Holy Sadness

February 18, 2008, 4:05 pm; posted by
Filed under Articles, Featured, Mike J  | 3 Comments

“There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives…even in the most happy moments of our existence, we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is the fear of jealousy . . . In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance . . . in all forms of light, there is surrounding darkness.” ~ Nouwen

I read an article in Newsweek recently called “Happiness: Enough Already.” (Find it here.) Its point was that in modern times, we tend to view sadness as a condition to be corrected by therapy and/or medication. The author argued that while there of course are times when a person’s sadness overtakes them and should be managed by medicine, sometimes people are just sad naturally and it is a normal part of life.

I think Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic devotional writer, would agree. Perhaps he was just melancholy, but I think he’s on to something. Even in our brightest moments of joy, we can feel sad that the joy is fleeting, not here forever. Each embrace makes us realize all of life is not an embrace; each friendship makes us realize that there is a measure of distance between us and others. Essentially, each happiness reminds us that not all of life is happy.

Are these just the musings of a depressed individual? I don’t think so. I think this is someone who has a holy dissatisfaction with life. Each human joy brings with it a reminder that we do not yet know complete joy. All human intimacies, no matter how rare and delightful, remind us that we were created “naked and unashamed,” totally vulnerable with each other, until sin fractured our intimacy and left us alone. Each human joy reminds us that we have not yet arrived at the fullness of joy.

Nouwen’s ever-present sadness marks a man who is simply longing for his home. May such a holy sadness accompany us — not so we can mope around this world, but so that we can live all of life with the awareness that better things await.


3 Comments to “Holy Sadness”

  1. Rodney Olsen on February 18th, 2008 9:08 pm

    A lot of people would be a lot happier if only they realised that life isn’t about being happy all the time.

  2. Steve on February 19th, 2008 4:49 pm


    “I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated — that, in a way, life is overrated. We have lost, somehow, a sense of mystery — about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role. Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one. We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such — unhappiness.

    “The reason: If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness — if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing.”

  3. Erin on February 19th, 2008 4:41 pm

    Oh, there were so many moments reading Kierkegaard where I thought, “what is this guy’s problem? Doesn’t he WANT to be happy?” But I think that happiness, in many ways, can be an idol. Sadness, or perhaps just melancholy, doesn’t have to be this thing to be avoided at all costs because we don’t want psychological stress.

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