The Eight Patterns: Sadness

... a desire for something else.

A desire
for something else

The basic idea behind this type of sadness is that of ungodly grief or worldly discontentment. It is not to be confused with sorrow, which can actually be helpful.Unlike a greedy person who wants something then tries to acquire it, a sad person is not satisfied with what they already have. They believe that the grass is greener just about anywhere else. They feel as if they are "missing out" on something, even when that "something" is hard to define. From here, it is a short trip to being bitter and resentful towards God.
with hope
Commonly understood
as not applicable
Not to confused
with sorrow
Other forms:
dissatisfaction, dejection, depression, paranoia, grief, anxiety, pity, resentment, bitterness, cowardice, gloominess, regret, criticalness

Do you remember this Sesame Street classic? "One of these things is not like the others. / One of these things just doesn't belong. / Can you tell which thing is not like the others / By the time I finish my song?" Many of those who have studied the list of eight patterns wonder why sadness is included. They might say that it "just doesn't belong." This is unfortunate, because ...

I just couldn't finish the above introduction. Writer's block set in as I searched the net for the lyrics to the song. I thought this would be an effective way to introduce an article on sadness, but I was disappointed to find that so many others had already used this "original" idea to introduce their own articles. A once promising idea quickly became an unsatisfactory one. I soon despaired of ever writing a suitable introduction.

This (slightly) exaggerated example illuminates the heart of sadness: disappointment, dissatisfaction, dejection, and despair. It may not sound like a serious problem by itself, but it contributes to a wide range of problems by making you more vulnerable. Showing sadness is an effective way of drawing unwanted attention in the realm of spiritual warfare.

This is a "double internal" pattern. In terms of provocation and manifestation, this means it springs from within a person and can be committed without any overt physical behavior.

Sadness springs from one of two possible sources and leads to a myriad of problems. The first source is some form of frustration, such as anger, injustice, personal loss, unrealized goals, or unmet expectations. It leads to bitterness and/or resentment. The other primary source of sadness is anxiety as manifested by unreasonable fear, which can lead to grief, shame, regret, cowardice, despair, and especially acedia.

Sadness ruins and depresses the mind. It reduces its victims by robbing them of many immaterial qualities, including (but not limited to) joy, comfort, contentment, gentleness, patience, teachability, steadfastness, and reliability.

While none of the patterns are capable of delivering genuine pleasure, sadness is the only pattern that does not promise even a hint of happiness. There are no forbidden fruits or guilty pleasures in the pit of sadness.

The widespread devastation wrought by sadness claims more innocent victims than any other pattern. When sadness directly attacks one person, it indirectly impacts the lives of everyone who is close to the initial victim. Those who are closer to the center of the problem will suffer more. Sadness is so dangerous because it undermines the very relationships that can be most helpful to a successful recovery.

Sadness is unpredictable. These temptations strike in an almost random fashion. If you don't succumb to it in one situation, there might be some time before it comes back. This is very different from the appetite patterns, such as lust, which can be relentless and very predictable.

To compare sadness and lust, imagine each of them as prizefighters. Lust would be a heavyweight that stands toe-to-toe and repeatedly throws hard body punches. Sadness, on the other hand, is content to occasionally jab and feint while waiting patiently for an opportunity to deliver a crushing blow.

Sadness is so effective because it looks so harmless. The initial thoughts are often valid (for example, being disappointed because something did not turn out as expected). However, if these valid thoughts of disappointment are cultivated, then they will be replaced with inappropriate thoughts of dissatisfaction. As it becomes ingrained in the heart and mind, sadness produces bitterness and many other unsavory fruits.

Spectacular failure is never sudden, but is a drawn-out process. Sadness can stay hidden for a very long time. It also effectively conceals the movements of patterns that are more direct causes of spiritual catastrophes.

Sadness can be compared to a moth. Given enough time, this little creature can destroy an article of clothing. The garment is gradually damaged until it eventually becomes useless and worthless. The destruction is often not even noticed until the garment is needed, but by then the damage has already been done. Likewise, sadness gradually reduces its victims until they are paralyzed into inaction.

ASPIRE. Sadness is the single greatest obstacle to ASPIRE. Because it primarily infects your thought life, it is extremely distracting when you try to practice the spiritual disciplines. Any contemplative behavior will be especially difficult.

Let go of the past. Sadness is the ultimate "playback machine" because it dredges up unhealthy memories of the past. Sometimes the past is incorrectly, yet fondly, remembered as a "Golden Age" of some kind. Prior failures and weakness can also be recalled, only to produce shame and guilt. The past contributes heavily to development of sadness.

