Reflections on Sorrow

The Disposition of Joy and Sorrow

This essay and the poem preceding it

are taken from my book Everyday Thoughts.

The Blues

A Poem by Mike Garner 

Learning to live with sorrow

Finding release in lyrics and song

Life rains blue, washes sorrow across the soul

How could I lose you?

Your life is gone

My memory goes on

I’ve lost myself in a dream

Tenderness holds me captive

Tears have become my friends

Hope holds my hand

Faith reminds me of how you began

Will this sweetness die?

Perhaps it will live forever

I don’t know why

Will I drown in tears?

Will tears wash away the loss?

Sweet sorrow makes me know I’m alive

The Disposition of Joy and Sorrow

The Blues

     The human capacity to turn sorrow into sweetness begins with tears. Blues songs, in a sense, celebrate sorrow as a sweet reality that can only be resolved through a memory held in the beauty of music. The loss of gospel lament to the feel-good ditty of this generations praise songs is to replace facing reality with illusion, even illusory religion. Spirituality faces reality and asks the forbidden questions of religion governed by absolutist ideologies. Spirituality weeps along with the God who weeps.


     There is sorrow born of trauma that cannot be turned into sweetness, it can only be tempered through a cathartic experience that is equated with religious experience. Then it must find an outlet in the aesthetic, like writing or poetry or art and this must be mixed with a maturing faith or it becomes self-destructive.

     Trauma is an assault upon the psyche that removes a person’s trust in the existence of goodness in other human beings, even in God. Tender souls can be lost to the affects of trauma and lose the ability to make good judgments. Without attentiveness to the reality of human suffering in religious practices, trauma victims are alone and isolated from more fortunate persons. A theology of suffering, not as a martyr, but simply as a human being, is essential for a group of believers if they are to help the victim(s) of trauma. Feel-good religion leaves the broken to suffer alone.

Trauma victims hide the pain of sorrow with a smile.

       Sorrow holds precious memories that cannot be lost or horrific memories that must be healed. Healing is not miraculous for the sufferer hurt by inhumane acts, scarred by neglect, wounded by assault, and forgotten by God (a very real feeling for victims of the world’s cruelty). Sometimes healing cannot be found and I can only think that it is either one or more of the following reasons; because of damage done to the brain, or an inadequate response by the body of Christ, or that God leaves us to face the horror of a life lost to trauma. Human cruelty cannot be erased; its effects are real and strike at us from the life of the broken.

       The systems of power that bring violence into the world are exposed in the pain of a human life lost to the effects of trauma. Our sorrow over the often irreparable damage inflicted upon human beings is meant to move us to challenge the systems of power that cause this intolerable harm to the human family. Joy comes from letting the pain of loss move us to resistance and exercise open articulation against the powers in every manner possible.

The Sweetness of Sorrow

     For the rest of us, our sorrow, seeks comfort, seeks an outlet, while (often) containing precious memories for which we are grateful. So, sorrow and joy, laughter and tears, love and loss, all remain alive in us, ready to burst forth in emotions that we hold dear.

     In this mixture of events, both joyful and painful, is formed our need for meaning. The temporary relief of the aesthetic leaves us seeking to understand the brokenness of our reality, of our lives; it is this need that brings us to God. We come to God out of need; people without need do not need God.

     It is God who answers the pain and suffering of our existence with boundless love, love that comforts us with hope for a someday when everything is gonna be alright. Faith that everything is gonna be alright is a denial of our temporal condition. It is a hope for the correcting of all that we do not understand, for healing all the pain and suffering we experience. It is a redemptive reversal of our broken reality that we seek through the sweetness of sorrow.

     If we are to live and survive this sad reality then we must learn to live with brokenness. Denial of the impact of loss, tragedy, and illness inhibits spiritual growth and causes dysfunctional living. Living with brokenness requires the glorious gift of our ability to start over, to begin again, to live and hold dear both sorrow and joy. Without brokenness, maturation, even conformity to the Spirit of Christ is lost. Integration of brokenness into one's spirituality produces humility, and humility cannot exist in a person who resists brokenness with pride or violence. Only love and forgiveness, forgiveness of self, of God, of others, can make possible a healthy human being who loves God and others.

     Loss of life, of one's former self, through tragedy or sickness, requires a person to start over, lest they become stuck in a reality that is become either a memory or a dream. Starting over is not running from pain and suffering it is the graceful acceptance of pain and suffering as paradoxically enriching. A matured human being knows that there is no expectation for life that can be considered normal; normalcy is a cultural myth that inhibits life. In order to live, to be healthy; concepts of normalcy are responded to with laughter by a matured person.

In the sweetness of sorrow hope lives.

      Sorrow makes us human but joy is evidence of our origins as creatures born for the eternal. The disposition of sweetness and sorrow, as blended emotions, hold us in two worlds and evidence our life as flesh and spirit. This perishing, dying, flesh; longing for life but captured in the moment, cannot endure without the concept of prevailing goodness.  Spirituality is empowering, enabling us to accept reality with grace and wisdom, to turn sorrow into joy, loss into new life, to be born again.  

     We are made to move towards the reign of God where the Lord wipes away tears while memories remain. The healing of memories will take place as the Lord walks us back through the events of our lives. Some will weep as the one who sinned against them also weeps, and does so before the Lord while seeking forgiveness. However, not just forgiveness from the Lord, but also forgiveness from their victim for the suffering they have caused.  In the end, Love wins. God the great lover of humanity will reconcile his bride to himself in the Lord Jesus.