A Sad Face Is Good for the Heart

May 31, 2012 Length: 21:32

Sadness and struggle are often “out of place” in modern Christianity. Jeff explains that Godly sorrow is embraced on the journey toward true Orthodoxy, where we find that a “sad face is good for the heart.”





Welcome back. Today’s topic is going to tackle the concept of sadness, sorrow, and a Christian world or scene that can handle this. A friend of mine who was in a catechumen class with me, we were chuckling at how nice it is in Orthodoxy to not have all these people giving you these big fake smiles and trying to greet you when you’re going to church. I think he chuckled about how its nice to not to have golf carts driving around in the parking lot looking for you and smiling at you first thing in the morning.

And it reminded me of how you can go to a Liturgy as an Orthodox and not have to put a fake smile on your face; a veneer to try to look good for other people. I love the raw emotion; the real emotion you can bring to Orthodoxy and not have to put on any kind of facade. And I hope we can keep it that way. It’s a good thing. The parish we’re in now, you can come and just be real and enjoy a real worship experience no matter what the emotions might be: happy, sad, and everything in between.

It says in Ecclesiastes 7:2 and following:

It’s better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting. Sorrow is better than laughter. For when a face is sad, a heart may be made glad. For the mind of the wise is in the house of mourning. While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

The song Sad Face is played

There’s a crystal in the window 
Throwing rainbows around 
There’s a girl by the mirror 
And her feet won’t touch the ground 
‘Cause she never saw the sky so bright 
Isn’t that like a cloud, to come by night 
Nevermind the sky 
There’s a tear in her eye

A sad face is good for the heart 
Go on cry, does it seem a cruel world? 
A sad face is good for the heart of a girl 
A sad face

2 Corinthians 7:10, “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Until I came to Orthodoxy, Christianity had no real room for sadness except maybe in some charismatic circles where an emotional crying and pains is a sign of spirituality if you’re in a hyper-experiental state; maybe people are watching you and how repentant you are and being filled with the Spirit and having some sort of emotional response.

Beyond that, there’s not much room for tears and sadness. It’s something that is a sign of weakness. It’s something that shows that maybe you’re lacking some kind of faith. Or you’re just not that big confident leader that you should be acting like, if you really are who God says you are in your identity.

Well in the Scriptures, I see sadness all over the place. It’s tied in with that jewel of humility that’s the most pleasing state of heart to God throughout the Scriptures. That theme that humility is the most important desire God has for humankind, I’ve seen that for many years in the Scriptures. And you don’t see it taught or emphasized anywhere, but the one thing God wants from humans is humility; real, genuine humility, because then He has something He can work with.

Orthodoxy understands this concept. It’s built in. It’s almost forced. You have to humble yourself and enter into that bright sadness. I love that book by Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring. We somehow got a copy of it at some point. We always like it more than the other books our church picks, at various times during Lent, to go through. For some reason, I end up picking up The Lenten Spring instead, because the early part especially deals with the topic of the bright sadness of Lent.

The major season in Orthodoxy, the Lenten Season, the emphasis in that season is the bright sadness of godly sorrow that leads to joy that we find in the Passion of Christ. And we see that in the sufferings of Christ that we are to share. What are the sufferings of Christ? And I’m sure in the Scriptures at times when that’s mentioned, it has to do with the physical suffering believers are going through just for naming themselves Christians. I know that’s true.

But also, it’s more than that. It’s that daily taking up your cross that when you try to actually love people, help them, or pray for them, you start seeing things that are a huge burden on your heart. And until I really started trying to love people in more genuine ways, I didn’t really understand what a real godly sorrow is. I always thought it was something where I’m just to be sad over my sins, which is true.

But somehow when you try to really love people; bear their burdens on yourself, you start to feel their sin as well. And it stirs up what you can see in yourself. You may recognize some of those internal sins going on and all of a sudden you start welling up in this spring of tears and sadness. You almost see what God sees in you and in that person, and then you start to feel the darkness of it, the sadness of it, and the alienation it brings from God. And that is a godly sorrow where you are entering into the sufferings of Christ.

His sufferings, obviously, were not mainly physical. His greatest sufferings were emotional, because of what He saw; the depth of rejection that He experienced combined together. Which, we’ll never understand the depths of, but we can taste of it at times. And that’s that godly sorrow; that sadness that leads to salvation. As it says in 2 Corinthians, “A sad face is good for the heart, for when a face is sad, the heart may be made glad.”

The song Sad Face resumes

No there’s something in my eye

A sad face is good for the heart 
Maybe just now I don’t understand 
A sad face is good for the heart of a man 
A sad face

One of the very few times that there was anything that really dealt with sadness in a redemptive fashion was a book I ran across on the Psalms. I think it was called The Cry of the Soul. And I grabbed that in a heartbeat, many years ago, because I was always looking for some kind of devotional writings or something in the Christian world that would take this theme of sadness that I would see throughout the Scriptures and in the Psalms and bring it to life.

Because in the Psalms, it seems like maybe sixty to eighty percent of the Psalms are crying out with some kind of sadness or at least passion; crying out to God for redemption in some ways. Well, this is most of the Psalms. Yet, no one dealt with that issue at all, and yet when I came to the Psalms, there followed just the cry of the heart.

I love the title of that book, The Cry of the Soul. It’s a study on the Psalms. And like a lot of Christian books, the first chapter can be good, and that’s pretty much where all their good ideas run out by the first or second chapter. Then, it’s just a bunch of filler stuff that tries to sound catchy and be practical so it can get on the bookshelves and be sold more and become more popular in the Christian world.

