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. 51
    Nancy says:

    YES! I have noticed that when I ask someone how they are, more often than “Fine!” I hear “Tired” or “Stressed” or “Don’t ask”. I’ve found myself doing this, and I wonder why. It’s like we’re ashamed to admit that we’re actually…okay!

    One exception to this was the janitor in the building where I used to work. Any time anyone asked him how he was doing, his immediate and cheerful reply was always, “Better than I deserve to be, thanks to Jesus!” I loved that guy.

  2. 52
    amy says:

    yep. my husband carefully guards his domestic happiness at work and his general contentedness for that matter. His coworkers make it clear that they want to hear that he’s stressed and unhappy. He is so accustomed to the expectation to complain in conversation or feign being “stressed” that he says sometimes he has to remind himself he’s not really unhappy or stressed. It makes a person seem young and naive if they sound pleased, happy, content, joyful. We’ve spoken of this many times. I’m very upbeat and it is frequently mistaken for youth or naivete….and not to mention how cool emo is and has been since the late 80’s (I was one, now I shake my head at them in the mall, appropriately)!

  3. 53
    MMMom says:

    Great topic Melissa. It is so sad that through our unhappiness is sometimes the only way we can connect. If someone is happy it’s hard to relate to them and people back away. Aren’t we suppose to rejoice in each others blessings? I’m so enjoying the comments. My Siesta sisters are far better at articulating my thoughts than me! Can’t wait to read part 2.

    • 53.1
      Warm in Alaska says:

      Wow – you’re right. How tragic that unhappiness can be a better “connector” than happiness. I know sometimes I feel guilty when I’m in a Season of Happy – b/c I’m keenly aware of so many who are not – and I don’t want my “happy” to offend them. My we can get ourselves jumbled. I love that there are seasons – yours won’t always be mine, vice versa – but I think part of maturity is learning to walk thru hard seasons of our own stories (ie – those perhaps filled with tears and suffering) while learning the grace of joining others – genuinely joining them – in their seasons of joy. Thanks for sharing MMMom (I’m dying to know what the first two “m’s” stand for…)

      • MMMom says:

        Perfectly said. I love how you put “while learning the grace of joining others.. in their season of joy. I feel after going through the SLI study I’m getting to that place of grace. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our sisterhood in Christ to join each other in sorrow and happiness? I think it might put a big smile on God’s face!

        MM stands for my two lovely daughters, Madeline and Miranda.

  4. 54
    Nitsa says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book, Melissa. Have been wanting to read it for sometime and now I, definitely, will. Your posts always challenge me.
    I have been accused of being naive or not understanding the situation or the condition of the world when I refuse to give in to sorrow and negativity but, when Jesus transformed me after some tragic thing in my life, my middle name became JOY. I can’t avoid the bad things and I know only too well that there is a lot of misery in the world but, I believe that joy is a choice and I choose JOY.

    Now, as for the saying about not throwing the baby out with the bath water, here’s what I’ve heard. In the 1500s there was shortage of water so the people bathed, maybe, once every 6 months or longer. When it was time to bathe, the father bathed first, then the mom, then the children and lastly the baby of the family. They all used the same water so, by the time it was the baby’s turn, the water was so filthy that you could hardly see the baby. So that’s how it started by making sure they didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Now you know!

    Anxiously waiting for part 2 of this post, as well as, notes from your trip to Israel.
    Much love,
    Camas, WA

  5. 55
    Sweet Anonymous says:

    Dear Melissa,
    What an interesting post..I am at a time in my life where I have been diagnosed with a brain anueurysm that could take my life at any moment. On Mother’s day I had a mini stroke and that’s when the aneurysm was discovered, I thankfully have no residdual effects from the stroke. The peace of Christ reigns in my heart. I tell people I am praying instead of worrying. I think people just don’t know what to do with me in this state of peace I’m in. Would I be more approachable, more real, cooler if I were miserable with this threat hanging over my head…

  6. 56
    Marilyn says:


  7. 57
    Lisa Bowden says:

    Great post Melissa! I too have noticed this ‘opaque’ aspect of our culture, and have fallen victim to many of the ‘negative, depressed, brooding’ behaviors some of our siestas have shared…and I have even been suspect of some ‘peppy’ people in the past….but over the last few years I got tired of it. Today I try to choose to focus on ‘the joy set before me’ and be full of gratitude for even the simplest of blessings. And, yes, sometimes I feel wierd because I won’t partcipate in the complaints. And when things are good I feel almost guilty. So, it is certainly a battle against the flow…like swimming upstream. I am looking forward to your next post and an thankful for you taking the time to get us thinking.

  8. 58
    Sharon in Frederick says:

    It is late but I just wanted to say, as I read this all I could hear was my mom saying, Misery loves company. In saying this I don’t think ‘culture of sorrow’ is just of the now generation. I think it has always existed, with instant access to anything with todays technology we are more exposed. Also we are talking culture, not genuine sadness and pain brought on by circumstances.

  9. 59
    Amy says:

    Sadder is “wiser,” at least according to what I gleaned while growing up. I had a melancholy personality to begin with.

    Since college I’ve been learning to understand and live by God’s grace more. And that has led me to be more grateful about lots of things in general… and the gratefulness has led to joy.

