It is ironic to me that in a season where God has me on a joy journey I would feel so much sadness. Grieving another loss of community, a loss of professional identity, the tumultuous transition for two teenagers to our new normal, the impacts of moving on our marriage and family overall, and perhaps even some emotional shifts relative to my age, I think I’ve been sad more than I’ve been happy over the last 5 months. Did God call me to joy last summer because He knew what sorrow lay ahead for me? Or is the sorrow an intrinsic part of the joy journey? I’ve wondered about joy and sadness. Are they partners or nemeses? Playmates or enemies?
Maybe it’s just like God to make growth so multi-dimensional.
Pacifiers and jolly-jumpers and 22-minute kids’ videos to buy a little time for a shower seem a thing of the distant past to me now, though they seemed to occupy so much space and attention for those younger parent years. (We used to relate the length of car rides to the length of VeggieTales videos to help our children have some perspective on just how much longer we would be driving.)
All three of my incredible kids are now full fledged teenagers, and understand things much more complex than Bob and Larry, but we still enjoy being drawn in to the magic of the occasional animated movie from time to time. The ones that rise to the top of the list are those like “Megamind” with good character development and enough quick, intelligent banter to maintain parents’ intrigue while still entertaining youngsters. You know the kind: the ones that make an awesome family movie night, but for which you might grab a bowl of popcorn, even when there aren’t children in the room.
One such movie is Pixar’s “Inside Out”, released in 2015. It tells the tale of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley whose parents embark on a new family adventure, moving them from the Midwest to the West Coast. In the creative forefront of this film are characters built around five key emotions that make Riley tick: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Since she is young, her emotions are still relatively simplistic. These emotions essentially run Riley’s control center, and we get to be privy to what’s going on on the inside as they interact. It doesn’t go unnoticed to me that Riley’s adventure with joy and sadness surrounds a huge life transition…
While I thoroughly enjoyed this movie for its entertainment value alone, as I’ve considered joy-journeying, I’ve thought more about the ideas this movie represents. Movies have the inherent ability to teach us and form our thinking (perhaps without us realizing it), so what does this popular movie teach us about joy? And does Scripture support or negate these ideas? I’ve pulled out four key points.
Joy and happiness are synonymous
It was interesting to me that the pleasant emotion depicted in this movie was dubbed “joy”, rather than “happiness”. Joy is a perky, optimistic little character, bent on keeping Riley happy at all times. She is cheerful and chipper, and intent on her mission to permeate Riley’s present days and past memories with happiness. Honestly, at first I recoiled a little bit that this emotion was named Joy. Then I had to question myself why I felt that way.
Christians often separate the words joy and happiness. Happiness is considered a fleeting emotion, entirely dependent on situations that surround us. It is what we feel when things go well, and we are secure. But, precariously balanced on those good circumstances, happiness is easily dampened when situations take a turn for the worse. Juxtaposed against that is joy. Joy is thought not to be an emotion, but that which abides within us as unshakeable confidence as it is tethered to our hope in Christ.
I believe wholeheartedly that Scripture teaches us that our joy is tethered to our hope in Christ (Romans 15:13; 1 Peter 1:8-9). I can follow it through to see that joy can be steadfast, even when pleasant emotions are compromised by trial (James 1:2-3; Phil. 1:12-20). But I can’t hold fast to the idea that joy and happiness are unrelated or opposites of each other. There are too many places in Scripture where “joy” and “happiness” are tied closely together:
Jeremiah 31:13 I will turn their mourning into joy . . . and bring happiness out of grief.
Psalm 92:4 You, O Lord, have made me happy by your work. I will sing for joy because of what you have done.
Psalm 68:3 But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.
The separation of joy and happiness is artificial at best, a pendulum swing in response to the fear of searching for happiness in ungodly things, maybe. God is the Source of happiness to all people. He has imprinted each person with longing for joy, so we’ll search for Him and find our happiness there.
As incarnated beings, our faith permeates us intellectually, spiritually, physically and emotionally. And to the believer, it is God’s joy that permeates us, strengthening us for all we face in this world. I would hazard a guess that the people we each know who are the epitome of joy have something in common: they are generally very happy. How very drab and unfortunate it would be to live a life undergirded by hope in Christ, but to not experience it in our physical bodies and our emotions. How incomplete.
