Is it OK to Feel Sadness as a Joyful Christian? Part 1: Not ‘Fixing’ the Problem

A Day to Look Forward To

I had been looking forward to this day for months and months. My best friend, whom I have known since I was in college, was coming to Lafayette to visit. He was here with a number of his church members to attend our annual Biblical Counseling Training Conference. We had been planning for a long time and the day was here. He opted to stay at our house — not only to be frugal, but also so that we would get to see each other a little more than if he had stayed in a hotel.

As we planned our week, we set aside Monday night as the time that we would spend catching up, sharing stories and investing in each other’s lives. He could only afford to spend one night with me because there were so many lives that he had impacted, so we would only be able to fellowship one night.

As Monday night drew nearer, my anticipation grew higher and higher, but everything took a turn for the worse. He sent me a text that would change the night and change my emotions for sure. He said that the church members he had come with to the conference all wanted to go to dinner at a nice restaurant. Seeing as he was the person who had the car, he would have to drive in order for them to go. He was also the person who had recruited them to come to the conference, and on top of that he was their pastor. The right thing to do by far would be to take his people to dinner and minister to them as his sheep. Spending time with me needed to be second.

When he shared the news with me I wasn’t angry at him (I knew he was making the right choice, and I probably would have done the same thing if I was in his shoes). I didn’t want to get revenge, throw a temper tantrum, or any of the other temptations that usually go with unmet expectations. Rather, I was sad. I found my soul longing for what it was not going to receive and I simply found myself sad.

I drove home knowing that my night of fellowship and comradery with my friend, whom I had not seen in over a year, was not going to happen.

Enter Truth?

At this point, if you are prone to be “the counselor,” you might be thinking that we need to start injecting lots of biblical truth — we need to turn that frown upside-down. Perhaps Psalm 42:5 comes to mind, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” Or perhaps you just go straight for the jugular, start exclaiming that this is all part of God’s sovereign plan and use verses like Romans 8:28-29.

I want to encourage you to hold off on sending an onslaught of verses and consider something else.

So What Should I do?

I don’t believe that we need to necessarily run to these verses and try to make ourselves happy by “applying truth.” I’m not saying that we don’t need to interpret and guide every aspect of our life by the light of the truth of scripture, but the answer does not always need to be that we need to go from sad to happy by applying scripture and not dealing with our emotions. As a man and a counselor, my natural bent is to always try to “fix” everything, but that is not always the answer.

Often, when we see sadness, our first response is that we want to cheer that person up. If we are the person who is sad, then we want to be out of the sadness right away. Who really wants to be sad anyway? The biblical answer is not always to force the sadness away. Navigating the issues of sadness and suffering can be tricky waters for sure, but the best answer is not always to slap a bible verse and expect to be happy within 30 minutes.

A Better Way to Begin to Deal with Sadness

Rather than forcing ourselves “to be happy,” we should allow time for a grieving process. Grieving doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We have examples of righteous persons all through scripture who grieve and who are sad.

Scripture tells us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).   We also know that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26).

So in my little situation, I began to cry out to God and express my heart. I told him how sad I was that I knew my night would not go like I planned. I told him that I knew this was a good thing because it was part of his plan, but I was still sad about it. I told my Father that I trusted him and that I knew my friend was making the right choice (even if it hurt). Even though I turned to my Father in this way, the sadness didn’t necessarily abate. I don’t think that was a result of my lack of faith, or sin, but that I genuinely would not be getting something that I desired that was good; so my soul became sad.

Wait, What About…

At this point you might be thinking, there are so many more aspects of this that you have not covered. What about a person who allows this sadness to persist and is dominated by it? What about depression? What about God’s sovereignty? That is why this is only part one of the story. Read the next installment of “Is it Ok to Feel Sadness as a Joyful Christian?”

Joshua M. Greiner
Josh has been on staff with Faith since 2010. He graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Political Science (2008) and from Faith Bible Seminary with a MDiv (2013), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with a ThM in Biblical Counseling (2017) and is pursuing a PhD in Counseling from SBTS as well. He serves as the Pastor of Faith West Ministries, the Chaplin of the West Lafayette Fire Department, an instructor with Faith Bible Seminary, and a Fellow with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). He is married to his wife Shana, and they have four children together.