    Joy has been a fruit of my walk with God, not the naive launchpad… so it does break my heart when friends believe my life is less genuine because I am not as predisposed to being sad as I once was.

  10. 60
    bigsis says:


    There’s a song from the “Music Man” that comes to mind as I read your entry – the title and catch phrase being, “The sadder but wiser is the girl for me…” Marion the librarian being all broody and moody and walking around with a chip (or maybe a plank) on her shoulder, was just the thing that caught the wiley professor’s eye and he pursued her with diligence and fervor. Okay, so it’s a Hollywood musical but you have to see the similarities here don’t you (or I am I just off my rocker?) What you say is so true – I never really saw it before that way. Can’t wait for Part 2!!

  11. 61
    karen says:

    Yessss Melissa, you’re right! I don’t understand why fashion models can’t smile once in a while! Heck, if I were wearing fresh, new, pretty undies from Victoria Secret and being photographed (heaven forbid but let’s just pretend for a moment)I’d have such a big grin on my face as if to say,”yippee, look at me, I’ve got brand new undies! My friend’s little boy once saw their ad and asked, “mommy, why does she look like someone hurt her?”

  12. 62
    MDPH says:

    In some ways I think people just want to see or experience a little sorrow as a way to jolt their increasingly calloused hearts into FEELING something, or even as entertainment (think “horror stories”). But just that. Walking through real, deep sorrow or extremely tough times over a long period of time (especially someone else’s)? No, thank you. I’m in the mood for some light comedy tonight! We definitely do sometimes seek thrill rides over reality, both physically and emotionally– and even spiritually!

    As someone who is walking through a very painful situation with a child (not only high functioning autism, but significant mental illness, depression, violence, suicidal tendencies…) which has defied remedy or much relief despite intense prayer and effort… let me tell you that people aren’t much interested in actually walking through sorrow authentically, with all of the highs and lows involved. People want a neat, tidy bow tying everything up and a happy ending when they’ve had enough of an emotional jolt.

    Someone commented earlier that one has to have an “unbearable situation” to receive appreciation. As far as lighter “sorrows” (complaints) and levels of “unbearable”, I think that’s very true! You can observe all kinds of odd variations of “competition” and “one-upmanship” in almost any sphere (especially among women and mothers “in our culture” who feel very unappreciated, but literally ANYwhere) for attention, supremacy, whatever. When sorrows are deep, though, you find out that any “appreciation” given doesn’t go very deep, and can even be fleeting and fickle if one doesn’t snap out of it quickly enough to please the whims of anyone looking for just-enough emotional entertainment and stimulation.

  13. 63
    Danyella says:

    Initially I wanted to think that we don’t have a “culture of sorrow,” I guess the optimist in me. After giving it some thought, I can see the truth. Your statement about T.V. and movies is particularly true. I’ve been watching a dancing reality show in the last couple of days and it is the people with a real “story” that end up on camera. So many of the contestants are prepared for bad news, but the good news leaves them shocked. Even as a Christian, there have been times that I have given a disclaimer, that I didn’t have more of an interesting testimony. Maybe it’s so prevalent, especially in T.V. and media, because it is what we all have in common. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all live in world where there is suffering because of sin. I don’t think it is only our culture, but human nature. The stories of Jesus in the gospels are stories of people who are suffering, and I know that drawn in because I can identify with their sorrow and need Him just like them. One of my teachers once told me that Jesus’ miracles were a reversal…back to what God intended. We understand tears, we understand the storm, but with joy and calm we are amazed. Thanks for prompting so much thought!

  14. 64
    Janan says:

    Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It is my understanding that this came from back when baths were a rare thing. A family would put a big tub out and fill it up and everyone in the family got in line to bathe. Being the head of the household, the father got to get in first. Then the mother, then the sons and then the daughters, and of course all by ages, being the oldest go first. So by the time the baby got a bath, the water was dark and dirty. So the warning was to be sure the baby didn’t get lost in the dirty water and get thrown out with it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  15. 65
    Lori says:

    I, too have experienced the “culture of sorrow” phenomenon. It fits perfectly with the (temporary) prince of this world’s scheme, don’t you think? But opposite God’s desire for His children. I mean God’s word tells us to rejoice, to think on what is pure, holy, true, right; to give thanks in all circumstances; to grieve as those who have hope! Sure, there is sorrow, grief; but, as Christians, we have awesome HOPE and we must purpose (against the flow of the world) to seek hard after God and the joy and abundance of life He is. In the life of a believer, this too is hard, as the world pulls and pushes on us. It seems some folks just want to stay in the drama of sorrow. ???

