The Bible tells us to ‘Rejoice always’ which implies that God expects us to be joyful even when we’re suffering and in pain. Does this mean that sadness is a sin?
If you suffered a lot of trauma or stress in childhood, then the neuropathways in your brain to allow for joy, just don’t exist.
This suggests that sadness is not a sin but it does contract the instruction to rejoice.
So today, I wanted to look at what the Bible means when it asks us to rejoice. I’ll consider whether sadness is a sin. and then I’ll make some suggestions to help in this area.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thess 5:16 – 18
This verse challenged me during the first few years of illness. Rejoicing was the last thing I felt like doing.
I even felt very condemned because I just couldn’t feel joy. My life had been ripped apart.
In church life, I sometimes feel there is a certain expectation to be happy all the time which doesn’t help.
IS SADNESS A SIN?
There were definitely days and sometimes weeks when I would be all negative, wishing I could just curl up in a ball and die, thinking that God had forgotten me.
To rejoice even just a tiny bit was unthinkable. I just couldn’t do it.
I wonder if you can relate to this? Is your situation overwhelming you so much that you’re not feeling much joy?
I just want you to know, that this is ok, you’re not alone.
Cognitively we know there is a lot to rejoice over. We have eternal life for a start! air to breathe, most of us have food on the table etc.
The Bible also teaches us the benefits of pain: we grow closer to Him, we develop spiritual maturity, we experience the refiner’s fire and so on.
But joy in the heart is a felt experience, it is not cognitive. So why don’t we feel it?
When I learned about the nervous system, it was a huge relief to understand why I struggled to experience joy.
The brain has all these neuropathways that are established in childhood. It’s all in the wiring!
What was your childhood like? Was it stressful, difficult or traumatic? This may explain why you’re struggling now to feel joy.
IS JOY IN SUFFERING POSSIBLE?
God has given us joy as a fruit of the Spirit. This is our true nature. The Bible says that everything we need is on the inside of us including the ability to rejoice.
This means that, even when we’re going through a difficult situation, it is still possible to grow in the joy that’s on the inside despite circumstances.
The apostle Paul said ‘for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.’ Phil 4:11
The answer is not in the external.
And growth takes time.
Andrew Wommack says this “Godly emotions are based on what Christ has already done, regardless of what is happening in the physical world”
However, from a physiological perspective, many of us with chronic illness are stuck in the freeze state (a combination of sympathetic which is fight/flight energy and dorsal shutdown state).
If we choose to ‘be happy’ or try to ‘rejoice in suffering’ even though we’re actually in Freeze, then all we’re doing is ‘putting ice cream on top of poop’ as one mind-body teacher once said.
We can’t just switch off Freeze and cognitively step into a different Nervous System state.
So how can we apply 1 Thess 5:16 – 18 to our lives?
In my opinion, we take one step at a time.
Here, I list 7 ways that help me grow in the area of joy, taking my nervous system into consideration.
1. NERVOUS SYSTEM AWARENESS
First of all, I check in with my nervous system.
If I find myself in a survival state, I know this makes absolute sense and it’s not my fault. (so I don’t feel condemned). See WHAT IS THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM?
I want to work with my nervous system, not against it. If I believe sadness is a sin, then I’m rejecting an important part of myself.
2. GIVE PERMISSION TO NOT BE HAPPY
Secondly, I give myself permission to ‘not be happy’. I believe it’s ok and I take the pressure off. (Because this just perpetuates the survival states).
As a counsellor, I encourage clients to see their emotions with non-judgement. It’s ok to be sad; it is not a sin.
Unfortunately the enemy kills, steals and destroys.
Most people with chronic illness have a history of either chronic stress or early and chronic trauma, which may be all stored in the body.
The enemy has robbed us of our joy.
My understanding, is that trauma stops a person from being present causing disconnection on 3 levels.
Disconnection from self, from others, from God and the world around you. Hence the freeze state. (this is not a conscious choice.)
Healing is very much about allowing God to restore all that the enemy has stolen.
The goal isn’t happiness or joy. Nor is the goal healing. The goal is to grow closer to Jesus so He is our focus.
Did the woman with the issue of blood rejoice always? the widow at Nain or the leper who approached Jesus. Jesus never implied that their sadness was a sin.
Yet they still received their breakthrough.
I don’t think it’s healthy or helpful to analyse whether or not we’re happy or if sadness isa sin. This is judgement. Mindbody doctors teach that healing requires consistent internal safety, not happiness.
3. NAME THE FEELING
Acknowledging how I am feeling, and describing it, and giving it a name lessens the emotional charge. It also helps me feel more authentic.
I can still praise God and be grateful but from a place of awareness and acknowledgement.
There is no pretending or sticking my head in the sand. I am fully aware of the heartache or the anxiety type feeling in my body even when in praise.
