Sorrow: A Forbidden Emotion

In the book of Genesis, the verb “to weep” appears some fourteen times; the vast majority of the time that this verb is used, Joseph is its subject. While we all know the short verse, “And Jesus wept,” we might do well to remember that Joseph, as far as we know, wept a lot more.

A victim of his father’s favoritism, very nearly murdered by his brothers, sold into slavery by their hand, accused of rape, and wrongfully imprisoned–Joseph’s life was no cake walk. Somehow, at the end of his life, Joseph declares, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Gen. 50:20).

This verse preaches. Here is a man who, in the face of incredible suffering, embraces God’s sovereignty and submits Himself to His service. (It practically begs to be alliterated.)

But is it really so simple? Joseph, at the end of his suffering, comes to embrace God’s sovereign plan, yes. But this embrace came at the price of tears–many, many tears. The solace in God’s suffering that we preach and counsel and shepherd one another toward comes only after much sorrow. Thus, sorrow is something we must also embrace, if we are to embrace God’s sovereign purpose in our pain.

Yet, if this is the case, why have we forgotten the sorrow?

Why have we forbidden sadness? If there was ever a forbidden emotion in the church, it is sadness. Grief, sorrow, distress, depression, despair–you name it–we simply don’t talk about it. This is ironic, given that the Scriptures are laden with the accounts of men and women who, in the depths of despair, come to embrace God’s sovereignty on the other side of their sorrow.

The vast majority of the Psalms deal with sorrow and suffering; Job gets forty-odd chapters to his arguments about suffering before he comes to understand his pain; Habakkuk wrestles with God; Jeremiah writes a whole book of Lamentations; Paul frequently cites his suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Even our Lord is known as a “Man of Sorrows.”

So why the taboo on sorrow?

The reasons are many, but the most important is simple: we’re afraid of sorrow. We simply can’t handle it; we just don’t know what to do. When a friend finds their lives destroyed by cancer, grieved by the death of a child, or wrecked by a spouse’s adultery, we simply don’t know what to do with ourselves.

Raised in a culture of Evangelicalism that has an answer for everything, we freeze when we don’t have an answer for the most personal and important of all questions: “Where is God when I hurt?” In the face of this question, we flee; as we run, we throw stock phrases and verses over our shoulders hoping to find an atheist, an agnostic, anyone that has questions we can actually answer.

This response is rather silly, because the Scriptures don’t need us to have answers for our friends who feel sad, Instead, the Scriptures tell us that our best response is remaining present, if silent, with our sad friend. When Job’s life bottoms out, his friends come to him and sit with him in compassionate, loving silence. (And it’s only when they start talking that things go wrong.)

Silence may be the best gift we have to offer our sad friends, but not a silence that turns a deaf ear to our friends’ pain. No, what our sad friends need is a robust silence, a sturdy quiet, and a hearty embrace that says, as Gandalf once did, “I will not say ‘Do not weep,’ for not all tears are an evil.”

I wrote this post for the folks over at Thrive80, who helped me publish Unfriend Yourself. This post is part of a series promoting Rhett Smith’s (@rhetter) new book The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? This blog is a compilation of some really fantastic Millennial writers (many are my friends) and I think you’d be silly not to spend the rest of your day reading some of their stuff. 

And We’re Back

After a long hiatus, Caring for the Soul is (mostly back). While the title and subtitle above are currently under construction (suggestions welcome), I’ll be using this more and more over the next few months. Much of my energy over the last few months has gone toward my book, Unfriend Yourselfand now that it’s on the shelves, I am looking to write some more.

Admittedly, I did this whole writing business a bit backwards. Many authors start with a blog or website, and over time move toward publishing. This is what happened to Jon Acuff and Stuff Christians Like. It’s what a good friend of mine, David Ulrich, is currently attempting to do with the soon-to-be-renamed Sackcloth & Tea.