    My dear husband and I just celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary! And, yes, they have been 17 glorious years, by the grace of God. Definitely not always easy; but always an adventure, full of desire to seek after God and His purpose and glory!! And WAYYYYY more joy than sorrow…way more! After an anniversary dinner out, we came home to put our 6 children to bed and watch a (rare) movie. Honestly, the “culture of sorrow” phrase fits perfectly…and this was supposed to be a “family” comedy!
    My beloved and I both commented that there sure was a lot of sorrow, sad circumstances, etc…and I think it was supposed to somehow be funny! Oh, well…

    Thanks, Melissa, for sharing this post.
    Rock Hill,SC

  16. 66
    M says:

    Hey Girl,
    I come from a family where generation after generation the women suffer from serious depression…attempted suicides, not getting out of bed, not cleaning or leaving the house, and being completely out of touch with reality. In fact, the only way it seems to get attention in my family is to have a serious personal crisis…addiction to drugs, homosexuality, affairs, various additions (are just a few that we deal with on a regular basis). So when I was in my early 20s, I had never “seen” what joy could be. I had only been taught drama, despair, and depression. I began studying my Bible and realized that living God’s way eliminates so many consequences where our bad choices can lead us. Granted, when I realized this, many bad choices had already been committed…but it gave me hope that I could begin to live a life in freedom…joy. Yes, life happens…sadness in unavoidable…we live in a fallen world. But God intended for those of us who believe to be able to experience a little bit of heaven here on earth! We must first begin to believe that we can experience that joy…and our culture tends to teach the opposite! Honestly, with the depression that I grew up seeing day in and day out, there is really no reason that I should be able to believe that joy is possible other than the fact that God reached down upon me and revealed it to me Himself through His Word. I am forever humbled that He loves me enough to save me over and over again…more times than not from myself. Due to the joy that God has poured into my heart, it has created much distance from the individuals that I love most in my life. This has been one of the most difficult things that I have walked through…not “fitting in” with my own family. But God is merciful and though I still have moments of despair, He has shown me through this storm that I am constantly walking through that He is the only One who will never fail me. And that is where I find continue to find joy …because His grace is always sufficient. His love is my unwavering ground that holds me together. Didn’t mean to write a book here…and I am very sleepy! But reading this tonight struck a chord in me of what I have been living for 27 years. Joy is here…it is possible…it is a gift that He wants us to experience…regardless of what our culture wants us to believe!

    • 66.1
      Denise says:

      M, I think what you said ‘life happens’ is what my friend was trying to tell me the other day, and that it’s okay to be up and down, because, indeed- life does happen! Thanks for your post, and your testimony.

    • 66.2
      Pam says:

      M-Good for you!! What an awesome testimony you have–you are an overcomer through Christ and your post has blessed my heart! Isn’t it great that His grace is always sufficient!! My heart breaks that you feel like you don’t “fit in” with your family, I know how painfully difficult that is. I pray that His love surrounds you and that you will have peace and joy that never ends. May God truly bless you!! Thank you for sharing.

  17. 67
    sepik-meri katie says:

    okay melissa, i gotta be honest with you! i sat down with my salad and clicked “LPM” to see what kind of laugh i would get outta you guys tonight, and as i tried to “breeze through” your post, i kept “not getting it”… so i finally zeroed in to actually see what you were talking about, and you totally grabbed me! that is soooo true!!!!! i’ve never been able to put a finger on that before but it’s bugged me forever!!! it’s like, you either come up with something dreadful to “share” or some struggle… or else you’re not genuine and -exactly -you lose credibility and even the other person’s trust! it’s like you’re not allowed to just be fine! is it unacceptable to be content?! one day i was particularly drug down (kind of out of obligation…?) and it just hit me -go ahead and sing!!! there’s nothing wrong!! how annoying! well thanks for putting this all to words! i cannot wait to hear part 2. i’m prepared to pay attention next time 😉

  18. 68
    Melissa F says:

    I’ve pondered so much over the years about my identity and the hats that I wear. When I married and my husband joined the military, we moved away and I “lost” my identity with all of those previous hats. It was, sadly, several years before I realized why life seemed so purpose-less. It was through no lack of struggle that God finally got it through my thick head that my identity rested with Him, and Him alone. Suddenly, my life had meaning. Even as a stay-at-home mom living in a foreign country while my husband was deployed elsewhere. God is AMAZING.

    Why go on about identity when we’re talking about a culture of sorrow? Because, dare I say, having “sorrow” gives us a (false) purpose. A hat. Something by which to define ourselves. Another way to be labeled by the world, and not by God. It is a title, and therefore gives us credibility (Oh, how I loved that you touched on that idea!).

    I’ve had my sorrows. I have certainly learned from them and God is using me and my former sorrows to reach out to people. But I will never, ever, be defined by those past sorrows or any sorrows in the future. God’s definition of “me” is far better than any label I could create.

  19. 69
    Leanne says:

    This is something I have been thinking about for a while. As a young married couple in our care group we almost felt like we had to think of some struggle we were having when it was prayer request time. Why didn’t it feel right to proudly say “We’re doing great! Marriage is great!”? Now in our care group we all have young children and the prayer requests and conversations seem to always revolve around how hard this stage is and how we can survive it. Why is it so hard to share the fun moments of parenting… there are many – every single day!!
    I wonder if people are so desperate for attention and affirmation that we seek it through sympathy? Maybe this is a call to the church to start speaking life into people.

  20. 70
    Susy says:

    I feel a little convicted here. I struggle with judging ‘happy’ people as shallow and not spiritual enough. I definitely lean towards the melancholic side but this is a very interesting idea. Maybe I need to know it’s ok to be happy about my life…when it is happy!

