A Culture of Sorrow: Part One

I called my Mom after work this evening to check and see if she was blogging tonight and when she said she wouldn’t be able to just yet I decided I would throw a little random post your way. Since I’m out of classes, you might find some random or boring (??) discussions on this here blog every now and again. What you’ll find here tonight is meant to be less of an assertion than it is a discussion about some new thoughts I find intriguing.

Last summer I read a book called Ain’t Too Proud To Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer by Telford Work (2007). Dr. Work is assistant professor of theology at Westmont College. I don’t know him personally but I enjoyed him to no end through his writing. His book is a rare and thrilling infusion of disciplines. I don’t want to summarize or review this unique book here, but it is certainly worth a read. Even if you disagree with Work at various points, I promise you’ll learn some things along the way. Plus, in your heart of hearts you know you feel compelled to read a book by an author named “Telford Work.”

As I do with all the books I really love, I picked the book up again last night and started flipping through it and glanced over the places where I had highlighted or made notes in the margin. I loved this book so much that even my revisiting of it took me all the way to the epilogue. The epilogue is composed of several of Work’s sermons. One of these sermons in particular caught my attention.  In this sermon entitled “You Can Say That Again,” Work coins a phrase, “culture of sorrow.” He uses it in reference to our own culture and “the common sensibility that life’s true character is misfortune and that sadness rules over us” (226). He says:

“In our culture of sorrow, sadder is cooler. Joy may be desirable, but it’s not fashionable. What is? Ask the fashion industry! Does that look of aloof, disheveled, emaciated, sophistication strike you as happy? Me neither. But it’s cool! Or name a big pop band that has looked happy in its photos since the Beatles in 1964. Cool means hard stares, angry sneers, lust, and brooding . . . angst, ennui, existential despair, cynicism, political decline, environmental catastrophe, and social alienation . . . Master these and you’ll be the life of the dinner party” (226).

And taking it further, he says again:

“In our culture of sorrow, sadder is wiser. Misery has become our myth, our metanarrative. Joy is liable to be taken as immaturity or ignorance . . . If you want an Oscar, don’t go with a so-called Hollywood ending. Go with a gut-wrenching tragedy like Million Dollar Baby . . . Sadder is deeper. . . What moves a personal relationship from small-talk pleasantries to greater sincerity? Telling the truth, of course. And for us the deepest truth-telling generally involves the disclosure of pain, hardship, and anxiety. Relationships tend to deepen from shallow happiness to more authentic sorrow . . . Sadder is greater . . . Anger, fright, and fantasy bring out voters and volunteers, not joy. Fear and greed drive the economy, not joy. Sorrow acts and we react. It calls the shots” (227).

Brief Tangent: If you’re like me, you are becoming increasingly suspicious of the phrase “in our culture” because it is used so often to introduce all kinds of authoritative but contradictory statistics. I use this phrase “in our culture” out of sheer habit and because it is so delightfully malleable but I always question myself when I use it because I know full well it is typically going to introduce a generalization. Having said that, some generalizations are more legitimate than others. So even if you’re like me, and you’re super skeptical and annoying, you have to hand it to Work because his “culture of sorrow” idea sure seems to describe a significant aspect of our culture even if you don’t agree that it is indicative of our culture across the board.

The other day Colin and I watched “The Road” with Viggo Mortensen. The movie was based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Now to be fair, I did not read the novel but the movie, in my opinion, was one horrific and unimaginably depressing scene after another. Just when I thought I was watching the worst the movie had to offer we were abruptly hurled into a whole different strata of horror. And the characters didn’t even have names. Not my idea of a blockbuster night. Typically I like an emo and soul probing flick but I couldn’t discern even one strand of hope throughout the film and this led to the hardness of my heart.  Anyway, the book was evidently deemed one of the most important and brilliant movies of the year. I wish I could say that the accolades surprised me but they did not.  In my own opinion what was profound, was not the movie itself, but the very fact that so many people had heralded it as profound—to me that said more about “our culture” than anything else.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of this whole “culture of sorrow” thing… as soon as I read the phrase I was mentally slapping my knee thinking to myself, “Telford Work is just so painfully right!!!” You know those people who can articulate a once rather opaque phenomenon dead on– well that is sort of what reading this entire book was like for me. I just kept thinking, “I would have written this myself if I would have known how to explain it.” That is the best kind of book- when it hits so closely to home that you feel you yourself could have written it even if you don’t have a fraction of the writing ability that the author has.

When Colin and I were first married, people would say things like, “Tell us the truth, what is marriage really like?” I almost felt forced to whine, complain, bare my melancholy soul—or be exposed as superficial, inauthentic, or worse–simpleminded.  Now, of course, it is one thing to be honest when things really are tough and difficult, but even when things were not tough at all, and I was in fact enjoying my life and marriage, I would feel the need to give some token piece of what “reality” was really like or some slice of darkness to build credibility with my conversation partner. Good night . . . as though life is not tough enough without feeling pressure to forge expressions of grief. If you’re bothered by folk who tell you they’re “fine” when they’re really not, what about people like me who have, on occasion, acted as though things were tough when they really weren’t?!?


