What to Say to Yourself When You’re Sad

Jul 23, 2017

When you’re sad, it can seem impossible to believe it will ever get better. I had a bout of it the other day, and something I read really helped me get through it. I wrote about it to my newsletter subscribers that week, and I thought you might get something out of it too.

Here’s the letter from that week. If it’s helpful, consider subscribing. I bring you something new every Monday, always for free.

Hey friend,

We’re in Auburn, packing up our things after finally selling our house. We’re going through the process of deciding what to give away/throw away or pack and ship to Wyoming, and there’s an overlay of sadness to the process.

Two of our daughters, Kimber and Kalyn, and Kimber’s husband Bryce were here too, spending Father’s Day with us and providing invaluable assistance and precious family time.

We built our family in this house, a decision and then a vow to blend two bruised halves into one perfect whole. We’ve been through a lot under this roof, and the ghosts of all those memories float around like dandelions in the Alabama breeze.

I walk through the house: here’s the vanity where Lisa has sat a thousand times and I’ve watched her get ready, flawless as God made her but thinking she needs a little makeup anyway; here’s the desk where I sat and started this newsletter, wrote No Place to Hide and two novels you’ll never get to read; here’s the staircase where our son Mitch in socked feet managed to fall UP as he was running; and here’s the spot I was standing in on a Tuesday night one August when the phone rang and I heard that he was dead.

Downstairs is the office, where I was sitting when I received the email confirming I’d been offered the job to move to Wyoming. And two years later, we’re back in Auburn packing up all those boxes, taped tight full of dishes and pants and a little extra weight with memories inside each one.

I can’t walk through the house without feeling all of it, the happy times and the warmth of the home Lisa made with every amazing meal she cooked. We thought we were just eating, but she knew we were making a family.

And I can’t walk through it without remembering those August and September days when we were reeling, struggling just to breathe and move in the aftermath of losing a son.

But life doesn’t stop when you lose someone, although it sure feels like it must and should. And wrapped up in the memory of those dark days is a clear recollection of a conversation Lisa and I had when we both remembered that we had jobs and a practice and kids and employees and patients to think about.

We had to go back to work. It seemed impossible.

About that time, I received a devotional email from John Piper, one of only three things I read every single day.

The title of that day’s devotional was “Talk to Your Tears.” Here’s a link if you want to read it.

Piper shared this verse, Psalm 126:5-6

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest.

This is a funny passage. At first I thought it was saying that if you sow (plant) tears, God would turn them into a harvest of joy. But that’s not it.

It’s a lesson in reality:

We were wrecked, crushed, poured out. But we were also self-employed. People were counting on us. There was work to be done; a crop to be planted of things the work done during those sad days would do for us.

And the verse is true.

We wept in between patients. I called Lisa and we cried and consoled each other in between surgeries I performed. We took Kalyn to school and then cried all the way to the office.

And during that time, we weren’t thinking about paying bills or taxes or tithing or investments. We were just sowing and crying.

But then, when the long night of grief began to wane enough to allow us to believe that someday hope would again dawn, we had a realization. It wasn’t an epiphany, just a slow awakening to the truth that our business had survived. Our marriage had survived. Our bills had been paid.

And it brought us joy when we stumbled onto the truth of the psalm and we gave thanks for the harvest.

So here’s what I’m thinking of for you today:

When you’re sad, when life is crushing you in one of the many ways that it can, don’t sit and wallow and miss the time of planting. Because you’ll soon realize, as we did, that you’re going to need that harvest down the road.

Just talk to your tears, and keep working.

As Piper wrote: “Then say, on the basis of God’s word, “Tears, I know that you will not stay forever. The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing. So go ahead and flow if you must. But I believe (I do not yet see it or feel it fully) — I believe that the simple work of my sowing will bring sheaves of harvest. And your tears will be turned to joy.””

We’re packing and remembering and smiling and (sometimes) crying a little. But we’re grateful for the ten years we lived in this house and in Auburn, and for the friends we may move away from but who will never be distant.

I’m also grateful for you.

I pray that when you’re having a hard time, you’ll sow your seeds anyway, because I’ve been through the worst and I promise you, if you hang on, there will come better days. And you will be so thankful for the harvest that your heart will sing a hymn of praise to your Creator and you’ll say, “Thank you for giving me the strength to plant my work even while my tears flowed.”

I’ve found that all of God’s promises come true, even the ones that at times see too hard to believe. But start taking them literally and, like we did, you’ll eventually be grateful you believed them

And start today. It’ll help, I promise.

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