  21. 71
    Christina says:

    I was reading in Philippians 2:14-15 this afternoon which says:
    Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

    As I read these verses it struck me that what sets us apart from the rest of the world is an attitude of submission and gratitude. If I go into work ready, willing and able to join the flock with my complaints, poor-me’s and why-I-oughta’s then how am I to represent Christ to a lost and dying world? Isn’t like picking your nose and then extending your hand to have it shook?

    This is a crooked and preverse generation and it is our responsibility to shine! Shine on!


    • 71.1
      Susan says:

      Two weeks ago our pastor used those verses and then challenged us – every time we complain, grumble, argue we need to put 50 cents in a jar to give to the church at the end of the month . . .
      this past Sunday he asked people to share how they were doing (he admitted he shouldn’t drive – it was going to make him go broke by the end of the month) and there were many comments about being more aware of how often they do speak negatively . . he made the challenge even harder this week – -if we even think the thoughts we need to put in a quarter!
      I think I need to go to the bank and get several rolls of quarters . . .:)

  22. 72
    Julie in Idaho says:

    My first reaction is: its easier to identify with others in the “sorrow” department. Everyone experiences hardships in life and, most of the time, they are similar experiences that others can relate to.

    My second reaction is (hang with me here, this is hitting pretty close to home): I honestly believe (trust me, I’m speaking from experience here) that some people just don’t know how to be happy. I mean, there are moments of complete joy in my life but, if I had to sum it all up, I feel more “sorrow” than joy overall. I know this is a flaw and I know it doesn’t have to be this way. However, prayers about this subject haven’t changed anything. The theory of “thinking differently leads to feeling differently leads to acting differently” just hasn’t proven true in my life. I don’t believe its totally a “choice” either. Some want it and just can’t seem to reach it. Some people just have hard lives while others seem to find complete and total joy no matter what their circumstances. I’ll keep striving for it, but I haven’t found it yet. Maybe God is just molding me through all this “sorrow”. No matter…..I know who wins in the end! And the victory is sweet!
    Love y’all!

  23. 73
    Julie in Idaho says:

    I think I got that last post wrong. Maybe it is “thinking differently leads to acting differently which leads to feeling differently”. Hope you knew what I was trying to say even if I got it wrong the first time.

  24. 74
    Teresa Smith says:

    I found this so very interesting. I totally get the point. Look at the news, positive stories rarely get the spotlight it is always tragedy after tragedy. I understand about being careful about making generalizations, but sometimes they are very true. My husband is from Trinidad and how he shows his sorrow and joy from his cultural perspective is very different from how an American would show their joy or sorrow. It took some getting used to and I would always ask him if his feeling were real or strong on something because I didn’t feel that his reaction was strong enough or animated enough. I put my expectations on him for how he should be reacting. I didn’t even think that that was what I was doing. He would say if you want me to react this way or that way for you to believe me then fine I will. I never realized until then that I even had a perceived idea of how people should react to events in their life or certain situations. I look forward to reading part two.

    PS – I can’t stand half of the movies out there because it seems that the more depressing they are the more critics love them. I say reality is depressing enough without having to sit through two hours of it.

  25. 75
    Kathy fields says:

    Oh my, I agree so much, but didn’t ever think of it. Last night we started our summer study/Loving Well by the one and only Beth Moore. We didn’t watch the DVD last night, instead had a dinner, played a game and introduced the study. We had some new gals and at the end of the evening I was apologizing for us laughing so hard and having so much fun. I qualified our group by saying that we also have cried together and have plenty of difficulty in our lives. I fell right into the culture. Thank you so much for sharing that. Our group does cry together and have our share of troubles, but the fact that I felt the need to apologize for our having a wonderful time and making sure the new gals understood we are sad too. Wow!

  26. 76
    Melanie says:

    Unfortunately, the philosophy is widely embraced in the American church that you are only as righteous as you are miserable. The concept of the “abundant life” has been replaced by the concept of the “almost unbearable life.” Think about it: the only people who are considered to be overcomers are the ones who suffer terrible tragedies that never happen to most of us – the person whose husband dies of a heart attack the same day she finds out she has breast cancer. But the flip side of that coin is the uncomfortable fact that unless your problems are at that level, NOBODY in the church will bother saying a prayer for you. What happened to common, ordinary, day-to-day problems, and bearing with one another even in those small problems? Where did victory go? I’m not saying we should all plaster fake smiles on our faces and go about the world handing out daisies. But the notion that a state of brokenness is the only state that God can bless won’t cause church attendance to rise.

  27. 77
    Kelley says:

    I was just thinking about this this week! I called my sister in law (who is my so called best friend) (i love her to pieces) to make sure everything was okay between us. I asked her if anything was wrong because it seemed like anytime we were around each other there was a big pink elephant in the room. She said she couldn’t think of anything that could be wrong but she had been feeling the same way. We came to the conclusion that it was because we hadn’t had time to really share out hearts (hurts, aches, pains- we like the term heart better) with one another. Believe it or not, this could be because we are both doing pretty good. No major drama. Are we really drama queens? Ugh, I hope not. We don’t do small talk well but that doesn’t mean we have to have a constant crisis on our hands to be close to one another. We know we have a sick and twisted relationship but we don’t know how to change it. I guess just make a habit of sharing our joy with one another until it doesn’t feel awkward…

  28. 78
    Kathy says:

    Makes sense- my son rarely smiles , as he walks along or thru the house – I perceive a sorrowful heart- his pictures too are like the ones you mentioned- the band’s cd cover reveals serious faces – you are right!! My heart aches for him -he is in college not living for the Lord. I am looking forward to your next blog. Thanks.

