Blessed Are the Cheerful   17 comments

sad womanMost churches are uncomfortable with the melancholy.  This has been a source of pain and confusion for Kimberly, and a spiritual stumbling block.  The church’s unmitigated focus on an optimistic perspective (which it confuses with faith) seems dishonest and feels oppressive to her.  This came up a few days ago and I responded, “It’s really only the churches in this country which are so upbeat.  The American culture has won the church over.  It is not as though Christians started reading their Bibles and said, “Oh, look at this!  We are all supposed to be positive thinkers with permanent smiles.”  If an American had written the Beatitudes, they would start out, “Blessed are the poor rich in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn are cheerful: for they shall be comforted need no comfort.”

Sad-Girl-lYes, you can mourn in church… briefly, over something big, with repeated claims of  steadfast faith, but if you don’t feel better soon because of our sympathy, we take offense.  How quickly does God expect you to get over your grief?  The benefits from the beatitudes seem to be scheduled for the next life.  After all, when do the poor “inherit the earth” and the persecuted receive a great “reward in heaven”?  It appears the sorrowing find full and lasting consolation only at the resurrection.  Jesus does not see the melancholy as spiritually weak or faith-less, but as blessed.  Instead of a condition to avoid or get past, sadness is a door into spiritual blessing.  Perhaps instead of avoiding or trying to fix the mournful, we might learn something from them, something about what it means to love a broken world.


Posted May 2, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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17 responses to “Blessed Are the Cheerful

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  1. This was one of our problems with CBC (then) or CIU (now) — you were not spiritual if you weren’t smiling all the time.

  2. thought provoking… reminding me that Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief….

  3. As always, Very insightful.

  4. Good thoughts. I think the goal would be to understand what is behind the sadness OR the cheerfulness. Is a person truly joyful and content or just putting on a mask? If one is melancholy, seeking to listen openly and be with the person in their sadness would be a gift. But this takes giving time… perhaps that is what is lacking. A good reminder to me. Thank you.

    • Ruth, thanks for commenting and for a willingness to hear the thoughts of a melancholic (that role makes many folks uncomfortable). It is true that we often don’t have time for deep relationships, and if we did take time I think Americans have a deeper issue–we find happiness normal, comfortable, and good, while we find sadness in this broken world to be uncomfortable, threatening, and often just wrong. Because Americans value optimism so highly, it might be good for us to be more inclined to examine happiness rather than sadness. You mention put-on happiness as one problem, and I see others as well. Even if the person is “truly” content, I wonder the source of it, I wonder what accommodations have been made to reach it, I wonder what their perspective of sadness is,I wonder how this affects their development and relationships, etc. Just some thoughts.

  5. I’m going to kick myself Jani for saying something because I don’t know how to go as deep as you and you are probably going to confuse me with your response… but here it goes…some honesty from me. I am a “cheerful” (not ALWAYS, but generally) and I do not understand the constant melancholy. There. I said it. and I know you’re going to tell on me to Berly, but that’s ok.

    Even when someone I dearly love is a “melancholy” I feel a disconnect because I don’t know what to say. “How does a “melancholy” stay melancholy”? wonders the “cheerful” (and visa versa maybe). Perhaps it’s not that the American Church (or at least some of the individuals that make up the American Church) is not accepting of “melancholies”, but maybe, like me, they just don’t understand it – understanding meaning connecting, true emphathy. Which to me is not the same as judging. I’m not judging or questioning the validity of your/Berly’s melancholy, I believe you… it’s just that I’ve never felt it and sometimes I feel like I don’t know what to say because the natural reaction for a “cheerful” when they meet a “melancholy” is to try and cheer them up. But when I try to cheer you up you could potentially interpret me as not accepting the validity of your feelings and I don’t want that, so that is why I don’t know wat to say. (To cheer or not to cheer, that is the question) So… how does a “cheerful” show the “melancholy” that they love them and accept them while at the same time pray that you find joy (as you may see this as not really accepting)?

    Or is that the answer? …that if I want joy for you then I don’t accept you and there is no in between? I have stumbled through this with Berly before, for years. Back then I didn’t accept Berly’s feelings of melancholy. I always challenged her and tried to tell her she should not feel a certain way about something. But I believe (hope) that I have moved on from that. I do not want to challenge her. Or you. But at the same time, I want joy for you. Both of you. And to get to the point of your blog topic, I agree that a church (group of people) may seem obsessed with positivity, as the faithful should be giving worries and fears to God, yadayadayada. But as an individual who attends church, I just want to say I’m open to melancholy at church. And I think most individuals are too. (the opinion, of course, of a “cheerful”)

