By Nimmi Candappa
It is not uncommon to see footy players brush off tears of disappointment after a Grand Final loss, or a reality show contestant show sadness after being eliminated from the show. On the whole though, as a society we strive to avoid displays of intense sadness. Influenced by forms of upbringing that encourage the “stiff upper lip”, crying is seen as “breaking down”, a human malfunction, a sign of weakness.
Yet truly experiencing sadness is much a part of a faith journey as are the joyous aspects of our lives. A spiritual director once said, our God is one of sadness as much as of joy. When we ignore or push aside the sadness in our lives, we miss out on a large portion of our relationship with God. With God, there is the cross as well as the crown, sorrow along with the joy. Identifying with both aspects in our lives opens us up more fully to a deeper experience of God. We are better able to present to God, our spirit crushed with sorrow, and experience in return God’s soothing and consoling touch.
St Eugene de Mazenod appears to have embraced this approach throughout his ministry, known to openly express his emotions, and seek comfort in Jesus in his sufferings. After the death of a dear priest, he refers to feeling “crushed beneath the weight of my sorrow…”, “feeling smothered… (and melting) in tears and sighs,” telling Jesus he has “…come to lay an immense sorrow in your bosom.” For St Eugene, going through difficult times gave him particular opportunity to “leave the presence of others…” for a while, to draw into a deeper bond with God.
Surrounded by a secular society that believes there is nothing more than this life, and so aims to avoid suffering at all cost, it may be challenging for us to continue to live open to what life has to offer, happy, sad or difficult. We might be tempted to distract ourselves from our pain or philosophise it away. Instead, we could consider allowing ourselves to be open to the pain, remembering as with St Eugene, that when we are “crushed by sorrow” we are given the privilege of laying our head on the bosom of Jesus, trusting that in being vulnerable and honest with God, we are also opening ourselves to be comforted by God. We are also more likely to be compassionate when we ourselves have experienced intense sorrow. As tenderised meat is more flavoursome, as gold is purified in intense heat, our hearts no doubt benefit from any suffering that God allows in our lives. In the coming fortnight, we might look at ways in which we can find ways of expressing any sorrow in our lives to Jesus, finding moments in which we can take up His offer to rest our hurting hearts on Him and be comforted by Him.