Your perceptions are vital. Unreasonable expectations may cause you to think that you are a failure or a weakling when, in fact, that might not be true. Shame and guilt open the door to sadness, even if they are completely illegitimate.

God has promised to forgive those who seek it. If you have asked for forgiveness, then you are truly forgiven. On the basis of His promises, accept that forgiveness and move forward.

Dwelling on the past is not the only significant contributor to sadness. Obsession with the future can do the trick as well. It is easy to get caught up in worrying about the future, particularly the end times. Choosing to study Biblical teachings about the future is great, and should be a source of comfort. If it is not comforting, then you are doing something wrong.

Check your appetites. If they are in check, then sadness has no room to operate. Because sadness revolves around being deprived of something desired, then eliminating or reducing the amount of desires reduces the potential for sadness.

For instance, greed promises happiness if you acquire a certain something. When the promised happiness fails to materialize, then sadness sets in. If the initial greed were successfully resisted, then sadness would have never had an opportunity to strike.

Prepare to suffer. Christians are called to bear some very heavy burdens. "Long-suffering" (which literally means "to suffer for a long time") is a Christ-like virtue which describes how we should respond to these burdens. Sadness is frequently an illegitimate response to legitimate problems. More often than not, the reason for sadness is very legitimate. Do not allow yourself to be crippled or rendered useless.

Recognize sadness as an indicator of growth. This is an advanced pattern. Weaker and less mature Christians are not subjected to it nearly as often because they fall much more quickly and easily to the appetites. Spiritual success invites ungodly attention, and sadness is reserved for those who are greater threats to the forces of ungodliness.

Victory over sadness powerfully equips you to be more successful combating the other patterns. Temptations of sadness offer spectacular opportunities for growth if we are not overwhelmed.

A very subtle form of sadness promotes a fear of spiritual growth. It sometimes looks like this: "If I grow spiritually, then I am going to be responsible for everything I learn. Sure, it will benefit me some, but I will also have greater liability. I don't want to grow too much." Perhaps this person is afraid that if he continues to grow then God will send him to Africa as a missionary or give him some other super-spiritual, ultra-difficult task. This is faulty reasoning! God is not waiting for you to cross some mystical spiritual boundary just so He can then make you miserable. Growing closer to God is always better than every other alternative.

Treasure community. A typical response to sadness is retreat. This is unhealthy and greatly compounds the problem. When you struggle with sadness, you absolutely need a friendly shoulder. Victory over sadness cannot be found apart from the comfort and encouragement provided by God through His children.

A leading cause of sadness stems from being the source of someone else's difficulties (whether intentionally or inadvertently). If you have ever caused a fellow Christian to stumble, or have somehow played a role in causing them to experience pain or failure, then your actions will haunt you. In addition to confessing your sin to God, seek forgiveness from your victim and attempt to make restitution.

People are most susceptible to sadness when they feel unappreciated or if they think they have been called upon to sacrifice too much. We must always watch out for each other and continually be a source and recipient of encouragement.

Treat sadness as if it were a contagious disease. As noted above, it easily inflicts harm on those close to it. Not only should you avoid infecting others, but take care not to get infected by others.

With the other patterns, accountability partners sharing a mutual problem can be helpful to each other. For example, when two people are struggling with pride, they might be able to effectively encourage each other to victory. This is not true with sadness, which can turn a partner into a liability. If both are prone to sadness, then it is difficult for either to be genuinely helpful. They are more likely to make each other's condition worse. If your partner is vulnerable to sadness, then you should seek encouragement from someone else who is not afflicted by it.

Don't let "unanswered" prayer be a source of sadness. Many people get upset with God because He does not answer their prayers. What they fail to recognize is that "no" and "later" are perfectly valid answers to prayer. Expecting God to perform tricks on demand is dangerous and unreasonable. He knows what is best, and will never answer a prayer against His best judgment. Don't become angry or embittered if He chooses to handle your requests in a way different than you expect.

Sing! Appropriate music does more than soothe a savage beast – it restores the troubled soul. Flip through a church hymnal or browse the music section of a local Christian bookstore. This is a very safe way to receive encouragement without exposing others to your sadness.

Shut up. As sadness progresses, it is very tempting to talk to yourself. You can be your own worst enemy in the war against sadness. Don't fuel your sadness. Don't allow yourself to entertain any of the following thoughts:

"Why bother?"
"It's not worth it."
"It is only going to get worse."
"I can't win."
"Why is it always me?"
"God isn't listening."