I was laughing a few weeks ago when I was on our trip and someone made the comment, “Everyone on this trip, is just so . . . happy!” I gotta be honest, I was sort-of-kind-of thinking the same thing to myself at first, until I saw my own log in someone else’s plank. I mean seriously, would she, or I for that matter, rather them all be depressed and lethargic rather than happy and peppy? I’ve also, time and time again, fallen prey to the naive mistake of assuming that the most thoughtful and intelligent people I know, the “thinkers” if you will, are mostly those people I know who are usually despondent. Work’s discussion of “our culture of sorrow” gave voice to some of my assumptions that I hadn’t really given much thought to before.

Now before you slap me silly, this post is not the end of the story.  And it isn’t even the end of Work’s sermon. I cannot sum up this entire discussion here.  This is only Part One. In Part Two of this blog (to come in the next week), I would like to explore the place of both joy and sorrow within a Christian worldview. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water (By the way, where in the world did that phrase come from? It is just beyond weird). So, for now, even though you haven’t likely read the book, what do you think about Work’s initial sermon thoughts? Have you encountered this phenomenon before? Is this perhaps a bigger issue for one generation than another?

Have you found that sadder is often “cooler” or “wiser” or “deeper” or “truer”?

Talk to me.

P.S. For those of you who have expressed a desire to buy the book–please know that this subject is not a major issue in the book, it is only in the epilogue in a short sermon.  Also, it is a fairly academic read.  Having made this full disclosure, I still think you will like the book.



419 Responses to “A Culture of Sorrow: Part One”

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  1. 251
    Joelle says:

    I notice that when my girls and even I myself sense one of us is happier than the other we sometimes try to take each other down a peg because of our own selfish grump. We try to snuff out each others joy because we are uncomfortable being grouchy next to someone whos happy. It is sooo not beautiful and your post put words too it! Thanks.
    p.s. “Dont throw the baby out with the bath water” is from when families used to bath in a tub once a week or so (all sharing the same water) starting with the father and working their way down in age. By the time they got to bathe baby the water was so dark it was hard to see who or what was in it.(ewww) 😉

  2. 252
    marie says:

    I agree with your comment that somehow – the sorrowful, pessimistic, and at times, melancholy view, is thought of as the most ‘profound’ and/or genuine view of life.

  3. 253
    Kari says:

    This is definitely something that I’ve also pondered! It’s seems that folks aren’t happy unless they’re miserable and have something to complain about, and I find myself doing the same thing just because it is what is expected! Eek! I have a chronic medical condition, and I’ve also noticed that doctors don’t take me seriously when I’m friendly and cheerful. You have to be howling and griping and looking completely downtrodden before they’ll believe that things are as bad as you say they are. I’ve never really understood that, as I figured they’d enjoying dealing with upbeat patients. I’m interested to read part 2!!

  4. 254
    hEiDi says:

    “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” came from the Middle Ages. Families would bathe quite infrequently (i.e., 1 x per year) and when they did, the father would go first, then the mother, then the first born, etc. until you got to the baby – all using the same water. The water was so murky by the end, ergo the phrase, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Super gross. And totally fun to talk about when I teach the Middle Ages to my World History students! 😉

  5. 255
    Bertie says:

    I see that whole “surly expression” thing that Work wrote about as sort of a protective armor prompted by fear, hurt, disappointment—or, tragically, taken beyond feeling fearful–to calloused indifference where the senses have been seared by the consumption of the most perverse elements of “the culture in which we live.”

    • 255.1
      Stephanie says:

      Very true. And the awesome thing about Christ is that He goes way down deep to the origin and roots of our callousness, our hurt, our fear… and brings us out. Oh boy can it be a long process, but He is faithful to the end.

  6. 256
    Lee Ann says:

    Wow! Dead-on. I can’t even tell you how much my husband and I have (even 4 years later) experienced the same kind of statements. We got SO TIRED of hearing doomsday prophecies of marriage before we got married, and then the continuation after. We heard the same refrains when children came along. And yes, at times I felt compelled to share SOMETHING negative to build credibility. It is ridiculous. Finally my husabnd and I decided to be honest and real, but to rejoice and enjoy what we could and share that hope and joy with others. Becuase yes, this culture is often a culture of sorrow. I’m so glad we serve the God of joy and life.

  7. 257
    Vicki says:

    Thanks for this. Much to think about. I look forward to more of your posts! You are inspiring me to think deeper, and to really search for truth.