  29. 79

    A lot of great responses to a great post here.

    Some random thoughts.

    I think the media hits us over the head with tragedy after tradgedy, so much so that our hearts can’t take anymore. I know there are times when I just can’t listen to the news because I’ve had enough sorrow and tragedy.

    I believe that is why Romance fiction sells over 50% of all books sold. We all want a happily ever after (HEA).
    Just wait until Pioneer Woman has her real life romance published. I predict it’s going to be #1 on the NYT list.
    Those “Oprah’s Picks” books would hardly sell if she didn’t pick them, though, like you wrote, Melissa, these kind of books are esteemed by the elite intellectuals in learning institutions.

    Here’s another thing. Have you ever noticed that the WWII generation seems happier/more content than the younger generations? Of course, happiness is not the same as joy, but maybe they are more joyful too.

    This might be a little off topic, but what immediately came to my mind, is the common American greeting of “Hi, how are you?”…and from complete strangers or people we barely know. I mentally flinch every time I hear this. I dislike the question because first of all, most of the time the person really doesn’t care how you are doing and they certainly don’t care to hear any reply other than, “Fine, how are you?”.

    Second, I feel compelled to lie most of the time when this is asked because I have an autoimmune disease that makes most every day of my life physically painful. People don’t want to hear about your aches and pains.

    Bur I guess it’s all in the interpretaion of the question. Do you want to me to answer it in reference to my physical, emotional or spiritual state? Probably none of those, Just give the polite answer of “Fine.”

    My pastor once gave a sermon on this question of “Hi, how are you?” saying that we should just answer, “Fine” to anyone except our very closest friend/s. We should be honest with them, whether we are doing great or not so great.

  30. 80
    Joni says:

    I’ve actually noticed this “dark” trend toward sorrow in children’s books several years ago beginning with the popularity of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Years later, after coming out of deep depression and panic attacks, God graciously allowed me days of pure joy and light and I became super-sensitive to the sorrow and darkness of the world– in books, tv, and movies. There were some shows that I refused to watch and some movies I refused to see because of the darkness that seemed to pervade them. Who wants to be brought down like that, to be deadened inside after watching something like that, and yet there were few alternatives. We’re being fed darkness, sorrow, and hopelessness in a steady diet through all kinds of media. We need an outpouring from the Holy Spirit of light and joy and hope in all types of media.

    • 80.1
      Melissa says:

      Joni–Work actually references Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” in his sermon! Very fun! –Melissa

  31. 81
    Kelly says:

    Oh boy Melissa, you hit a nerve. His thoughts resonate with me in the exact way you’re describing—couldn’t have articulated it but recognize it as true. But here’s the deal for me..I grew up with a mama who put a happy, snappy spin on things that not only weren’t happy, but were downright evil and we went to church forcefully every Sunday where we sang Kumbaya joyfully next to a priest that we would discover many years later to be engaging in evil of the worst kind. Somewhere in my head things got linked together—the culture of happy became suspicious and then representative of denial. I became Pearl Jam to their Mighty Clouds of Joy. Perhaps balance is the key. I still (at 40) feel suspicious of peppy,zippy, happy displays and dispositions—and I’m sure unfairly so. Perhaps it’s progress that I’ve also become suspicious of deliberate, downtrodden, disinterested displays and dispositions. Maybe either extreme is in-authentic. ps..read The Road and listen/read Cormac Macarthy’s interviews on it…very interesting

  32. 82
    Donna says:

    Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” came out in 1972 and to me is a prime example (although there are many others from the late sixties/early seventies) of when the coolness of sorrow because mainstream. The songs on this album are a stark contrast to some of the more popular songs of the day such as Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” and “Just You and Me”. Just listen to a few cuts off this album, especially “The Last Time I Saw Richard.” At the time I bought right in to the “honesty” of these lyrics and it took years for me to realize that listening to this type music was blocking out the abundant life offered by my Lord.

  33. 83
    Deb says:

    That’s funny — I just watched The Road a few weeks ago too! I enjoyed it…but only because I DID see a glimmer of hope at the end.

    Anyway, interesting discussion here. I will speak of this as someone of the “melancholy” persuasion, if we’re categorizing personalities. I do think “our culture” 🙂 is all about pain, stuggle, sorrow…or even just discomfort or dissatification. It does seem unfashionable to just be happy with life. I think back to my days in the work world, where if people asked how you’re doing the almost “required” answer was to complain about how busy you were, or just complain in general about your job. Drama seems to be the way to go…and when it comes to most popular books/movies, I’ve found that many of the most heralded ones are the ones that are incredibly bleak with not much redeeming value.

    I’d like to offer a couple other viewpoints. One, from my melancholoy side. There is true joy that eminates from some people, and then there are the masks people put on. What bothers me is not so much if people are genuinely happy and content…it’s their aversion to discussing the deeper things in life. There is a time for laughter, fun, and lightheartedness, and there is a time when we need to share our hearts and be REAL. I think as a woman especially when I see other women always wanting to hang out, skim the surface, joke and everything else but never share our hearts and be transparent and share our pain…when I see people have an aversion to going to that level, it bothers me.