I, on the other hand, have barely managed to blog and still somehow published a book. In light of this, I’m going back to start from the beginning.  So keep stopping by, and you’ll find more content as time goes on. Some of it will be Christianity-and-technology related, much of it won’t be. Next week I’ll be writing about why Christians can’t be sad, and maybe a little about some recent discussions I’ve come across regarding Twitter.

Until next time,


I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. [Philippians 1:9-11]

The Mischievous Delight of God

For the last week or so I’ve been thinking about transitions, about that inexorable movement from A to B, B to C, C to D… It’s been on my mind because I’ve just recently made one of the most important transitions in all of life: I graduated from college.

This transition was a little longer than the norm; though I walked the platform during Commencement exercises, it was not a moment of completion. I still had a three credit hour course hanging over my head, to be completed online. I did so within eight days. The purgatorial feeling of this transition, the never-ending-ness of it, was strange.

Now, that transition behind me, I am flying across the country to witness another important transition: my best friend is getting married. Though it is not my transition, I do feel that it is important for me, watching my friends get married.

All of these transitions remind me, over and over again, that I’ve grown up. This summer I’m starting my first-ever full-time job; it’s a ministry position, no less. This summer, I’ll make a transition I’ve dreamed of for most of my life: the transition into published authorship. This summer I’m transitioning into graduate studies. This summer I am transitioning into an increasingly important and significant relationship.

I ride these transitions like a blowing leaf on the wind–I am never motionless for long as a tumble along, blowing from one moment of significance to another. Tolkien penned a lovely little poem,

The road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began

Now far ahead the road has gone

And I must follow if I can

God’s eagerness to bless is often hard to keep up with; He is often about the business of surprising us with HIs blessings. Paul would say that He does “far more abundantly than all we ask or think,” (Eph. 3:17). God, I think, practices mischief of the best kind–not to harm, but to flourish; not to deceive, but to delight.

What else do you call grace, but mischievous delight? What do you call mercy on sinners but the greatest of folly? What else do you call blessing on the cursed but divine guile?

It is in this mischievous delight that marks my life, which is the controlling narrative to my life, especially this summer. It is by grace–by mischievous delight–that I am who I am, that I do what I do. It is in this that good Christian men rejoice.

The Harder Art of Ending

This is the manuscript from a brief address I gave at the Vespers service the night before my graduation from Moody Bible Institute. I’ve finished my college career, and now ahead of me lies graduate school, ministry, and even authorship. These were my parting words for the place and people I so dearly love. 

Tonight I have been asked to do the impossible, and I’m not just referring to limiting myself to six minutes of public speaking. Tonight I have been given the task of saying something meaningful at the end of our time here at Moody Bible Institute, to say something that will not only end this chapter of our lives well, but also cheerfully propel us into whatever is coming next for us.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” In light of this, I have decided to speak tonight, not of our futures, but of what will, in a matter of hours, become our pasts.

The other night I was walking through campus, smelling the blooming trees in the plaza and the faint hint of chocolate in the air, and I realized that with every passing moment the overarching narrative to my life was about to change. For years we have walked these halls, sat in these seats, eaten this food (sometimes to our dismay), studied in these classrooms, and lived in these dorms. And now, it is all over.

It is time to say goodbye.

This, according to Longfellow, is a great art, even greater than starting a new chapter of our lives. I think this is because we are equally prone to two errors in our goodbyes. The first error is to rush so quickly into what lies before us, to skip to the next track on the album of our lives, in such a way that we never actually savor the ending. How many times have I said in the last two weeks, “I can’t wait to get out of this place”? In the midst of a flurry of finals, a peppering of papers, and a ton of tests, it is easy for this to be the case.