  8. 258
    Laura says:

    As a graduate of Westmont, I love to see praise for the written work of one of the professors. It is a wonderful Christian college and would recommend it to anyone whose child is looking for a well-rounded, Christian education. Also, it is located in Santa Barbara,California which didn’t hurt at all. 🙂

    As for the “culture of sorrow”…I finally have a name for what I have been seeing in women’s ministries for years. The speaking lineup at the last Christian women’s conference I attended, led my friends and I to try and guess what the next speaker’s tragic story would be. It was that bad. We bemoaned the fact that the speakers weren’t addressing the majority of women at the conference because most had not experienced the horrible events these women had. It seemed that if you did not have some sort of tragic event in your life, you could not have a legitimate testimony of God’s work in your life.

    I know people experience pain and suffering for a reason. I have been through some myself. But there is more to my life than the times that have been filled by pain. So very much more. When did it become the norm in women ministries that tragedy/pain/suffering fills more seats and sells more books. At the abovementioned conference, it was not until the second to last speaker that the gist of her speach was Scripture-based and not just tragedy-laced fluff to sell a book during the break.

    Yes, as Christians we can encourage others by showing growth through adversity. Of course, we all love a triumphant story. And yes, we can all be encouraged by the spiritual growth of others. But what seems to be occuring is more time and energy is being spent dissecting the actual tragic event than the majesty of God’s transformation on the other side.

    Bad things, horrible things, happen every day in every town on this globe. It is the nature of the Fall and it is why we need God’s grace and mercy so desperately. But in our country, we do try to “out suffer” each other all the time. I have been guilty of it myself numerous times. As one lady said earlier-suffering draws a crowd and attention; joy just draws envy and jealousy. I am sorry, but the “suffering” most of us endure on a daily basis is nothing compared to other Christians around the world. We need to get a grip and start counting our blessings and joys. We may sell less books, fill less seats, but our testimonies will be less about the tragic stories we have been rescued from and more about the One that saved us.

    I am looking forward to getting Mr. Work’s book and gaining some of his insights. If one of his sermons was able to get this much discussion going, I can only imagine what the rest of the book may accomplish.

  9. 259
    Praying Paula says:

    Great Write, Melissa!

    Much thought now required..giving it much thought..I’m heading to amazon to find me a good used book from Dr. Work.

    Thanks 😉

  10. 260

    I agree with the concept. I too have had times when I felt I had to add some darkness to my life so people would believe how good other things are. My daughter is a teenager and we have never had any problems withher. the people closest to us always go on about how they have never seen a teen be this mature and thoughtful. Anyone, however, that doesn’t know us well is always so skeptical when I say she has never been spanked or been any problem. We were just truely blessed, but in order to get some people to believe this I have to say her room is a disaster or something just so they may believe the good things. This is just one of the minor things that I came up with first.

    I closed my business last year as a financial planner and went back to school to study Criminal Justice, with a focus on youth. If you listen to the media most everything reported is negative…because that is what sells. It makes it seem like juvenile crime is so out of control when in reality juvenile crime is down from the 1980s, but sine we only hear the negative, that is not the way it appears.

    The bottom line is people are going to write & report what sells.

  11. 261
    Anna Mitchell says:

    Hm. Interested to hear more of your thoughts next week. I am a “happy” person. I hope not annoying- but if annoying, then I would rather be annoyingly happy than annoyingly sorrowful! Good grief! I know intimately people who are chronically sorrowful and grief-stricken over something or another daily. I just don’t get it. And can only take small doses of them at a time. I leave with my bucket completely empty from trying desperately to fill theirs. The relationship absolutely exhausts me. Life is hard-I don’t want to appear to mimimize the cruelness and hardness of living in this world–I just sometimes want to yell to the top of my lungs when around the chronically sorrowful….”BUT YOU’VE HEARD THE GOOD NEWS! THERE IS GOOD NEWS, YOU DO KNOW THAT- REMEMBER!?” …our ultimate joy is Christ and the hope of His heaven…

  12. 262
    moongirl says:

    I agree with Work that relationships tend to deepen when conversations turn serious or sad or what have you. I have been annoyed by relationships in my life that don’t seem to “get real”…. particularly when I know the “happy show” is not the real story in the other person’s life. People who have this “way” about them tempt me to make their “way” my “way”… and I don’t like the fakeynesss (not a word) I see come out in myself. On the other hand, what greater joy is there than knowing someone with TRUE joy? Whose smiles and positive attitude/disposition about/toward life IS the real of their life! It is SO refreshing… and anything but annoying. I agree with you… when you read the excerpts from the sermon, it’s like, “well, duh! That makes perfect sense… why I haven’t I put that together about ‘us’ before?” Interesting discussion. Thanks.