    Also, I just read a great book called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by a rather unconventional Christian writer, Donald Miller. He said some ideas about our lives being like movies and about what makes a good story, and that we need to live the best story. If you think of what makes a good story, it’s struggle/conflict, and the character overcoming it and changing. As he puts, “No one wants to watch a movie about someone saving money to get a Volvo and then finally getting it.” The troubles, the sorrows, make the story. Where I think our society misses it most of the time these days is that they get the struggle and tragedy right but there is no resolution… nothing the character learns…no point to all of it. This is the product of a godless worldview, in some respects. So I don’t have so much of a problem with a culture of sorrow as much as a culture of sorrow that has no hope.

    • 83.1
      Melissa says:

      Deb–thanks for your thoughtful comment from a different perspective. I really appreciate it. Love, Melis

  34. 84
    Kelli says:

    Melissa thank you so much for this post and for getting us thinking and talking about something that is so important! I have two main thoughts… First, we are overseas “workers” and I get so frustrated when we are back in the states and I feel like people react to us like they feel sorry for us and the life God is forcing upon us (and on our kids). Things like, “things must be so hard for you?” “how do your kids handle what you do?” “do you think you’ll ever move back ‘home’?” I hate being put on a pedastal and held up as if we’re doing something that “regular” believers couldn’t do- believe me, I am very much a “regular” kind of person- I (we) am no super hero and I want people to stop putting a sadness upon me that I don’t even feel myself! One of my favorite verses is Psalm 16:5-6 “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my life secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” If we really believe this, we should act like it more and stop with this whole “culture of sadness” thing that Work seems pretty right about, and choose joy!!

    On another note, like someone else said, as much as I don’t like when others impose the whole “culture of sadness” on us because of what we do, I find myself also doing it especially when it comes to my kids! If I am being mopey and pitiful for example when my husband is traveling how in the world can I expect them to make the deliberate decision to choose joy! That’s what I want for my girls and I want to be better about modeling it.

    Thanks for this thought provoking and timely post!

  35. 85
    Patti K says:

    Up until quite recently I worked in “the office of doom and gloom”. The tone was set by the office manager and it seemed that all of the ladies thrived upon her sad tales of woe. They were drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She was let go last month and it feels to me as if a cloud has been lifted, but most of the girls are having quite a bit of difficulty adjusting to a happier workplace. It is just plain crazy! Mr. Work makes a good case for the -culture of sorrow. Can’t wait to read your 2nd installment on this topic.

  36. 86
    Kelli says:

    Sorry- I just thought of one more thing… I think I have realized in myself, that I am a lot more deliberate about choosing to be joyful daily and recognizing God’s hand in my circumstances in the big things- the big struggles. We’ve been through some difficult things- my husband having cancer, successful and unsuccessful fertility treatments, miscarriage, near evacuation from our overseas home due to war and in all those times, it seemed I was much more deliberate and conscious about choosing to be joyful then in the day to day routine stuff. Part of it probably has to do with am I walking with Him in the easy times as I should be like I tend to do in the difficult times. I think sometimes in the day to day things, at least for me, I might sub concsiously put on my “woe is me” face for my husband at the end of the day just because I’m needing a little TLC- not such a great tactic! Thanks for the reminder to choose to be joyful! I mean, my word, we have SO INCREDIBLY MUCH to shout for joy about!!

  37. 87
    Sandy says:

    Wow….I am knee deep in taking a group of 8th graders through “Life Hurts God Heals” the Willow Creek Class…and…I have experienced the pain for the last 6 weeks..and now I see some light at the end of tunnel as God shows up and makes some sense of it all…if thats what you want to call it….anyway enjoyed your thoughts on the “culture of sorrows”…very true..I am going to read the book. But I tend to keep it simple out here in the battle.

  38. 88
    Kim says:

    Whew … that was quite a read, but I am so intrigued, agree AND now understand why my husband hates most of the movies that are out there today. I also see it with my 12 year old and the whole “trying to fit in” … there is almost a ritual of being secondary to get “in” so that you don’t rock the boat … and it’s as if she is giving up her happiness to make others happy, or worse be included, what a sacrifice! And to make it worse, it is hard for her or her friends (w/the exception of the queen bee) to accept or believe that they are pretty, smart, etc., because it is better to downplay who they for that goal of being a part of the popular group. It starts so young … sigh … seems we do tend to look at the glass half empty perhaps because it is more believable, more tangible than joy.

  39. 89
    Richelle says:

    Interesting. Yesterday my man of 26 years came home to tell me of a conversation he had at work, one that comes up on occasion with his colleagues. Sitting in a conference room with mostly men of higher I.Q.’s than he, a 26 or so year old guy is about to get married. My husband says to him as he puts his hand on his shoulder, “do not listen to what everyone says. My wife is my best friend. Being married is the greatest thing ever.” Then there was TOTAL silence in the room.

  40. 90
    Leah Adams says:


    I wonder if this ‘culture of sorrow’ is not part of Satan’s bigger plan. Obviously he is allergic to happiness since one of his goals is to squelch happiness. Oh, he promises happiness, but never delivers. So, if he can propel the culture toward overall unhappiness, then we begin to lose hope that there is true happiness available.