Well, The Cry of the Soul is the cry of God coming through David and others, which is really the cry of Christ – the godly sorrows that were coming out, the rejection, the sin around them, the seeming injustices that were going on around in full sight of God Himself. His incredible love for people in this world and the destructiveness coming from it all is the true godly sorrow. But only when we embrace this, which Orthodoxy does, can we really embrace the heart of God.

One thing people think when they first start seeing icons or go to an Orthodox Church is the faces that at first just seem kind of serious, on the faces of the icon. A wonderful little guy was probably seven years old when he came and visited a Vespers service. He was of some friends of mine, and they came to a Vespers service. And I was trying to show them a couple of cool things that little boys might like, like heads laying on the ground and the guy that was killed by lions, etc.

He wasn’t too interested in that. I was thinking about maybe the dragon and St. George spearing the dragon. He might think that was neat. Actually what he mentioned was that these people are very serious looking. Or that there’s a lot of dark-looking people here when he was looking at these pictures – the icons.

And that was just an honest first glance of a child, which I’m sure many adults have thought and felt too. I think my wife mentioned that early on. It’s true. At first, they do seem so serious that they’re a little scary looking. But really what’s going on, as we know, those of us who’ve gotten beyond that, there’s a piercing glance that looks right into your soul and has no fake smiley veneer to try to make you feel good.

Because what’s happening is that person or Christ if it’s an icon of Christ, or the Mother of God, it’s a glance that’s serious like when someone’s staring you in the face when they really want to have a serious or meaningful talk with you. And they don’t want you looking away and just smiling and saying glib little thoughts or things. They want to connect with you eye to eye and have a heart to heart talk.

Of course, it goes beyond that even. It goes deeper than that through prayers. Sometimes you’ll be staring right at an icon of Christ, and all of a sudden it will be like the icon is newer than you’ve ever seen before. And all of a sudden, there’s a split second where He speaks to you something that you really needed to have said to you or you really needed to unload to Him.

That piercing glare of love. It’s a gaze of love that goes beyond all the surfacey stuff. It’s deeper than that. That’s the beauty of the face that has been softened by humility and love for God that God stirs up inside of us.

There’s got to be a remedy
To all of this anxiety.
Maybe you could sing me to sleep.
Maybe you can just sit near me.
All I know is I need
Some sort of remedy.

That’s why I sing
Say you love
I don’t know what you mean
I still sing
Say you love
Your function
Ends every song
And leaves me calm.

In the morning I say my prayers
And in the evening before I go asleep
I pray until I weep and weep
God I weep
So all I know is I need some sort of peace

One thing I know God loves as much as anything is when we actually shed tears of love for other people in love we have for others; when we’re really burdened by something else and yet we bring it to the altar of God, the altar of prayer, even in the middle of services. When there’s something that is so burdensome to us that we can barely go to Church without crying, that’s what God loves is when we open up our hands and offer to Him as a burden that we share with Him.

That’s that humble sadness that He can deal with because we bring it to Him, which is what He wants in the end. I think of the Psalmist David who says that “a broken and contrite spirit, O Lord, you will not despise.” Last time that came to my ears in church, I think tears just came to my eyes. This was quite an emotional Pascha. I think it was my third, and this time was the most tearful, even though you think it’d be the most joyful.

Even on Pascha eve; even just an hour and a half before the service when I went out to these little lakes nearby where there’re some birding trails. It’s a Riparian Reserve, and there’re all these trails of these trees and things around these lakes that you can walk around. At nighttime, I had to sneak into them and hop a gate so I could go on a devotional walk before going to Pascha service.

Even on the eve of Pascha, I had a cold heart and so I had to get out and dump out my heart to God. Somehow I left there, coming back home to get my family and go to the 10:00 or 10:30 starting of Pascha evening service here. I had tired eyes from crying out here and pouring my heart out to God.

But I had this sense inside the whole time that God was going to do something with this and answer my prayers. Sometimes we have to cry out to God in such a way that we just do it whether we believe He can even fix the problem or answer or prayers or not. We in faith just dump it out to Him and just let Him do what He wants with it. That evening I didn’t believe anything that God could do or not. I was just saying “Why? Why?” on a certain issue, and guess what happened. After the Eucharist and the Resurrection, God had totally relieved those burdens on this blessed Pascha this year.

It’s been a week or so after that, and it’s definitely been an answer to prayer. This is the sad face that leads to salvation. We all have it outside the Orthodox Church or inside. Let’s remember that the Orthodox Church is the one place and the one devotional life that can handle this so well that it doesn’t have to be avoided. It can be embraced as a joyful sorrow; the bright sadness lived of that faith.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Peace to you.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Peace to you.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

There’s also some kind of heroism that is spawned from sadness. And it’s in all of humanity. The reason I believe this is because it’s in all of the great stories or movies that really grab people’s heart. If you think of the epic historical dramas such as even like Braveheart, what do you have that really draws you into the movie early on? There’s some fun, some frolicking, and then the characters are introduced.

But then what do you have? He marries his wife with a priest out in the forest. Sure enough, it’s just a matter of days before the king’s men come and take over this village. Or the king’s men come and oppress this village and try to take his wife and sleep with her and rape her. And this starts this big tirade by our hero to save her, to get out of the village, rescue her, and fight off the oppressor.

And something about the sadness of that even and the tragedy of it when she does get killed eventually, that’s what draws you in to the glory and the heroism that is to come in the story. And there’s something about a deep sadness that is the soil that brings out the seed of redemption and heroism. And there’s something about our Christian lives where God has it set up that way as well; where it’s actually the sorrow that sprouts the good things in life.

This is similar to how the blood of the martyrs is the seed of a church or has been throughout history. The same thing is true with our walk with God. It’s the times of godly sorrow, especially if we handle it right and bring it to God that can bring about the good things in our lives.

Thanks for joining me in this podcast. We’ll pick some of these things up later as we Approach the Wardrobe.