  13. 263
    Kristi B. says:

    This post was so eye opening! I agree completley with the concept of “A Culture of Sorrow”. It’s sad to say, but sometimes people seem to think that if we are telling how good our life is at the moment and how happy we are, then people tend to think we are being naive. I am just a sophmore in college, and i get that feeling alot. That if I tell people things are going good and I am happy, then they will think i am just being naive, or my talk is nto interesting. I don’t agree with that I know life has it’s seasons, but i want to share my good seasons and bad seasons alike! Great blog I am looking forward to part two!!

  14. 264
    Nikki says:

    We live in a farming community. There are some very successful farmers, some from a little older generation. To ask how their crops are doing or how planting is going, one would all think they are one step away from utter and total poverty. It just wouldn’t be the right thing to say that the rain has been good this season and it just might be a great crop. Never. It’s always who can act the poorest and most out of luck. Crazy! Thanks for the great post!

  15. 265
    Barbara says:

    Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to feel guilty about being happy!!

  16. 266
    Angie says:

    I confess, Melissa, I more often than not am “sad.” Right now I have seven yes 7 friends/acquaintances undergoing divorce…church attenders and and all. Let’s just forget about what is in our nation for a moment and just look at what is in our church. My heart is breaking for the children ALL of these parents have who are suffering and will suffer for the rest of their lives because of this. That is just in the past month. So yes I guess I understand a “culture of sorrow.” I hope you have some encouragement for me in Part II. Can’t wait to read it.

  17. 267
    Meg Ebba says:

    The courage to be honest if you are not “fine” is the same courage you need to confess that you are filled with joy. Having been through the valley of the shadow a couple of times and out the other side, I find it too…(time consuming, fake, hard, annoying, insecure)… much to pretend to be in a state other than the truth. I wasn’t like this pre-“Believing God” study but now I am.

    The first Sunday my husband and I came back from our honeymoon, three couples greeted us at the front door of church with well-wishes. “Oh, we’re old hat, you’re the newlyweds,” the said when we tried to diffuse attention. “And wouldn’t you just do it all over again?!” I said, full of ignorant newlywed bliss. CRICKETS CHIRPED. It was so sad! They sort of shuffled their feet and didn’t look at each other, and someone coughed and someone else laughed awkwardly. So now I try and live every day in my marriage to make sure I am not taking my man for granted, lest I be one of those drifting couples at the door. Don’t know their stories, but I can try and shape mine to not have to fake joy OR sorrow, but to be honest in each.

  18. 268
    Melissa May says:

    Have to add as well that I’m so happy 🙂 that Amanda posted such a happy post before this and that your mama is not afraid to be happy!!! Trying to remember where recently I heard her talking about being happy… was it in the Esther study? Oh yeah! At the end when they were celebrating Purim… : ) God is not opposed to happy and we shouldn’t be either! Not a blind, oblivious, self-centered happy… but a God centered, grateful, filled with His strength and victory happy. : ) Thank you to all of you LPM ladies for not getting sucked into the idea that we have to always be sorrow-ful to be smart or deep or real. Goodness knows it is a big part of life, but it isn’t the only part!!! Looking forward to the rest of this!

  19. 269
    Deb says:

    In our culture, no one really cares about you till they have something to care about…meaning the next tragedy or drama in ones life. Heaven forbid, we just enjoy spending time with one another because we actually enjoy each others company. It is a sad state when we only go see family or friemds when they are sick or going through a difficult time. Yes, we are one warped society.

  20. 270
    Kerri says:

    I totally understand this. I’m a stay at home mom of 3 kids and my husband works long hours, doesn’t go to church with us, tends to be a bit un-involved with us at times. I realized a few months ago that I was making myself a victim just because some things in my life are not just like I want them to be. But when I am the victim, I am not allowing God to be the VICTOR! I’m robbing myself of His power and victory.
    So I”m now trying to choose daily to live in His victory and not let myself get bogged down in victim-mode. The changes in how I perceive things has been astonishing!

  21. 271
    Andrea says:

    “Throwing the baby out with the bath water” I believe came from when people of long ago would all use the same bath water. (gross me out) and the youngest was the last to go in. I can barely even think about it, it’s so disgusting.

  22. 272
    Lynn says:

    I so agree and especially see it in the younger generation. Kids don’t go outside and play much anymore. I seldom see groups of kids having fun outside. Those in their 20’s are pre-occupied with the perfect life and having everything together….which is impossible. The tube blasting news out at us in our living rooms; ads making us all feel bad about how we look, where we went on vacation, etc, etc. I sometimes wonder what happened to our free will!

    Why not remove the TV from our lives? Why listen to the marketing messages that surround us? Especially Why do we worry? God is so missing from our daily lives!

    You have stirred my interest will look for the book today at the bookstore. I pray we all reconsider how we “see” the world minute by minute, day by day. Sounds like T. Work is challenging us to do just this!

    Thanks, Lynn

  23. 273
    Elaina says:

    This was a great post Melissa! After reading it, I thought to myself…I know exactly what she and Word are talking about…I’ve lived in this “culture of sorrow” for years.