    Just a thought from your neighbor up here in North GA.


  41. 91
    fuzzytop says:

    Great post and comments…. I need more time to read and digest all of this.

    My initial response, however, is that while I agree with the whole description and premise of the “culture of sorrow”, I think it is a twisted form of a culture of self-centeredness. I’m going to churn on this for a while.


  42. 92
    Deirdre says:

    for me this resonates hugely. Somewhat like the chapter on cynical humor in the Screwtape Letters.

    wish we could sit down and chat.


  43. 93
    Susie S says:

    I recently heard that there is a correlation between hard economic times and media being “dark”. They said that during these hard times that movies and tv shows will focus on the dark side of things. I think we have seen that in this current recession. I presonally believe that the darkness is always there, but is drawn more to the surface during those times. When media focuses on the dark side, I think we as individual also tend to be more focused on that. It becomes the general “feel” of our society. It’s the garbage in garbage out theory….we take in the negative and before we know it that is what is coming out of our hearts. We need to put a guard on our hearts, both with what we take in and what we let out. Are we contributing to this culture of darkness, negativity, criticalness, or are we focusing on the truth of God?
    If we are contributing to this darkness we have a personal heart issue to deal with. I know I struggle with this. Can I top someone else’s sad story? What is my heart motive in doing that?
    These were my thoughts on this…

  44. 94
    Rebecca says:

    Does it ever occur to people that all we see and hear is the bad news. Where is the good news? It’s out there and yet it doesn’t sell. Negativity is always the first thing we think about when we are asked to describe something or an event.It becomes so much of a habit that we just do it. We need to learn to breathe happy and see beauty but it is so hard when all around us negativity is there. How was your day? What comes to mind? It’s a whole learning process that maybe we need to start for sake of our children and their children. Just a thought…Rebecca

  45. 95
    Jean says:

    (I got so excited to post this I posted my comments on Curtis Jones post, sorry siestas)

    Oh Melissa darling. I think you have touched on the very subject that us in the Church of Christ must absolutely not belong to . . . the Culture of Sorrow (COS). It is the opposite of our core. I really want to pull my chair up and write a novel to you. I hope I can say what I want to say without loosing everyone. But I want to share with you as humbly as I can possibly say. But one year ago I was diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer. Oh how everyone wanted me to join the church of the “COS” or act as if they belonged to that church when they were around me. Now I do not want to judge anyone for how they react or even those whom I love with all my heart in how they reacted. But I have never shed one tear . . . not one tear. My heart is full for those who did cry for me when they learned about my situation. When I began loosing my hair, oh the tears shed for me. It was touching. Fast forward to one year, my chemo ended October 20th, I had my breast removed December 3rd, and I ended my radiation on March 3rd. I am embarassed when people say to my face Jean you handled it so well. I pray God gets the glory. Because it was him who gave me joy throughout that entire experience, I mean JOY. So let me tie this to you Melissa. If we can have joy in cancer, when people surely expect sorrow, it is embarassing that we must have sorrow because of the mundaness of everyday life. Like we must earn a badge of sorrow to qualify us for something. I want to earn the badge of joy in all circumstances. I think you will be right beside me when God gives me that badge. So I can totally relate Melissa. Thanks for the article.

  46. 96

    Here is one thing regarding sorrow that I think. We recently lost my husbands best friend, as well as a wonderful friend of mine…to suicide. It has been almost 4 months and there is not a day that goes by that I just don’t ask myself…what in the world?!?
    I noticed that several people close to him made it almost impossible for you to grieve the loss of someone you have been deep friends with for over a decade. Everyone tried to stay so positive that they were missing the whole grieving thing. It has been the strangest thing. On the flip side of the post I think people can be so full of it and pretentious that you may not feel like you can get around a group of people when you are mourning because the whole “mourn with those who mourn” has gotten lost in a lot of ways. I am not being skeptical but after 12 years of being heavily involved in ministry and etc this is something I have witnessed. Also, I am a very outgoing person…I am shy at first but I love people. Well, when my first daughter died I almost felt like I needed to grieve at home away from others. We live in a culture where people are insensitive (not everyone of course) and we hardly have discernment with others when sharing our joy. Case in point…you may not want to run up to someone who is struggling with fertility and show then your ultrasound pics.
    When I was going thru such a deep loss though I felt pressured to be fun, outgoing, and helpful with others problems. Over the years family members have deemed me at best someone who is strong. Then, I remember something Beth said years ago that when we are at our lowest we expect satan to have a heart…and of course he is an opportunist so his agenda is not to just leave us alone in hardship.
    Anyway, along with what you were saying. The first several years of my marriage were really filled with constant tribulation and so much of it unneccesary. There was a lot of loneliness and a lot of me realizing that you really just need to see opportunities in life, that are God allowed, as tools to change you. Everyone so readily quotes, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” First, if I am going to apply that verse I need to have grasped the fact that “my house”, “my earthly tent” is the only thing that is my house…my body that I am to set apart and honor God with. No one can do this for me and I can not change or make anyone live a certain way…only me and my house. Once I learned that my husband, or anyone for that matter is not God to me…even while a relationship may be rich…I can’t put all of my hopes in any earthly relationship. Once I was able to let God change my house…me…it brought liberation. However, after getting in my own ruts of complaining in the name of being real and junk…it became the norm to have to have some sort of drama to complain about. Then, instead of exercising faith I thought man if I start to say things are looking better in my marriage or whatever, things may go awry at home tonight and then I will kick myself. So, I totally got in the whole rut of not wanting to be overly joyful or loving since the status quo had been so different. Not sure if any of what I said make sense but I loved this post!