The second error is to never actually say goodbye, and to forever live in the past, reliving our college days long after they’re gone. Twenty years pass and we insist on wearing faded floor shirts. We tell our children to come down from their rooms and help mom in the SDR—that is, the kitchen. We tell our spouses that we’re going to get the mail out of our CPO’s. Or, less humorously, and far more likely, we leave here, and with the wonders of communication technology, we forego new friendships and only maintain those relationships we’ve made here via Skype and Facebook and email.

Saying goodbye is hard—it is a fascinating mixture of sadness and excitement, grief and exhilaration. It is much like the feeling I get at the end of a very good book—only far more intense in its experience. Filled with a sense of accomplishment, and often compelled what is coming next, I want to turn the final pages and discover what lies at the book’s ending. Yet at the same time, I am saddened and sometimes even anxious—I do not want to leave these characters, these stories, these memories behind.

I often wonder if saying goodbye is so hard because it is an invitation to trust. The Scriptures are clear that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Perhaps saying farewell is an invitation from God Himself to trust that the next dwelling place and boundary He has allotted for us will come with new blessings and friendships and memories and joys, as did the last. Perhaps it is also an invitation to trust because we do not know the hardships, the struggles, and the toils that we are yet to face, but we can trust that God has allotted those to us, too.

So tonight, we say goodbye, we go our way, and strange lands soon we’ll greet. We will leave here and go to jungles and churches, classrooms and counseling centers, media ministries and missions fields. Others will go to businesses and bureaus, cafes and customers. Regardless of what lies before us, we will depart tomorrow and do what it is we have been trained to do, and I am not necessarily referring to our majors and disciplines of study. Because at the end of the day, our training has been this: to love God and to love people. So we will go and love and serve and care and help—in whatever context to which Christ has called us.

But before you run off on the-rest-of-your-life, I invite you to say goodbye, to this place and to these people. Bid your favorite red-cushioned chapel seat farewell, have a parting thought for the jerky elevators in Sweeting, realize tonight that you don’t have to wear an ID at all times anymore. Say farewell to roommates and floor mates. Say so-long to co-workers and counselors. Say goodbye to professors and teachers. Give hugs, receive hugs. Shed a tear. Laugh a little. Accept God’s invitation to trust and practice the harder art of ending: say “goodbye.” Don’t promise to keep in touch and use it to abort from the moment—say goodbye, for now.

Ah yes, “Goodbye—for now.” It is a peculiar privilege of the people of God that we never actually have to say “goodbye” forever. For we will, all of us, one day be reunited before the throne of the King of the Universe. And after we’ve spent the first ten thousand years on our faces before Him, we may have some time to run into each other in the New Heavens and the New Earth. So, say goodbye, or perhaps, “see you later,” for as the song we’ve sung declares,

Glory over yonder, over yonder,

When Jesus comes in glory we shall part no more.

See you later, friends.

Better Quality of Life? [Somewhat] Likely

Too dramatic? Probably.

Interesting poll, though. For the first time, Americans have identified that they believe that America’s young people will not have a better quality of their life than their parents. According to the article, the question has been asked by various groups since 1983.

Let’s take a minute and analyze the data. In 1987, 54% of respondents believed that young people would very likely or somewhat likely have a better life than their parents. It skyrocketed to 71% in 2001, but an “eyeballed” average looks like it’s always been around the mid-50’s.

This year, the number is 44%. While lower than last year’s 51%, it’s not cataclysmic–it still hovers around the average.

Let’s look at the question: “In America, each generation has tried to have a better life than their parents, with a better living standard, better homes, a better education, and so on. How likely do you think it is that today’s youth will have a better life than their parents — very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?”

This question is not answered in a vacuum. We’re not in a good economic place (though, perhaps, we are recovering) and so of course the doubts would be higher now than ten years ago, when we were just coming into the new millennium and we had a pretty rocking market. Also, is there a noticeable difference between responses of “somewhat likely” and “somewhat unlikely”?

Neil Postman says in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology that we ought to be people who pay no attention to a poll unless we know what questions were asked and why (183). The above is a meager attempt at this.