    After living most of my 20s in NYC and LA + being in the design industry, I have experienced this “culture of sorrow” in its finest form. “High culture” definitely leads us to believe that the melancholy types are the intelligent and “cooler” individuals, people with depth and wisdom. (At times) I have fallen prey to this idea, only to realize it’s a LIE. It’s not a better way to be human! Being involved with churches in both cities, I can testify that this mindset has not only infiltrated “pop culture” but The Church. My husband and I have often wondered…where is the Joy of the Lord among His people? Of course, this is somewhat of a generalization, but often our experience none the less. My husband even posted a blog entry on this topic last year. I pray that (I) and our generation will reject this idea of superior sorrow, shed our cynicism, and fully live in His abundant grace, love and JOY. I look forward to your follow up entry!

    We live in Atlanta now…I love Octane cappuccinos too:)

  24. 274
    cheri says:

    This post has exploded with so many entries from Godly ladies who struggle with being transparent with their happiness/joy because of the sorrow being cool environment. Of which, I too have experienced that.

    However, Biblically we ARE in a culture of sorrows and it’s only going to get worse. Jesus was foretold in The Old Testament as bearing our grief and sorrows – The Man of Sorrows. He wouldn’t have had to bear them if there wasn’t such a thing.

    The world walks in darkness, we should not be surprised by their facade of false happiness, nor their sorrows and hurts. Yet, we in The Body of Christ have been told HE bore our sorrows. We have the answer, in Jesus Christ.
    The end times are upon us, Biblically we are told to gird ourselves and be ready, run our race and fight if we need to. We are in the world not of the world…..

  25. 275
    Melany says:


    What an interesting post! It seems that not only is “sadder” seen as “wiser and cooler” but often as “more spiritual” as well, even in church.

    While God has definitely used difficulties in my life for His glory and my growth, I’ve also found that it’s easy for me to become self-centered during hard times. So, while bad things and suffering can obviously be redeemed by God(as your mom writes about so well), I do not think they make a person inherently more noble.

    Thanks for making us think,
    Melany (from Nashville)

    • 275.1
      Stephanie says:


      I like that you pointed out that ‘sadder’ is sometimes seen as ‘more spiritual’. I think this kind of goes along with what many moms on this blog are talking about: wanting to be appreciated. Like if our hardships aren’t ever mentioned or recognized, then no one will appreciate us for what we are going through or have been through. Here’s a clear cut example… I was on crutches for a while. I went to church alone on crutches, and for a moment as I was walking towards the entrance I was hoping that people would look at me with pity, or maybe apprecitiation that I came to church ‘gallantly’ on my own using crutches, yadda yadda yadda. Lol. I wanted people to admire how strong I was because of my faith. But then I realized I was just fine, really. I didn’t need anyone to notice me like that because God already notices me. He knows I have faith in Him, and I don’t need to be boosting up my ego with it.
      It was funny too (I know it was a God thing) when I pitifully made my way to one of the doors as someone else was walking in…thinking they would hold it open with extra courtesy for a handicapped person… and the door swung shut in my face. Hahaha! I gave thanks to God for humbling me. 🙂

  26. 276
    Renee' says:

    Melissa, I think you’ve been spying on me! Kidding. Often I have wished that I could just see the positives in life. But I don’t want to sacrifice my intellect, which I feel I’d have to do. So I mentally shake myself and list out loud if I’m alone, the things for which I really am thankful. I do feel that ignorance is bliss. I envy it in a way, but I don’t want it for myself. I DO want happiness, however. They seem mutually exclusive though. Aaarrrgh! It’s enough to make a girl…. something.

  27. 277
    Jeanette Banicki says:


    I enjoyed the depth of insight in your blog. The Road is required summer reading for my high school age son, so we rented the movie to get a sense of the storyline and themes.

    He attends a private Christian high school, so my first response was – Whatever happened to true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and admirable, if anything be excellent or praise worthy think on these things?

    My second response – I want my two hours back!

    For all the movie lacks, it does present a central truth.

    Several years ago I was intrigued by the phrase in Ps. 27:6 (KJV) “sacrifices of joy”. That one phrase grew into a Bible study called “The Sacrifice of Joy”.

    You see, it is not just a culture of sorrow – sorrow is quintessentially the human condition.

    In Genesis 3:16-19 (KJV) Adam and Eve’s punishments were separate paychecks from the wages of sin. But one punishment was the same for both – sorrow. The currency of humanity became sorrow.

    It is not surprising that the world glorifies sorrow – that’s all they bring to the party, because that’s all they’ve got.

    But if we buy into that as Christians, we are robbing ourselves. Joy is our heritage through Jesus. Joy is our birthright as adopted sons and daughters of the living God.

    There are over 150 references to the word Joy in the Bible.

    God tells us where to find Joy – Ps. 16:11 (KJV) – “…in thy presence is fullness of joy.”