Sidebar: Godly Sorrow
Understand sorrow. Sadness is so poorly understood because it is often confused with sorrow. Satan has done an effective job of camouflaging sadness in this way. While they may appear to be similar, they are very different.

Godly sorrow is characterized by obedience, civility, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, joy, and hope. It serves a valuable purpose, such as prodding you to seek forgiveness, goading you to pursue spiritual maturity, or motivating you to plan for a bright future. The Holy Spirit uses it as He produces His fruit in your life. It also helpfully tempers righteous indignation (a godly form of "anger") and restores godly perspective (which is often damaged by all of the patterns).

On the other hand, ungodly sorrow lacks these important virtues and hinders the productive work of the Holy Spirit. It robs you of purpose and hope, destroys your ability to focus and persevere, and it will weaken and cripple your ability to function in everyday life. This type of sorrow must always be rejected and resisted.

Sorrow is like a viper. When practiced properly, it is good and healthy. It can even be used in small doses (it should always be a temporary condition) like an antivenin to inoculate you against sadness. Too much sorrow or improper use of it can be deadly.

David and Job are poignant examples of those who struggled with extreme sadness.

"Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls. My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever. My harp is tuned to mourning, and my flute to the sound of wailing." – Job 30:24-31

"Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends -- those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life." – Psalm 31:9-13

Sadness will tempt you to think that you are alone. This is ridiculous – God is always there with His children, and He will never abandon them.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." – Joshua 1:9

"The LORD is my light and my salvation -- whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life -- of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident." – Psalm 27:1-3

Maintain perspective. In light of eternity, difficulties are merely temporary and always conquerable.

"Sing to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." – Psalm 30:4-5

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Those who wisely trust God and love His Word will find those things that sadness steals away: peace and stability.

"The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous." – Psalm 37:14-17

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." – Ecclesiastes 7:10

"Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." – Psalm 55:22

"Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." – Psalm 119:165

Sadness injures the heart of man.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." – Proverbs 17:22

"Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart." – Proverbs 25:20

Suffering is real and inevitable for the maturing Christian. It is also an opportunity for growth and an occasion for great reward. Remember that God understands your plight and knows what you are going through.

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." – Romans 8:18

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." – 1 Peter 3:13-17

Godly sorrow restores, but ungodly sorrow overwhelms.

"If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent-not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him." – 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

"Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it -- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while -- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged." – 2 Corinthians 7:8-13

"Alone among the thoughts, those of sadness are destructive of all the other thoughts." – Evagrius Ponticus, Reflections 61.

"Fetters on the feet are an impediment to running; sadness is an impediment to contemplation." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts, V.7.

"... Sadness is a disease of the soul and the flesh; it takes the former captive and it withers the latter on the spot ... he who endures sadness in suffering unjustly will experience a radiant gladness, for the future will be the opposite of the present." – Evagrius Ponticus, To Eulogious 7.

"When we are in trouble or despair or have lost hope, we should do what David did: pour out our hearts to God and tell Him of our needs and troubles, just as they are. It is because He can deal with us wisely that we confess to God: He can make our troubles easy to bear, if this is for our benefit, and can save us from the dejection which destroys and corrupts." – Hesychios the Priest, Watchfulness and Holiness 135.

"Despondency is a paralysis of soul, an enervation of the mind, neglect of asceticism, and hatred of the vow made. It calls those who are in the world blessed. It accuses God of being merciless and without love for men." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 13.

"Spiritual heroes come to light at the time of despondency, for nothing procures so many crowns for a monk as the battle with despondency." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 13.

The original term for sadness is often translated into English as "dejection."

Monks usually chose to pursue ascetic living in one of two ways: as a hermit (also known as anchoritic or solitary monks) or in a commune (also known as coenobitic monks). The hermits were considered to be much more vulnerable to sadness than those living in a monastery.

Sadness is frequently omitted from later revisions of the list because many consider it to be the least deadly of this group of eight patterns. But just because it is the least harmful does not mean it is harmless. It is like comparing species of shark, be it great white, hammerhead, mako, thresher, tiger, etc. You do not want any of them to sink their teeth in you.

Be careful to distinguish sadness from reverence. It is perfectly valid to be sober and overwhelmed by the presence of God. The gap between God and man is indeed great, but it should never lead us to sadness. The Creator loves us and has chosen to bridge that gap to save us. Should we be overwhelmed? Yes, but joyfully so.

No comments:

Post a Comment