Litany of Sadness: A Holy Week Meditation


While I finished cooking dinner, my son quietly slipped into my office and sat at my desk with a single sheet of white paper in front of him.  A little while later, he emerged with a picture.  Climbing up into the breakfast nook, he brought his drawing close to me and laid it near my cutting board.  He had drawn a heart.  Not a red heart. Not a pink heart. But a black and blue and green heart.

“Tell me about your picture.”

He pointed to the blue.

“Are you sad, honey?”

A nod.

“Can you tell me what made you feel sad?”

A head shake.

Maybe at five years old, he didn’t have the words to tell me what made him sad.  Or maybe, like me, he couldn’t bear to speak it.  All afternoon I had fought back my own tears, swallowing the pain until I felt sick to my stomach.  How could I cry when I needed to be strong for him? When I needed to manage the afternoon chaos, get dinner on the table, and make it to bedtime so that I could finally share my litany of sadness with my husband?

There was a clear and present sadness.  Sadness that we live in a world in which kindergartners experience stress and anxiety at school; in which their closest friends leave school due to bullying and other issues; and in which five- and six-year-olds mimic the destructive words and actions that they have seen in their own homes.

Sadness that I realize my own complicity in the brokenness, that I overlooked a seemingly innocuous song in a funny movie—a song that my toddler and kindergartner now sing without understanding why the lyrics demean women.

Sadness that I cannot protect my child from the pain of this world.  Pain that is my fault and the world’s fault.

Sadness that I cannot fix it.  I don’t know how.

Lord, have mercy.

There was a past and present sadness.  Sadness that I have seen too much sexual sin among pastors.  Four pastors in three churches over two-and-a-half decades.

I have kept my distance from the #metoo and #churchtoo conversations.  Perhaps I have done so out of self-preservation. But the allegations against Bill Hybels and Willow Creek have been too much to bear, and all of the sadness has surfaced.

Not so long ago, I watched the church we attended nearly fall apart because of the senior pastor’s sin and the elders’ dispensations of cheap grace instead of restorative discipline.

Sadness comes when I think about the destruction wrought in that congregation.  Sadness multiplies when I think about Willow Creek—twenty times the size and a thousand times the influence. Whether or not the allegations are true, the sadness remains the same.

Lord, have mercy.

There was a present president sadness.  Sadness that I could not avoid on the TV monitor as we left the public library—a headline that read “Porn Star Sues President’s Attorney for Defamation.”  We had gone to the library to return a book, to find a new one, to play, and to escape momentarily from our sad, sad day.  But sadness found me there—too much sadness in one headline.  Who can bear to watch the news?

Lord, have mercy.

And that was my litany of sadness.  As I laid my head on my pillow, all I could pray was, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  That’s not a Holy Week prayer, is it?

Before the waves of sadness hit, I determined to enter into Holy Week.  Observing Lent had been so hard, I complained.  I hadn’t been able to attend the Ash Wednesday service and wouldn’t be able to attend the Good Friday one.  We didn’t have a Lenten sermon series.  I stuck with a Lenten Devotional for two days.  I failed at Lent when I probably needed it most, hence my resolve to make up for lost time during Holy Week.

As I read part of the Holy Week narrative and then sat in silence and stillness, I had no idea that, only hours later, I would be drowning in deep sadness.  

The world is too broken.  I want to throw up my hands.  What can I do?

In Visions of Vocation, Steven Garber raises the question “How can we know and still love the world?”  He wonders why we find ourselves implicated in the mess when all logic says we should turn and run away.  How can we press through the sadness when it threatens to overtake us?

Why do I keep my child enrolled in his elementary school where children are mean and his best friends are leaving? Why do I remain committed to this messy project called evangelicalism when many of its leaders make poor moral and political choices?  Why do I continue to reach out to millennials when they are leaving the church in droves?  Why do I keep equipping pastors and ministry leaders in a world that increasingly sees them as irrelevant?

Everything is so messed up.  Why shouldn’t I throw up my hands and run away?

Because Jesus didn’t.  He had every reason to but he didn’t.  My litany of sadness pales in comparison to his.  He wept over Jerusalem, overturned tables in the temple, was betrayed, mocked, denied, and sentenced to a gruesome death.  Instead of running away, he kept moving forward: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Her 12:2b-3).

Three days into Holy Week and I am weary.  I am tired.  I am reluctant to press through the sadness.  Why shouldn’t I throw up my hands and run away?

Because, in the week that he died, Jesus endured much worse because he knew that joy lay on the other side of pain.  And the hope of that joy for us and for others is why we labor in hard places among broken people.  Jesus’ love compels us to know this messed up world and still run to it instead of away from it.  Jesus’ love compels us to fight for the oppressed, serve the poor, and befriend the lonely.  His Holy Week litany of sadness reminds us that redemption is possible, and it can come through those with black and blue (and green) hearts.