    And God tells us why it’s so important – Nehemiah 8:10 (KJV), “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

    Psalm 100 is a Roadmap to Joy, giving directions how to claim, renew, and sustain Joy.

    We claim Joy when we identify ourselves as God’s people and submit ourselves to His guidance and protection.

    We renew Joy when we remember with gratitude and thanksgiving what the Lord has done for us.

    We sustain Joy when we fix our hearts on the truth about who God is and spend time with Him, entering into His gates and coming before His presence.

    But how is Joy a sacrifice?

    There are situations and circumstances that conspire to block our Joy. That’s where the sacrifice comes in.

    Philippians 4:4 (KJV), “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”

    We make the Sacrifice of Joy when we are Joyful always; when we are Joyful despite the pain and sorrow of our circumstances.

    The instruction seems impossible, but as if to assure us it’s no mistake, Paul repeats the instruction, “…again I say, Rejoice.”

    Here is the key – we rejoice “in the Lord”. We don’t rejoice in the circumstances; we rejoice in the Lord through the circumstances.

    In essence, Paul is challenging us to take the paycheck of sorrow from the world to the bank of heaven for a divine exchange – beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness. (Isaiah 61:3 KJV)

    Don’t you just love God’s math!

    In the jail at Philippi, Paul and Silas made that divine exchange. Even though they were, beaten and bloody, bound hand and foot, plunged into the darkness of an inner dungeon, they sang and praised the Lord. It may have been midnight, but the other prisoners were wide awake, listening intently (Acts 16:23-25).

    Cursing they expected. Claims of innocence – been there, done that. Pleadings for help – you’re barking up the wrong tree. Howls of pain and rage – hit the snooze button.

    But singing, filled with Joy, praising the Lord? This was something new. This was a new sound and they had everyone’s attention.

    For Paul and Silas, their praise became a two-edged sword (Ps. 149:6) breaking not only their own bonds, but the chains of all the prisoners.

    Our Joy matters. Not just in our own lives, but in the lives of others.

    When we move beyond the circumstances of the moment, beyond our own desires and fears to make the Sacrifice of Joy, mighty things are accomplished in our lives and in the lives of others.

  28. 278
    Mary T. says:


    You are so right about this sad and serious thing, but here is the kicker. God gave us a daughter who is mentally and physically challenged – OK, sad and serious – but, NO! She doesn’t know she is supposed to be sad and serious. God has filled her with incredible joy and when she bumps up against someone sad and serious, she takes it upon herself to blow some sunshine up their skirt (whether they are wearing one or not!). It is amazing to see how “sad and serious” so quickly becomes infected with joy and happiness when she gives them a big, “Hello, so nice to meet you!” accompanied by a smile, handshake and often a hug. It’s like she’s greeting a long, lost friend. The sad and serious walls come down and soon they are both laughing and hugging and when we leave, they are wondering what just hit ’em. We should all be so undaunted by sad and serious and start taking back the world with joy and happiness. It’s infectious, you know!

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    Stephanie says:

    It is very true that in this culture, people are looked upon as smart, witty, clever, and so on if they complain and speak negatively and sarcastically about everything. I suppose it’s really just the way of the world, to be drawn to unhappiness. We as Christians have another way, though, and that is Christ. Thank God 🙂
    It is not too surprising that what we see on tv and what we hear in daily conversations is mostly negative. This whole concept of the “culture of sorrow” really hit the mark. Frankly I’m really tired of all the complaining and sarcasm. I dont watch tv much anymore because it runs evidence of unhappiness runs rampant on every channel except for like TBN. I don’t want my entertainment to be other people’s drama and strife. Seriously. It really isn’t cool.
    My parents are nonbelievers and it seems they do nothing but complain about everything, looking for a pity any way they can get it. To be honest here, I have stuff in my life that is hard, that is terrible, that is sad, that is hurtful, painful, sick, trying, annoying, and so on. But I have Christ. Who or what can come against me? Nothing and nobody. So why would I use my mouth to dwell on things that Christ has already overcome for me? I want to use my words to encourage others and to enjoy their company and laugh about stuff and inspire. I want to smile and feel like a child who has no worries. 🙂 Ya know?

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    Stephanie says:

    I also find that when I am going through something hard, rather than whine or complain, God shows me to hold my tongue instead. What is that verse which says ‘Even a fool will be thought wise if he holds his tongue’- something like that? I think it really is wisdom to be still within ourselves when we are going through a hard time, rather than give too much voice to our sorrows to others, so that God can speak to us and really help us to focus on His ability to get us through. And a lot of the time I think we then end up able to see how light our situation is for Him. He deals with it well, and we are not to be bogged down by any circumstance. We really can rise above and take hold of the peace Jesus has given to us. I like to give a loud voice to that part of my situation, God’s deliverance. And His comfort. I don’t care much for all the petty stuff.