    • 96.1

      As you know I lost one of my best friends a few wks ago, but I think I want to add, because we know Jesus, we can push through the sorrow, and the pain- Its definitely hard to know she is really gone, but deep down, I know that she is safe now. I remind myself that God is good, and that the rainbows still appear. We just have to prepare ourselves that there isnt’ a lot of good in this world, but good can happen through the pain. We have to always remember to believe it. Trust in Him. Rest in Him.

    • 96.2
      Joyce Watson says:

      You have every right to grieve and it is okay if you feel better being alone during that time. Some people can be insensitive at times or say the wrong things, but I think that most people just don’t know what to say or think about what they are saying through.
      People have told me things that later I thought was inappropriate after my mother died, but they meant well_they just did not express it well. So, I hope you will be encouraged. We all say and do things that are wrong sometimes. People are just people. Enjoy life to it’s fullest in Christ. Will pray for you.

  47. 97
    Angela H says:

    So right! I have been addicted to misery (in the name of greatness and wisdom)from an early age–and have recently been finding myself Suprised by Joy! and almost feeling like I have to hide it-lest I not appear real. But the people who really spur me on in my faith are people like you all who are joyful. Here is the personification of the phenomenon, in this poem I wrote(near the end of myself)In Favor of a Cloud. I thought this was so great and tragic. Now-the andecdote to this pitiful thing? A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Google it, print it out and surrender to joy!

    The wisdom of a melancholy mood,
    Loses its brilliance—subdued
    By an ordinary attitude
    Like shadows lost to sun’s bright light
    Are ideas given birth in the solitude of night.

    What becomes of the shapes that were there,
    Of thoughts that run from morning’s glare?
    Of Poe’s raven nightmare—
    Not betrayed for sanity or cheer the following day
    Though its tone o’r wrought with shadow’s dark gray.

    Notions pregnant with grandiose grow
    In unchartered fogs laden with greatness and woe.
    Impassioned scrawl of VanGogh—
    Though midnight’s brilliant strokes his canvas dressed
    Morning after letters bear news of persistent distress.

    How does greatness survive through the uninspired days
    Unnoticed for ages amid the world’s worn ways?
    Ever starved its due praise—
    Labors through the night and sometimes remains
    Stubbornly through ordinary’s cracks with creative pains.

    Is it courage that embraced the wildness and won’t set it free?
    Can those drawn into the fog choose not to be?
    The prize inside few can see—
    Not all can enter, nor can all outrun
    The wisdom of melancholy once it has begun.

  48. 98
    rebecca in etx says:

    Melissa – this is so timely. Just last night in the young adult class, we had a discussion on the recent study that found that 1 in 5 teens is addicted to prescription drugs. We discussed many possible explanations for this and one that we camped on was that many people are very dramatic – their trouble is worse than anyone else’s, EVER. This fits right into this discussion on our ‘culture of sorrows’. I wonder at how this ‘culture of sorrow’ has influenced the dependence on prescription drugs – and not that they are not necessary in certain situations/people, because I know that they are. But, how has this idea that sorrow is cool contributed to an obsession with medication – legal, illegal, over-the-counter to prescription?

    I also completely agree with the other ladies who have commented that as a mom they bought into this thinking. I have been guilty of the same myself, and like so many others here, I realized that I don’t need to complain about my children – they are great!! Do I still need work in this area? MOST DEFINITELY!!! Just the other day I caught myself telling my mom “Good luck” when she was taking my kids for the day. I am pretty sure that falls under the ‘useless’ communication of Eph. 4:29.

    My husband has a rule that he will not watch dramas. Needless to say, we have not watched a lot of new releases lately (he is not a rom-com fan either)!!! As you said, sorrow and sadness seem to be the new cool in Hollywood.

    Thank you so much for posting this. Your words about someone writing something you were thinking but could not articulate, are appropriate for this post as well. Have a blessed, and by that I mean HAPPY, day 🙂

  49. 99
    Melody Reid says:

    This is so true! I see this every day in our culture. What a revelation.

  50. 100
    Wendy says:

    I totally agree with this! It is so true with all of my family and friends. I have always noticed when I talk to friends and even family on the phone if I am in a wonderful mood and sharing great things that are happening in my life, they seem annoyed. On the other hand, if I am having issues or whining about something in my life, the conversation soars. I think people believe if you have everything going for you then what place do they serve in your life. You don’t need their opinion or ideas on how to get through happiness.

    • 100.1

      >if I am in a wonderful mood and sharing great things that are happening in my life, they seem annoyed.

      >I think people believe if you have everything going for you then what place do they serve in your life. You don’t need their opinion or ideas on how to get through happiness.

      Or they might be envious or jealous of your good fortune.

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