True Sadness

‘Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams / And I hate to say it but the way it seems / Is that no one is fine / Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find / True sadness
-The Avett Brothers, “True Sadness”

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As is often the case when I listen to the Avett Brothers, I feel their new song describes me. Lately it seems like my life is nothing but bad. Terrorists keep killing people. People I love keep leaving or hurting me. Everyone at work will always throw me under the bus if it helps them get ahead. The world is broken by sin, and as the Avetts say, anybody who peels off a few superficial layers of life really can find true sadness.

That shouldn’t be the end of the story for Christians, though. Jesus will return to make all things new, and when that happens, the Bible says,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
We should be able to keep working and living and loving in the hope that God will someday make all things new.

But sometimes that hope and its implications seem a little too distant. Lately, I find myself wondering if God really does love me because he doesn’t seem to answer any of my prayers. I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, and the ending I’m promised in Revelation seems not just far away, but completely unattainable. It seems pointless to read the Bible or pray because I’ll keep failing at being a good Christian and God will just carry on, leaving me by the side of the road, by myself.

In those moments, God has been using beauty in little things that don’t necessarily directly relate to him to let me know he’s still here and my depressing inner monologues aren’t true – there is beauty underneath the sadness. A beautiful song from Jack Garratt or Tom Odell reminds me of some heavenly music. Passages in books like The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman or Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis tell me something profound. Memories of small moments randomly pop into my mind like one January sunset at Lake Hefner when the water, trees and grass were covered in thick ice and the sunlight shot through every surface and lit it all up in endless shades of orange, blue and pink, and for a moment I felt like I was standing in the throne room of God. For half a second in these moments, whether I’m reading, listening to music or standing somewhere beautiful, I feel like God hasn’t left me by the side of the road and is there with me.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in The Weight of Glory. He warns against worshiping these things, “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” God gives us these things to point to him and his beauty, especially when you’re like me and are rebellious and don’t want to read the Bible or pray or listen at church.

There really is true sadness underneath the layers of life, and I don’t ever want to ignore that or explain it away to myself or others. However, I also want to learn not to get stuck there and to look even deeper to find true glory in the beautiful things, whether they’re books, music, nature or people. Sometimes even those things that seem truly sad can be beautiful. In this way, I get little tastes of the day when God will completely heal the earth.

C.S. Lewis sums it up best at the end of The Weight of Glory:
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”