  31. 281
    Rhonda says:


    I just wanted you to know that I truly love when you share……so thought provoking!! I do not have time to elaborate, suffice to say, this has been timely and good!! I’ve passed the message on, so as to discuss it with others. You have a gift and I for one am grateful that share it with us from time to time………….blessings to you and yours!

    The “Joy” of the Lord is our strength!!………our strength!!……I love that : )

  32. 282
    Colleen Delbridge says:

    Hi Melissa,
    The saying “to throw the baby out with the bath water” has its origins in the “olden days”. When people had no running water, they would fill a tin bath with hot water. Dad would bath first, followed by boy children, then girl children, then Mom & lastly baby. (Not sure if I have the order correct.) By that time the water would be so dirty, it could be difficult to see the baby in it, hence don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Interesting!

  33. 283
    Leslie says:

    A friend sent me a link this morning to an article on Oprah’s website on happiness and it mentions a kind of auto-immune disorder that our society encourages through the idea of chronic stress and work-a-holic behavior. I thought it dovetailed well into the culture of sorrow idea.

    I’ll be interested to see the next post Melissa…thank you so much for sharing this…
    Leslie in Utah

  34. 284
    Heather Hall says:

    Have you read the book, “Cold Tangerines,” by Shauna Niequist. I LOVED it and I think you would really enjoy it, too. I also LOVED this post!

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    Greetings Melissa:)

    This is thought-provoking. Reading this, I realized that “our culture” is that way, regarding sorrow, or stoicism even as more intellectual. As a teenager, it seems my outlook on life (once saved and with hope) was bright. I was looking forward to good moments of life, and tended to focus less on what might happen that was considered “bad”. I was simply grateful to be saved and mission-minded, amen?! But, as I’ve lived a little through college, some sinful acts, and the hardness of facing my past before salvation, I’ve experienced some depressive and very sorrowful periods of time. Still, I want joy and love to characterize my life. Life’s too short to dwell on the negatives. This also reminds me of Ecclesiastes, where all is vanity, but then you are to enjoy the simple pleasures of a meal well worked for (and the fellowship of true family and friends I might add-they seem to go hand-in-hand. Funny, I was thinking to myself lately, “Where is that joy, wonder, and anticipation of the good moments in life that I had at one point. Those fleeting moments of elation seem to come and go less frequently than they used to?” But still, I think about hard life questions that threaten to steal my joy, like the age-old question: “Why does God allow bad things to happen to Christians?” and then I worry about what He might allow to happen to me. But, I know the short answer, it’s because of His Glory. Everything has to do with His Glory. If Christian’s ever truly contemplated and let sink in all that we have as an inheritance in Christ, and the fact that we are saved, and the fact that we have His Holy Spirit, and what that Holy Spirit does for us, and just how much He loves us…we would be the happiest people on the face of the planet. Like those in the Bible who rejoiced when they were persecuted, b/c they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake. Joy like that is unatural. Hope this wasn’t too long! You told me to talk to you:):) Sounds like a fascinating book.

    Blessings in abundance to you Melissa,


  36. 286
    Jana says:

    Very interesting subject, and often so true. I have lost a child, and I find people’s reaction to my responses interesting. As it has been some time since we lost her to cancer, I believe people still want to hear the tragedy in our story and not the hope. We are strong believers and our hope has always been in our eternity and our trust has always been that God’s appointed time was no accident and shall be for His purpose. And while we have human hearts that still mourn and miss our sweet girl, our joy is steadfast. But on my harder days, people seem to understand us better than on the days when peace is overflowing…which is actually more often. They seem to not know how to respond, and I tend to be the one consoling them. I think I may have to get that book, thanks for sharing!

  37. 287

    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this!!! I am a blogger and recently I made a 3 minute youtube encouraging women to love, respect, and submit to their husbands – taking it from Biblical principles. Another website found this youtube and her readers – tore it to shreds – with over 400 comments – needless to say – one thing they hated about me – “I’m too perky”.lol! These women took my perky joyfulness as unintelligent 🙁 – so frustrating cause those two are not connected!

    You are right – that is our culture and if we as women joyfully embrace homemaking, submitting to our husbands and reading God’s word – our joy can be read as – foolishness. I’m ok with it because I know they just need Jesus – but your post here just really struck a cord with me since I just went through this!


  38. 288
    Vicki Doman says:

    I agree with the observation of our cultures propensity for appearing “more wise” or credible by being sad about life…my thought is that we all have such a need to be noticed and get attention and we’ve figured out that a sure way to get much needed attention and love is to be needy, to have a sad story. I have felt the pull to do that myself and have had legitimate life circumstances to pull it off…yet have gained so much more strength by doing what I’ve been calling a Happy Dance to celebrate every single instance of hope and victory. AND, it sets me free from being self-conscious, because let’s face it, doing a Happy Dance isn’t what you’d call graceful, it’s spontaneous and joyful and full of relief, maybe that what David was doing when he danced before the Lord.

