The Surprising Upside to Sadness
By Catherine Morgan
Depression. Discouragement. Sorrow.
Too often we find ourselves here. Waves of emotions overcome when we least expect them. While I’ve learned a lot about choosing light, daring to hope, hard thanksgiving, and spiritual battle, there are lessons yet to learn.
The more I consider these emotions I’d rather not experience, the more I see multiple reasons that depression—yes, depression—has been a gift to me. Here are five.
1. Sadness forces me to depend on Jesus.
I am far more aware of Christ, attentive to Christ, and thirsty for Christ when I am discouraged. Trapped in a rough patch, the psalmists’ words suddenly spring to life: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1). “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).
Only when I thirst for Jesus do I bend low to drink his living water. And so, paradoxically, in sadness I find the key to joy, which otherwise I might blithely miss.
2. Sadness gives me humility and empathy.
Depression has a way of humbling me like nothing else, as God protects me from my own ego. It’s hard to feel you’ve arrived when you struggle to even get out of bed. In these moments I need grace like I need water, a knowledge that keeps me face-planted before the cross—a posture infinitely preferable to the kind of humiliating crash that often flows from pride.
Empathy lets me see the world from a brokenhearted perspective—it lets me borrow broken eyes. Am I compassionate? It’s only because I so deeply need mercy. How can I withhold this gift I’ve received and need more of each day? I meet homeless families, unemployed immigrants, teen moms, couples mid-divorce, suicidal folks, jilted sweethearts. Every one has the same needs, the same sinful soul, the same shy beauty of God’s image imprinted on their heart. When I see them, I see me. God redeems my sadness as he turns my eyes outward and fills me with compassion.
3. Sadness rescues me from silliness.
As my seminary-nerd husband would say, my depression rescues me from ontological lightness. It’s easy to exchange weighty things for hollow entertainment. Unchecked, it can lead someone through 30,000 days only to face eternity with empty pockets. Isn’t this the spirit of Ecclesiastes 7:2? “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”
Joy is not inferior to gloom—emphatically it’s not—but it’s easy in all the levity to miss the grand epic as it unfolds. Like hobbits happy in the Shire while Sauron advances, we can forget the stakes—life is short, eternity beckons, souls hang in the balance. A healthy dose of sobriety helps me see the world as it is: cursed and lost, in need of a Redeemer.
4. Sadness prepares me for future struggle.
How often does a rootless faith blow away in adversity? A quick survey of spiritual giants indicates they have this in common: They’ve suffered. In various ways, to various degrees, they’ve driven those roots down ever-deeper into the love of God, so that when the storms of persecution or tragedy arrive, they’re prepared. They know from repeated experience where to find living water in a drought.
5. Sadness is God’s way of strengthening me.
Jesus, who holds the galaxies together by his power, demonstrated another kind of strength as he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. And in his mercy, he lends us a measure of his strength when we suffer. When we’re weak in ourselves, we’re strong in him.
When I fall into the pit of despair, I’ve learned to look up, to seek light, to cry out for deliverance, to long for home. It’s a struggle I may face all my life. That’s okay. God is at work, and I can trust him.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:6–9)
Thank you, Jesus.