4. REGULATING RESOURCES AND GLIMMERS
I encourage my clients to make a list of nourishing resources that help them feel a little more present and safe. Being in nature, time with a close friend, cuddling a pet….
It’s more of a priority for those healing from chronic illness to feel safe in their bodies, rather than feeling joy.
Glimmers are those little micro-moments of pleasure. It could be a beautiful butterfly that catches my attention, a flock of birds flying overhead that made me smile or when an old friend calling me out of the blue.
I’m talking about training our brains to notice the light in the darkness. I”m not rejecting the sadness or viewing it as a sin, but rather giving my system what it needs.
I’m bringing attention to those glimmers each day. Just as stress can store in the body, so can all the nourishing good stuff too.
When I first started seeing a therapist many years ago, she encouraged me to record 3 things to be grateful for each day. Research shows that being grateful helps us activate the para-sympathetic nerve responsible for joy and peace.
I then go on to say why I’m grateful for something. ie ” I am so grateful that the Lord is always with me because I have someone to talk to, to share things with, I feel less alone…”
When I feel really brave, I even meditate on why my present suffering is beneficial for me. ie, “I am grateful that I am closer to the Lord…..that I have a better relationship with myself…..that I can now minister to others more authentically…
Gratitude helps us to come into alignment with the Bible and our ability to rejoice.
THE OYSTER AND THE PEARL
I really love the analogy of the creation of the pearl.
A grain of sand gets trapped in the oyster and becomes an irritant. It’s painful and uncomfortable for the oyster but eventually that grain of sand has turned into a beautiful and expensive pearl.
This is what is happening to us when we go through a season of suffering. When I look back at how I was prior to the onset of illness. All the irritants within me rose to the surface.
The anger, resentment, bitterness, pity. One by one I was set free from these as I continued this path. Low self-esteem, inferiority, no confidence, self-hatred, guilt, shame…..the list seems to go on and on.
The beautiful thing is, that Jesus did it for me. He didn’t once point the finger at all my ‘flaws’ or ‘hindrances’ and tell me ‘to go and deal with them’.
Whilst I can’t profess to have it all together, the depth of healing the Holy Spirit is doing within me brings me to a place of being, (ie a pearl,) I never would reach without the discomfort.
Over time, it’s much easier to genuinely feel content, even (fleeting) happiness, without all the dross in the way.
6. REMEMBER HOPE
It helps me to remember that there is always hope. The Bible frequently mentions hope which supports us in developing the ability to rejoice.
No matter how long I’ve been suffering or how bad the situation is, I can usually picture things getting a little better.
Even if it’s just for a moment.
This is important because everything starts internally. We’re also creating those neuropathways to expect good things.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When I imagine things getting better, I may not feel super excited but I do usually feel a little better than before.
I think it’s realistic and kind to myself to just look for a small shift rather than expecting an abundance of joy.
I came to realise that as long as there were hopeful days, and as long as they eventually outnumber the bad, then this meant I was winning.
I’m still moving forward so making progress.
7. “AND IT CAME TO PASS…”
The Bible encourages us to rejoice because suffering is temporary.
Anything that is temporary is easier to endure. This offers me a sense of relief and something to look forward to.
If I think I’m going to be suffering for the rest of my life, it’s a very painful depressing place to be. This is why we can never take off our helmet of the hope of salvation.
I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope
I see both sickness and sadness as a season. It may be a long and painful season, but seasons are meant to pass. God has promised to turn our valley of trouble into a gateway of hope.
When I think about what Jesus has already accomplished for me, this to me is where I find the joy in Him, and not the circumstances.
Am I filled to overflowing abundance of joy? No, if I’m honest, not really. But when I feel the presence of Jesus, I do feel that safe, warm and fuzzy feeling and as I write this I notice a smile on my face.
Yes, He does give me joy.
I wonder then, if having a sense of joy therefore is independent of our state. In my experience, and hopefully to your relief, I don’t think it’s something that we do in our own strength.
Can you imagine the difference in your life if you focused on Jesus and not on whether or not you’re happy? If you stopped labelling sadness as sin but rather a part of you that needs comfort.
To notice those glimmers and to spend time reflecting on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.
Scientifically you’re gradually creating those new pathways in the brain and over time they naturally become the default.
In my opinion, if you’re still planted with your church, still spending time with the Lord each day and still seeking to hear His voice, then you are winning.
Be proud of yourself.
YOU ARE AMAZING. GOD LOVES YOU AND BELIEVES IN YOU. IF YOU TOO ARE ON A HEALING JOURNEY, YOU CAN DO THIS!!
What do you think the Bible means when it asks us to rejoice always? Do you think sadness is a sin?
Have a great rest of the day
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