  39. 289
    Ruth says:

    OH Wow, Melissa! Again with the spot-on analysis–even if you are analyzing a spot-on analysis! I, myself, was recently pondering with God my/our petulant inclination to skirt true, full joy with some kind of “sorrowful” disclaimer. It’s like holding on to a sliver of resentment when claiming to forgive. My flesh comes up short of unadulterated JOY out of a kind of suspicion that to relinquish ALL unto Him and claim JOY, I would somehow lose something…like my “self”!!
    Such a poignant reminder from you and Mr. W that all around us conspires to GRIPE AND COMPLAIN, but in the Spirit, we can choose to REJOICE fully!!
    THANK YOU (and please keep writing!!)

  40. 290
    Lauren says:

    Ok so this “culture of sorrow” thing really hit home with me… this is my first time to visit the blog and I already love it…

    I got married in March of this year and have run into the same thing of feeling like when people ask how married life is, that I need to play it down and not come across too happy, b/c that would be superficial and bubbly, which is “annoying”… even though it’s genuine to me!!! I sometimes even throw in a cynical joke to avoid answering honestly as a very happy married woman!! Marriage is just one example. I see it in all areas of my communication… I’m beginning to learn that our generation (I’m 26) devalues joy and highly values indifference… crazy!! So happy to hear this “phenomenon” put into words..looking forward to part two of this post!

  41. 291
    Michelle says:

    Hi Melissa, very thought-provoking. I agree. We have become a culture of sorrow, or at least a culture of non-joy. I think the basic premise is that pure, open displays of joy would expose our vulnerability, and that’s SCARY! Suddenly others would realize that “it (whatever “it” is) MATTERS to us. It permeates throughout elementary schools and even our churches. Think about how un-cool it is to show complete joy in abandon about….frankly….anything!! If a child thinks something is very funny, or very awesome, so often friends of the same age will raise eyebrows, say, “oh-kay..” and then roll eyes & look away from the joyful child. The happy little kid is rejected, and exposed. It’s a form of power for the scornful kid. I’ve seen it over and over. So, happy kid learns to hide his/her joy, and often becomes scornful kid–because that’s the path to the higher rung on the social status ladder. Adults act the very same way in church, ESPECIALLY during praise and worship! We are afraid that if we display our joy TOO much, the situation will be uncomfortable. Maybe it’s just that I am a private and insecure person, thus am guilty of harboring these fears. But it definitely seems to me that the higher a person is on the social scale, the less likely that person is to openly enjoy worship. And most of those of us lower on the social scale find it almost impossible to do anything to blatantly attract the scorn of those on a higher rung. The most powerful example I can think of was actually your mom’s LPL live simulcast in 2009. It was AWESOME and I was so moved!! I attended at a large, high-tone local church and felt very self-conscious because I “felt” the love for God so deeply, but seemed to be surrounded by many who were obviously not comfortable with public displays of worship (hands raised, tears, etc.) I live in a fairly small-to-midsize community, so I knew many of the women. I’m not talking about non-believers. I’m talking about serious churchgoers, and the wealthier they were, the more mask-like their faces were. I’m sorry, but it’s fact. I don’t know that they would actually scorn me in their hearts, but, seriously, they would have been uncomfortable if I had openly displayed the fullness within my heart. But church camp is a different story altogether. I’m a 38 year old mother and can jump up & down, wave my arms, sing loudly (and VERY out of tune) with the children and not worry about it. They enjoy joy—until it is squelched too often by others. Maybe I just need to go back and read So Long Insecurity again—upon digging all of this out of myself, it seems blatantly obvious right now that I’ve got some MAJOR insecurity issues going on, huh? In summary, it just ain’t cool to be too happy….it just ain’t…(what a sorrowful comment I just wrote!! So pathetic! Hee hee)

  42. 292

    I never thought of our culture this way but a very interesting take on it. I agree sadder is “deeper” but what’s even deeper than sadness is when someone expresses how they have come through sadness into joy through Christ. Now that is the ultimate!

    In general the world seems to love extremes. The culture of sorrow that you wrote about, and then the culture of silliness (sitcoms, parties, comedians, passing around funny things on Facebook, snarking about what people wear, etc) – anything that avoids seriousness.

  43. 293
    Karen Wade says:

    May I respectfully inquire where is Part 2 of this discussion?

  44. 294
    yuguhun says:

    (ii) Passive sensors – or Passive Infrared Sensors (PIR), work by detecting infrared energy (infra refers to being below a human’s ability to visually sense, and red refers to the lowest color humans can see). More specifically, passive sensors detect abrupt changes of infrared energy and measure th

  45. 295
    e-juice says:

    It’s truly very difficult in this active life to listen news on Television, thus
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