Riley’s world turned upside down. Her family’s new venture took her away from all she knew and loved. In addition to the deep loss of relocation, there are mis-haps along the way: lost belongings, a dilapidated new house, and the new school make Riley long for the comfort of familiar. The happenings that surround her threaten her joy, both her abiding sense of confidence and her happy, contended feelings.
Joy deepens with the acknowledgement and experience of sadness
Joy stays busy trying to guarantee that Riley doesn’t experience any sadness. She panics when “Sadness” accidentally touches a memory, turning it to a melancholy one. She does not want her girl to know anything of heartache, and tries to protect her from it at all times. Incidentally, it is partly Joy’s antics that set her and Sadness out on the difficult journey they face together through much of the movie. As they travel and problem solve together, Sadness sometimes expresses herself, and sometimes wants to quit, and Joy eventually begins to finally see her friend’s value.
Scripture tells us that people who sow in tears will reap in songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. (Psalm 126:5-6). It is as if the sorrow paves the way for joy to come. Instead of containing, avoiding, or ignoring it, experiencing sadness prepares us for the harvest of joy to follow. In Spurgeon’s sermon no 1027, he highlighted how precious holy sorrow is before God. He went on to clarify that this sorrow does not keep us from godly joy.
Poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” The wounds and rivulets of grief and sorrow become channels for God’s gracious joy to flow.
God meets us in our sorrow, allowing us to experience it, and He is faithful to nurture and grow tender joy. In fact, it is His joy that strengthens us in our trials (Neh. 8:10). Our weeping may last for a night, but shouts of rejoicing come in the morning.
Sadness is vital for self-awareness and the formation of relationships
Moving is just plain tough. There’s grief all wrapped up inside the change, and it’s not necessarily easy to untangle emotions that surround it. Riley’s first night in her new home feels so lonely. Her mom, in an effort to encourage her, commends Riley for keeping a happy face on throughout the process. Inadvertently, this discourages her daughter from acknowledging or sharing her sadness. In a different scene, when Riley is in a turmoil because Anger, Disgust and Fear are alone at the helm, Riley’s father snaps at her, once again invalidating Riley’s jumbled emotions.
It is important to validate emotions. Otherwise, confusion can create uncertainty about what is real and what isn’t. Poor Riley’s parents just wanted her to be happy, and didn’t realize they were denying the legitimacy of her sadness. She ended up running away because she did not know how to handle her chaotic feelings.
Thankfully, it is at this point that Sadness has her hero moment. She takes control, and her touch turns core memories blue. With sorrow permeating Riley’s core memories, she is finally able to fall apart and tell her parents all of the things she misses about home. Because Joy gave way to Sadness, Riley was able to become aware of her own feelings, and articulate them to her parents. Finally realizing what their daughter was going through, they validated her by listening and sharing their own feelings. Sadness strengthened their relationship.
Sadness is meant to be shared
Joy tried to confine Sadness. She sent her away to read mind manuals, and she drew a circle instructing poor Sadness not to step outside of it. But Sadness could not be confined. When Riley tried to hide her sadness from her parents, she created a barrier between her and them. Self-protection is natural, I think, but it keeps us from closeness in relationships that is so important. Rather than hiding our brokenness we need to share it with others. In her book The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp writes, “Withness breaks brokenness.”
Withness breaks brokenness. – Ann Voskamp
When Riley’s core memory turned sad, and she shared it with her parents, it actually brought them closer to her because they were with her, and could be empathetic.
Scripture says that those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted (Matt 5:4). Mourning is such an intense grief that there is no hiding it inside; it must come out; it must reach to others. Sadness needs to have permission to be touched, shared, and felt by those who can then become comforters. Jesus shared the bread and the cup, foreshadowing His broken body and shed blood. He gave them to His disciples to bring fully into themselves. We are to carry others’ brokenness with them.
Joy and Sadness
At the climax of Inside Out, Joy and Sadness were working together. Riley cried and smiled at the same time, creating a brand new core memory. It wasn’t just happy, and it wasn’t just sad…it was a multi-dimensional, much richer memory because Joy gave way to Sadness, and sadness paved the way for joy.
John 16:20 Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.
How about you?
Have you experienced joy giving way to sadness, and sadness paving the way to joy? Do you think sadness is a key player in the journey toward joy?
Comment below! I would love to hear your stories.