What Our Sadness Teaches Us About Our Choices

“Why are you sad?” How would we answer this question at any given moment? We would most likely blame our sadness on some unfavorable past, present, or imminent experiences or conditions. But we hardly examine how our present choices contribute to our sadness.   

Fr. John Hardon SJ defined sadness as pain caused by the awareness of some personally experienced evil. This implies that our sadness depends on what we experience in life, how we interpret them as evil, and how we correspondingly respond to them as such. In short, the choices that we freely and repeatedly make determine our happiness more than our conditions or experiences in life. Though we cannot control these experiences, we can surely choose how we interpret and respond to them.

The rich young man in Mk 10:17-30 came to Jesus with so much happiness, excitement, energy and enthusiasm. He is happy because he is making good choices in life, i.e. the choices that God wants him to make for his own happiness—to live according to all the commandments. Speaking of the commandments, he said, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

Despite his fidelity to the commandments, he wants more. He actually wants the fullness of happiness with God forever. “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Little does he realize He is speaking with the God-man, the One who alone inspires in us true happiness and can make us truly happy now and forever with Him in heaven.

The man’s happiness changes to sadness when he stopped making the good choices that the God-man was lovingly asking him to make at that precise moment for his own continued happiness, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…then come, follow me.” He held on to his own ideas and desires and refused to choose what God chose for him.

Sadness entered his heart and overcame him the moment he chose to ignore Jesus’ invitation to him. He lost his happiness by choosing to keep his property and to walk away from Jesus. “He went away sad.” He still had everything—wealth, youth, beauty, virtues, etc., – but he was now sad because he stopped making good choices, the choices that love for God demanded of him. He allowed his desire for the perfect happiness of eternal life to be submerged by his desire to keep his wealth and security.

Let us remind ourselves that God has put that desire for happiness in our hearts and He alone can fulfill that desire and make us truly happy now and forever with Him in heaven, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible with God.” We just cannot find true and lasting happiness apart from Jesus and His choices for us at each moment.

Jesus does not want us to be sad about anything, not even because of our conditions and situations in this life. He wants us to be truly happy more than we even desire it. This is why He became one like us, shared in all our experiences, died on the cross and rose from the dead. He did all this to merit for us all that we need to find true and lasting happiness by making the same choices that He made out of love for the Father.  

We can never be truly and forever happy only from the things that we have or experience in this life. The more we get and experience these good things, the more we want. Like the rich young man, we can have every desirable good thing and still be hopelessly sad. The good news is that, no matter our experiences in this life, Jesus surely gives us what we need to be truly and forever happy. We only have to make use of all these things to make godly choices always.

Here are some good choices we can make in all experiences in life for our own continued happiness in this world and in the next.  

Chose to keep all God’s commandments always. This is Jesus’ first requirement for the young man, “You know the commandments.” We cannot find true happiness when we choose to live in sin, justifying ourselves, compromising on God’s standards, re-interpreting and breaking the commandments, and deceiving ourselves that the commandments are not absolute. Our sadness is usually a divine invitation to deeper conversion and fidelity to the commandments.

Choose to pray to God all the time. King Solomon said, “I prayed, and prudence was given to me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”(Wis 7:7) When we choose to pray always, we see God’s choice for us at each moment. We begin to see things more as God sees them, valuing them all in the light of eternity and heavenly glory. This is how St. Paul could say such things as, “I consider that the sufferings of this present are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18) Sadness begins to fade when our prayer brings us to value things and events as God does. We must never choose anything without first praying and asking, “Lord, let me see your choice for me.”

Choose to commit our life to Jesus Christ as His disciples. Jesus will give us light to make godly choices as we chose to follow Him and fulfill His will always, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(Jn 8:12) How can sadness prevail when we have full access to the light and hope of Jesus?

Choose to listen attentively to God’s words. God reveals to us our true hearts and transform them with His words, “The word of God is living and effective…, able to discern reflections and thoughts of our hearts.”(Heb 4:12) The word of God distills the darkness of sadness when we listen to it with the heart of Mary, “She pondered all these things in her heart.”(Lk 2:19)

Choose to let go of negative things that kill and wound love in our hearts. Our sadness worsens and lingers when we hold on to things like resentments, regrets, hatreds, unforgiveness, etc. In the words of St. John, “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. ” (1Jn 2:11) Imagine the darkness and blindness in the hearts of those who hate our unborn innocent brothers and sisters to the point of denying them a chance at life!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are so many things that can make us sad in our world today. All the pain, suffering, fear, and death can really make us feel sad. It is easy to become depressed at the state of the Church, our own brokenness, the sufferings of our loved ones and the prospect of evil things to come in the future.

Let us remember that God does not want us to be sad because of these things. Jesus wants to see in us the joyful hope that we have as His beloved children on our journey back to Him in heaven. He desires us to have a happiness that is interior and independent of our conditions and experiences.

The Lord Jesus offers us in this Eucharist the enlightenment we need to share in His own perspective in all things so that we can properly evaluate the things that we perceive as evil and causing our sadness. He also offers us all the graces that we need to always make good choices in these moments. We must not simply wait for more favorable conditions and experiences in our life for us to be happy! This is the time and moment for true happiness as willed by God.

May we faithfully use the graces and enlightenment of this Eucharist to make good choices always, i.e., God’s choices, the choices that God inspires in us at each moment of our lives. This is how we can overcome sadness and become truly happy now and eternally happy with Him in heaven.  

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Photo by Robert Guss on Unsplash

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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