The Unhappiness Project

In the past few days I have had multiple conversations with college students, colleagues, friends, and family that have been sad. Some know the reason they are sad, resulting from hurts that have happened to them or because of hurts they have caused. Others don’t know why they are sad. Like a shadow it seems to follow them, popping up at inopportune times and lingering long into the night.  This hasn’t just been something I’ve talked to others about, but something I’ve experienced myself. Sadness is all around us. This brokenness we feel is paralyzing, making even the simplest tasks feel like impossibilities.            

The real problem might not be that we are sad, but that we don’t know what to do with our sadness. It is no secret that our culture is obsessed with the pursuit of happiness. From the songs we sing to the books we read, everyone has to be happy all the time. In the last couple of months alone, Amazon has released thousands of books that include happiness in the title. In a culture that pursues happiness more than any other in the history of the world, there is little room to be sad.  

To compound problems, technique quickly becomes the god we trust.  No problem is too big to fixed. No question too big to be answered. Just ask Google. We can explain away anything and everything so it doesn’t infringe on our personal happiness. In a world where happiness is the hero, suffering and sadness has to be the greatest enemy. We must develop habits to deny our sadness, self-medicating with busyness, Netflix, partying, social media, and perfectionism.  Constantly pretending. Constantly performing. Exhausted, but happy. Maybe…

Where does all this lead us? The constant need to be happy forces us to deny our sadness. “Fake it until you make it.” But we know if we continue to deny our sadness and brokenness, it will end up defining us. The constant need to be happy also forces us to try to fix our sadness. “God helps those who help themselves.” But, what if there was more to life than being happy? I’m not proposing that we all become cynical 20-somethings who cry out “woe is me” and struggle their whole life with things like “angst” (whatever that is). The way to fixing our sadness and overwhelming emotions might not be through fixing it all, but through finally facing it. 

Jesus was not someone who was immune to emotions. The Bible describes Jesus as a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) and one that wept (John 11:35) at the death of a friend. He was “sorrowful and greatly troubled” (Matthew 26:37) in the garden of Gethsemane before his death. Jesus experienced the brokenness of this world to the fullest degree, including the emotions of this world. 

During a recent staff devotional, a story from Jesus was brought up dealing with the injustices and brokenness of this world:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought to pray and not lose heart.”
- Luke 18:1

Jesus tells a story about brokenness and perseverance to encourage his followers in 2 ways in their sadness: always pray and do not lose heart. How do we begin facing those emotions that overwhelm us instead of trying to fix them? How do we begin to deal with our issues, instead of denying them?

Always Pray

Emotions of sadness are not inherently evil. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about an emotion itself, rather they work like a warning light on your car. A warning light is not a problem, but it can reveal that there are problems going on underneath the hood. Treat your sadness the same way. Usually people either try to suppress their emotions and ignore them or express them to everyone and live by them. The Bible prescribes praying your emotions. In our prayers, our emotions are filtered through a Savior who both knows that sadness and is able to heal those hurts. 

Do Not Lose Heart

Overwhelming emotions of brokenness do their most damage by causing you to give up. One of the most important lessons that Jesus teaches is don’t. Why can you have the courage to not lost heart when your world is crashing in around you? Why can you continue to hold on, when everything tells you to let go? Jesus was betrayed by his closest friends, condemned for sins he didn’t commit, and crucified to a death he didn’t deserve and he never left. Not once did he give up. Was his emotions stirred? Yes. Did he lose heart? If death didn’t cause Jesus to leave, your emotions won’t either.  

If you are having a bad day, bad month, or bad year I hope that you know Jesus, the man of sorrows, who overcame the ultimate sadness of sin and death, so we can have the ultimate joy of life everlasting with Him. I pray that this season of life would not crush you, but that you see that joy does not come despite sadness, but through it. Our way up, like Jesus, will be down because in the valley we will look up and see Jesus, who is making all sad things, come untrue.

Luke Rakestraw