The Importance of Sadness

The Importance of Sadness

One of the highlights of my summer was seeing the Pixar movie Inside Out. I was not the only person who enjoyed this movie: it has grossed over $747 million worldwide.

Inside Out is a brilliant exploration of the emotions central to the human experience – conveyed through a computer animation film aimed at children (or anyone who has ever made the journey through childhood to adulthood).

Riley is an eleven-year old girl whose move from Minnesota (!) to San Francisco has greatly complicated her life. The film takes us inside her mind where anthropomorphized emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) attempt to lead her through this new experience to a place of well-being. But they are not always sure how to do this.

The emotion Joy (wonderfully voiced by Amy Poehler) is generally in control, wanting Riley to exist in a bubble of happiness. Joy greatly constrains the role of Sadness (brilliantly brought to life by Phyllis Smith – you might remember her from the television show The Office).

But sometimes we need to be sad. In a wonderful article by Oliver Lyttleton that probes the surprising sophistication and depth of Inside Out, director and writer Pete Docter addresses the importance of all the emotions, especially sadness. “There is a real value to all the other emotions that is part of the richness of life, and it’s not until you really recognize that you really have the ability to connect with the world in a deeper way.” 

Jesus connected with the world in the deepest possible way. That was his mission, the reason that God in love sent Jesus into our world (John 3:16). In one of his most tender moments, Jesus weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus. He does not weep alone; he weeps with the family and friends of Lazarus. Three times in quick succession the gospel text emphasizes the sadness of Jesus (John 11:33, 35, 38 – thanks to Pastor Bruce Hillyer for helping me see this in his September 6th sermon at Hope Church).

Why this emphasis on the sadness of Jesus? Because sadness can generate the deepest connection with people. Sadness helps us enter into the experience of those around us, to understand them better, to love them more completely, to serve them more effectively.

People can get stuck in sadness and that is an unhealthy place to be. But equally unhealthy is the avoidance of sadness. As Inside Out and the Gospel of John teach us, health does not mean going around sadness but rather through it.

We will not always be sad:  God is continually breaking into our world to turn mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11). The promise of Jesus is that his joy will be in us, and that our joy will be full (John 15:11).

We will experience that joy in all its fullness only with the return of Jesus in power and glory. Until then, let us welcome the important role of sadness in our lives and those around us. In healthy community, let us not only “rejoice with those who rejoice” but also “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

David Lenz, Lead Pastor