Vale of Tears

Sadness and Sorrow



Sadness and Sorrow

Most, if not all . . . intense episodes of sadness are elicited by the loss, or expected loss, either of a loved person, or else of familiar and loved places and social roles.

A sad person knows who or what he has lost and yearns for his (or its) return.
John Bowlby12

When we finally begin to accept that all our searching to recover what we had once enjoyed cannot succeed, we are likely to move into a gray but flatter phase in which we may well feel all but completely becalmed.

Very different from the turbulent peaks and troughs of earlier days, this “sea” lies beyond the divine anaesthetic, and the most intense of our initial outbursts of anger and disbelief. It is marked above all by a profound, and potentially prolonged, sadness – a word that derives from an old English word that means “weary,” for this is precisely what grief is.

I shall be referring on several occasions in this book to Robbie Davis-Floyd’s beautifully written but deeply harrowing account of life in the aftermath of her daughter’s tragic death. This is how her story begins.13

It has been two and a half years since I was invited to write this article, and I have been unable to face it until this moment – 1 am, as I rise from my unrestful rest to put fingers to computer keys . . .

I have been happy all my life, living out of a deep wellspring of joy bubbling up within me. When Peyton died, I lost that deep bubbling happiness – it comes back now only in fleeting moments all the more precious for their scarcity.

I have a wonderful son, many friends, and a fulfilling career. But I have lost the very most precious thing in my life, and no platitudes about how I will see her again in Heaven, or that we will be united past this life, or she is always with me in spirit (which I know to be true) can alleviate for more than a little while the exquisite agony I always feel about her death.

I thought I knew the meaning of suffering before she died – I had already experienced a good deal of pain and loss in my life – but I had absolutely no clue what real suffering was . . .

Peyton’s death put a knife in my heart – a big fat butcher knife that tapered down to a fine point. Not to mention the five or so daggers sticking into my back. I was astonished.

I honestly don’t think it would have hurt more if there had been a solidly physical knife in my heart. I walked around for months pressing my hand to my heart, doubled over in pain.

As in the pains of labour, there were breaks. When I laughed with friends, when I wrote an article, when I taught class, when I gave talks, the butcher knife would slide out till only the tip was still sticking in.

But when the laughter ended, or I stood up from the computer, the knife would slam right back into my heart up to the hilt, and I would gasp and double over again.

Many of us will identify with these feelings. Grief is so profoundly wearying that the journey requires immense physical energy as well as mental courage. We should not, however, mistake even the most intense sadness for full-blown clinical depression.

In depression, self-esteem collapses, either through some chemical imbalance in the brain, or as the result of an apparently irresolvable conflict or dilemma. Depression usually requires much more time, and specialised input to recover from, whereas sadness can fade away as better times come our way.

Reflect and Pray

My work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Isaiah 49:4

Have we not all cried out in such ways from the depths of our grief and despair?
But remember how that verse continues:

Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand. I will trust God for my reward!

Whilst feelings of condemnation are to be shunned like the plague, sadness, like godly sorrow itself,14 can actually draw us closer to God’s heart. How else will we discover that the Lord Jesus Himself is, A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3)?

On the South Pacific island of Ifaluk, inhabitants use the term fago – a word that embraces love, compassion and sadness, all rolled into one.15

These are qualities dear to the Lord’s own heart, for it is as we experience more of His compassion love and sadness that we pray more earnestly and become much more spiritually alive and authentic.

12 Bowlby, J. The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds Routledge (2005)
13 Davis-Floyd, R Windows in Space and Time: A personal Perspective on Birth and Death. Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care. Vol 30 (4):272-277. Dec. 2003. Robbie is a distinguished anthropologist whom Ros has met at various conferences around the world. She as kindly given permission for people to reproduce her material.
14 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
15 Lutz, C. Unnatural emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and their Challenge to Western Theory. University of Chicago Press (1998)