness, and death are in our lives and the lives of those we love around us. But, we often don’t know what to do when life is spinning out of control and we are weighed down with sadness. For myself and I think others as well, we may feel like we need to keep the messy, depressing, and the painful parts of our life to ourselves. We aren’t sure if these complicated experiences and emotions After all, we often think or are told, I should have the “joy of the Lord” within me. Yet, my experiences sometimes leave me feeling disappointed and despairing of life.
In the next post, I want to explore how Christians can learn to grieve. How do God’s people maintain a space for sadness and worship in the midst of sorrow? More theologically worded, how do God’s people lament?