I am so tired of struggling. I despise the feeling of waking up and wondering where my hope will come from. Or whether it will show at all. This isn’t my nature; even in times of challenge I know myself to be a person who can find brightness, who sees the blank slate of a new sunny day as a gift of joy. But not right now. Right now, the days offer new ways to be disappointed or to prove with even greater depth that I’m screwed; that I can’t and won’t find happiness.
I can’t change the above. Sadness and grief are their own masters. I can mitigate the feelings with visits to friends and exercise, with seeing my therapist, getting enough sleep, praying hard, and playing with my sweet sons. But, for reasons of culture, for the self-help books that take up too much space in our bookstores, and for the well-meaning words offered by well-meaning people, I cannot stop believing that I have to change how I feel. And, that I have to do this by my own will.
The latter is honestly cruel, because it adds guilt to the sadness. Sentences stream across my mind like word trains on a children’s T.V. show: “It’s your fault you feel sad,” “If you only had a better perspective, you would be fine,” and “If you were more grateful you wouldn’t feel this way.” And yes, there is some truth to these ideas; there are times where the sadness feels so good and juicy that I choose to wrap it around me like a big fur coat and snuggle deeply in it like a cocoon. But not right now. Right now, I just want relief; I want to sit on my patio with the sun on my face and say: “Thank God, my life is just fine.” But it’s not. And those sentence trains are killing me.
Before I started writing this note, I picked up my Bible for comfort. I found it. But the sentence trains knew they were in trouble and so they got bigger, and they added friends: “It’s your fault that you feel bad. It’s all your fault.” And then they got nasty, they began to label and threaten me: “You’re not grateful,” “You’re weak,” “People won’t like you if they see you like this,” “you’ll ruin your career,” “You’re doomed,” and the absolute worst for me: “You’re just a bad person.”
And so, as I have felt called to do (Eccles 4:12), I took out my computer and I began to write to you. And, I’m finding that as I voice each one of these thoughts, they are losing their power. I’m feeling calmer. I’m still sad, but the trains are subsiding and I’m letting go of my need to change how I feel. And it’s because of you. It’s because even though I don’t know exactly who you are, I know that you are there. And I know that you are in pain, and that your pain is legitimate, and that you get it; that you want to feel better, but that right now, you can’t. You can’t put a spin on your sadness and talk your way around it. You can’t make a gratitude list that outweighs your struggles. And further, I would never expect you to.
So why am I expecting this of myself?
If I were standing in front of you, I know what I would say to you in all honesty: “Your life is hard. Your sadness is legitimate. Your job is not to fix yourself, but to acknowledge that what you are experiencing is real and difficult. Yes, your sadness might make some people uncomfortable and yes, pursue all those things that help you, but stop trying to trick yourself into thinking that everything is fine. And moreover, stop getting upset with yourself when you can’t. Take a breath. Know that you are not alone. Know that you can be sad and still be a good person, and do good things in the world. But feeling sad is not a crime, it’s your right as a human. And right now, you feel sad.”
I do pray that this sadness lifts, and soon for both me and for you. But I also pray that today, you know that I get you, and I know that you get me, and so we are not alone. I give you permission to not try to fix your sadness; to not blame yourself for not pretending to buy perspectives that make it all o.k. when it isn’t, and I ask you to give the same gift to me.
And so together, we can take the shame of being sad away, and know that we have each other, because we do. And that truly helps.