On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic

by Jonathan Trotter on October 25, 2017

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

 

The Deeper Magic
“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.'”

Witches never know the deeper magic. They know only winter and death, sorrow and pain. Half-truths all.

But the deeper magic persists, refusing to be overwhelmed. It is older than death and wiser than time. The deeper magic knows that there is more.

There is hope.

And when hope is born (or reborn), the thaw begins. Without the deeper magic of hope, we might stop our story at the table of sadness and end up with an eternal winter and a dead lion. And that truly is horrible.

But the deeper magic must be got at, not through escaping sadness or loss, but through fully embracing it. Through laying down. I don’t think we need less lament, I think we need more lament, more tears.

So I invite you to the paradox of life bittersweet. Life’s not EITHER bitter OR sweet. But it’s also not neither. It’s both.

I invite you to make room for the person who is totally happy and deeply clappy.

I invite you to make room for the person who is frozen in sadness and depressed.

And I invite you to make room for the person who feels all of those things at the same time.

 

Why do we forget?
I sometimes wonder why others don’t see it or feel it. Life is sad. People are hurting. Why aren’t more people sad? But sadness doesn’t sell well, and it doesn’t seem to preach well either. But it’s there. It’s there in our families and ministries. It’s there in our churches and friendships.

Truth be told, it’s much easier to be angry. And so instead of being sad, everyone is angry. All.The.Time. And anger does sell well. (It seems to preach well too.)

Maybe you don’t believe me, maybe you don’t think sadness is there. But do you think that anger is there? That it’s in our families and ministries? That it’s in our churches and our friendships?

As a pastoral counselor, I see a lot of anger. But anger’s just a fire alarm, alerting us to the real problem. People don’t have an anger problem. People have a pain problem. And that pain is most often unlabeled, unwelcomed, unprocessed sadness.

Of course, sadness by itself isn’t the solution. (That’d be depressing.) But insofar as sadness prepares us for Hope, it is the solution.

And although I do not like it and I wish it weren’t so, deep sadness is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.

When we’re unwilling to hold space for sadness, when we can’t handle the unwieldy truths of mystery and paradox, we block the very pathway that leads to hope. And hopeless people are dangerous people, willing to hurt themselves and others without measure or limit.

If we stop at sadness, without digging deeper, many terrible things become imminently rational. But the deeper magic shouts out and ushers in what only it can. Hope.

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I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. 

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your holy one
 to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
(Psalm 16:8-11)

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The Shock of Magic
The beautiful and shocking deeper magic meant that, in the near future, “the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Hope still means that.

The instrument of pain, the actual place of loss, which seems so strong and immovable, will move. It will be redeemed and transformed by the deeper magic; what has broken us will break, shattered by the love of the Lion.

There is Hope!

The altar will be cracked, and where blood and sadness once flowed, will soon be sunrise and Aslan’s roar.

May we never forget.

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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
  • Abi R.

    This post is excellent! Reminds me of Matthew West’s song “The Reason for the World”, which has the chorus:
    “But maybe the reason for the pain
    Is so we would pray for strength
    And maybe the reason for the strength
    Is so that we would not lose hope
    And maybe the reason for all hope
    Is so that we could face the world
    And the reason for the world
    Is to make us long for home”

    • I’ve not heard of that song before, so thanks for sharing, Abi!

  • Joanna

    Wow! Such a good post. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that I have to face the sadness in my story and the world around me, to feel it and face it. And doing so is NOT being a “Debbie Downer” and tears can be healthy and good. As I’m learning this, I feel the sadness will never end and so I make myself happy again and ignore the sadness, but that is not healthy or truth. There is hope, a strong, substantial hope that is solid and true. That’s what makes the sadness bearable and, as much as I don’t like it, you are right when you say “deep sadness is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.”

    Sadness isn’t the end, but it must be faced to deeply understand the glorious Hope we have. Yet, so hard to be sad “for no reason” when you are walking through sadness among others who don’t “get” this.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Joanna! And may God give you at least a few people who do “get” it. : )

  • Steph

    Thank you for this, Jonathan. So, so, so good. I read a book recently by Mark Buchanan, called Spiritual Rhythms ( I recommend all his books!). It was incredibly helpful in recognizing seasons we are in, and what the Lord can teach us or that we can see and/or appreciate during those times. Thank you, again!

    • Dave Mary

      Thank for putting the way I am feeling in such eloquent words. Really helps during this time of transition, brilliant!

    • You’re welcome, Steph! I’m glad these musings were a blessing. Also, I’ve heard good things about Buchanan, so thanks for mentioning that book here. Have a great weekend!

  • Colleen Snyder

    I love this post. It speaks so much to me… why the sadness doesn’t overwhelm us totally. We feel it, we know it. Ignore it at our peril. Deny it, and it comes back twice as strong. The sadness exists… but so does the Hope. “Now these three things abide forever: Faith, Love, and Hope.” I know the greatest of them is Love, for God is Love. But Hope… hope belongs to us. In the face of everything, in the face of the great sadness, Hope is our ally, our friend, our comfort and healer. It is the “Deep Magic” that works all the sadness backwards to the Lion’s Roar! Oh, let Him roar!!!!!

    • “The sadness exists… but so does the Hope.” So true, Colleen. Thanks for the comment. In an earlier draft, I actually had a little section on Faith, Hope, and Love. I was sorry to have to cut it, but I’m glad you went there anyways! : )

  • MsLorretty

    Thank you for writing in such a generous and wise way that shows us the path to navigate the ambivalence present in our souls.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful. And navigating is such an accurate word…

  • MGF

    So good Jonathon. I have learned much in sorrow that I don’t think I could have learned in comfort. And when the sadness threatens to overwhelm, we can remember that this life is only a precursor to an eternity with Him. It matters but it is only a drop in the ocean of forever. And our Father is so good to give us small offerings of Joy even in seasons of darkness.

    • May you continue to find the “small offerings of Joy” even in the dark!

  • The last few weeks my prayer has been around being with Jesus through betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Most days I have found it HARD to stay with Him there. The cruelty, the injustice, the mean evil…and his compassion, his choice to endure it for the sake of us, his abusers. We live in a troubled land and near darker places where there is so much suffering, and rank inhumanity. The images of dear ones going through inexplicable trial, well, they keep rising up through the prayer with Jesus. And yes, resurrection and glory are coming, but it is not now, and this season must be embraced. These dear ones must be embraced. The ancient martyrs truly counted it privilege to suffer for and with Jesus. May that too be us, to have such hearts of love for him, such a vision of his majesty and worth. Thanks for your post.

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