Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

“Now we’re talking about celebration. Celebration when you think you’re calling the shots? Easy. Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration.”

Shauna Niequist

Whenever I give God a timeline, He ignores it.

Rude, really.

A timeline for a relationship to start, or for clarity for the future to come upon me, or, more recently, a timeline for the sorrow to stop.

It’s crazy, but as I think through my four years of college, I realize that, essentially, I have been sad for most of them. Not flung on my bed, can’t face the day, cry at the drop of a coin sad. (Although, sometimes, that has definitely been me). Instead, more of a dull ache kind of sad, the kind that takes residency below your belly button and can be ignored most of the time, until the night was short or the test was long or my feelings were hurt in one way or another.

And in those moments, I realize just how prone to sadness I have been.

My freshman year, I was nothing close to that. Wildly energetic, blindly optimistic. Frankly, annoying, I’m sure. Life was my closest ally, my dearest friend. It had my back, and hadn’t let me down. I came into college off of a very unique and favorable high school experience. I loved my days in high school and flourished off of my naturally effervescent personality. No, I didn’t have everything I wanted, but I had happiness, and I didn’t realize at the time how futile it was.

I came into my college years thinking I had everything figured out, that the person I was as I moved into my dorm room as an 18 year old was the person I would be for the rest of my life. Happy, carefree.

Immature.

Shallow.

I loved God, but I didn’t really listen to Him. My faith consisted of me giving God timelines and thanking Him for all the good in my life. I never thought I would ever be a sufferer, never imagined I would care much for the verses that spoke about God lifting us out the darkness and being our very strength.

And yet as time went on, things started to not come together for me. My little freshman heart had been hurt pretty badly, I didn’t make it onto teams that mattered to me. I accepted a position that isolated me from my friends, living with girls I didn’t know yet. And about halfway through my sophomore year, I began to feel this strange thing:

sadness.

Not that I had never been sad before, but I had never been that sad. I began to walk through a season (that, honestly, has lasted 2 1/2 years) of anxiety and deep doubts in the God and world that I trusted to keep me happy at all times.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I would cry randomly, and want to be left alone. There were days I had no ambition to get out of bed. Times where I would have to swallow panic in order to make it through a conversation.

I didn’t realize how much of my identity I put into my personality. Happy, crazy Maddie. Fun Maddie. Energetic Maddie. There have been many times during college I have been none of those things.

So many days where I have been sad Maddie. Nervous Maddie. Emotional Maddie. Deep Maddie. Lonely Maddie.

Can I be her, too?

 

I gave God a timeline when I began senior year. I told Him, I’m tired of being sad. It’s really not for me, after all, is it? I don’t wear it well. It’s not flattering. 

I don’t like it, God. Take it back. 

I decided that it was time for God to begin handing me all the things He has held back.

Alright God, I’ve lived your plan in college. At least, pretty well. Now it’s time for my dream job. 

And dream boy. 

And please, this next stage of life… don’t make it a sad one. 

 

It has taken me a long time to realize that sadness is a blessing. It’s an emotion, like any other, and it needs to be in our lives. It is exactly our sorrow that brings us to the Lord. It is in our sadness that we get to learn true Joy.

As I read through 2 Corinthians yesterday, I stumbled upon a verse.

We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:9-10

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

That’s what I want, I realized.

I was so deeply under the lie that sadness was opposed to godliness, or that being sad made me unstable, undesirable, unusable by God. I though that in order to have Joy in this life I had to first become happy again, clothe myself once again in that skin from long ago.

And it’s just not true.

Though I am not sad at all times, I am learning it is beautiful to be sad at the right times. It is in that sorrow that I approach God in a new way. I am finding that our emotions matter so much less than I gave them credit for.

It is one thing to have joy when you’re happy, but a completely new, beautiful, earth-shaking reality to have Joy when sorrow fills your life.

But that’s the gift of grace, and I am ridiculously thankful for it.

Who knows what post-college life will look like for me? There may be a million things that begin to go my way, and if so, I will praise God for His gifts. But maybe not. I may have a few more years of sorrow ahead of me, more crying and “Why God?”-ing. More raw prayers and vulnerable conversations with those closest to me. More seeing God in brand new ways.

And you know what? That really doesn’t sound too bad.

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