    • Erin, thanks for taking the time to read and connect. Thanks also for being open to other perspectives, this is especially hard to do when you don’t understand them and it takes a lot of work to work around our strongly constructed structures of thought (for instance, the assumption that being cheerful is inherently better than being sad–no other way of seeing it seems possible). Your questions seem to be directed at 2 things: how to understand a melancholy person and how to relate to them. You are showing real insight by just realizing that the understanding comes first. Although Berly and I understand one another’s melancholy, there are other things that were profoundly confusing to me about Berly’s experience and perspective. She would say things that sounded like Chinese to me, and it took me years (literally) and hundreds of conversations to slowly realize her perspective, but it was immeasurably valuable for my own growth and insight. We all see things from our own perspective, understand, explain, and interpret things from this perspective, and if someone else’s ideas do not fit our boxes, we can’t make sense of them. So no wonder you cannot understand a melancholic! Erin, you may need to have scores of in-depth conversations with me or Berly or some other melancholic to reach a break-through in your understanding.
      In a sentence i would say that there is a significant minor key that runs all through this world, and those who are prone to melancholy have their hearts tuned to this frequency (look up “sympathetic resonance” in wikipedia). It is not that we “try” to be more sympathetic to the suffering in the world, that we focus on it, think about it, mull over it. For us, a single story or thought or experience comes in with the force of the whole ocean. Many of us would turn it off if we could, but the world’s sorrows invade our souls with a force that we cannot avoid unless we cut ourselves off from our own hearts, stop being ourselves. Not only is that too great a cost, but it is a denial of who God created us to be. We are the world’s sympathizers, shock-absorbers, comforters, harbors of safety for the broken and crushed. We instinctively know how to be with those who are dying or have lost a loved-one or suffered some other stunning loss. Many folks feel awkward, befuddled, and drained in trying to connect with the sorrowing, but it is life-giving to us. We also are good at helping folks connect with the deeper parts of their hearts. (The cheerful are great at the celebratory side of life, which is also important.)
      I think it is this awkwardness with and even fear of sadness and sad people (and their own sadness) that makes folks avoid the melancholy. They feel very uncomfortable just sitting with sadness without trying to fix it. They are afraid they will be “dragged down” by it themselves, and most folks work hard at staying away from those feelings. They want help avoiding or getting over those feelings (i.e. they wish to be ‘cheered up’) and since that is what they want, they feel others want it too… and they are probably right in dealing with everyone but the melancholic personality. The melancholic needs support and encouragement and hope, but this comes in a different way than it does for others. Others seem to want to be distracted from or turned away from their grief, but we need our grief accepted, validated, and embraced. That means that we are actually blessed by folks listening to and trying to understand our sadness rather than trying to pull us out of it. This seems totally opposite to what others would want. If you are unclear what to offer, the best thing is to ask what the other person needs, to let them lead. There is a huge difference between inviting someone into a more cheerful context and pressuring them, and it mostly has to do with the difference between acting for the benefit of another or of oneself (which is only a shade different from assuming what is better for the other person). BTW depression and melancholy are very different things. Melancholy is a personality type. Depression can hit anyone and is far more complex of an issue (though melancholics are much more vulnerable to it).
      Erin, since you have a hard time understanding our types, the shortest advice I can give is to treat melancholics as though they just received news that their grandfather died. Perhaps that is the best advice I can give if what I have said is too confusing The minor key is always present, even when we are happy. We bring all of who we are even to celebrations. This does not make our happiness less, but it makes our happiness deeper, more real and substantive. That may be a longer answer than you were expecting! but thanks for asking.

      • Jana, I may want to use parts of this myself sometime. Not sure what context. It’s just that you have expressed so many points so clearly, especially your second paragraph. It is so perfectly stated that I want to find some context in which to use it.

      • Mardi, thanks for the affirmation! Please feel free always to use anything I say (publicly) in any context.

      • Jani –
        Actually – most of what you said is SO TRUE and you’ve written it in a way that is very helpful to me. Thank you for putting so much thought into it. Seriously. Very. Helpful. I think it’s interesting that even between you and Berly there are “translation” problems. I guess it makes me, a total foreigner, feel a little better about trying to understand.
        You are right – I do turn it off. Things that happen, even to strangers, upsets me, and makes me sad and I turn it off. I turn off the news, stop reading a story on the internet, etc. I cannot sit at my desk and cry. For me, being sad like that doesn’t feel good. It makes me sad to be sad.
        So… I think what I’m finding is how much I respect you and Kimberly. It’s like you’re tougher, stronger… some people might see your melancholy as a weakness, but after reading this and analyzing what I do and acknowledging how I react to “the bad/sad things” I realize that the person who does not turn it off, the person who takes it on head first without a helmet, is a warrior.
        I’m learning more and more about how to accept my melancholic loves ones. You’re right to say that we all see life from our own perspective. I think the people that can at least acknowledge that each person has their own perspective is a little ahead in the game. The people who cannot accept any perspective other than their own must be the most challenging for you to deal with. I was one… I did that to Kimberly. I’m still trying to recover 🙂
        One more thing I will share is that becoming a mother has brought joy to my life I didn’t know existed. But having children is like having your heart outside of your body because I feel if any harm ever came to that little boy I would die. So I pray every night, asking God over and over to keep him safe from harm. Everything in life that is not about him seems dim to me – the most beautiful sunset is nothing next to the sight of Ethan’s smile… or watching him discover something new. I do not tell you this for any other reason than to share a piece of my joy (not in an attempt to cheer) but to share a piece of why I am the way I am.
        Hugs to you both – Erin

      • Erin, we’re blessed by your kind and thoughtful words. I’m so glad you can enjoy the richness of Ethan. It is a dangerous world in which all of us get hurt, but may this pain be to Ethan’s good, to make life richer and deeper for himself and those he loves.

  6. PS – to say I’m not as deep and that I may be confused by your response is not an intended insult. More of an acknowledgement by me of our varying levels of depth.

    • a p.s. of my own–what we want more than anything is an honest deep relationship with others, a mutual interaction. So just as important in accepting us as we are is sharing yourself as you are, especially the deeper, more sensitive parts. This is the single most powerful encouragement to us. To “cheer us up” (to use your language), share your sorrows with us. how’s that for counter-intuitive?! To be trusted in this way is singularly healing and uplifting to us.

  7. i really find that one’s thikning can decide a lot of things, including the mood, then the way one lives his/her life.coz i’m an extreme person, then the switching of thikning makes a big difference. however, sometimes it’s not easy to pull myself out from the pool of sadness. at that moment, i suddenly feel unsure of what’s the meaning of life? learn more, achievements etc.. everything that seems meaningful nowadays will become nothing one day. then i feel i wanna stop living my life anymore, coz i wanna decide the end day.haiz..

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