News travels awfully fast on this island so you might have heard that my grandma passed away a few weeks ago. Her funeral happened six months -- to the day -- before the wedding date my fiance and I just selected.
I share this because I know I often keep it pithy when I talk about my faith. Yet sadness and grief are a part of life as well, and I wouldn't want to give the false impression that faith has left me immune to those feelings.
There was a time when I thought it was supposed to. As a young adult I had lived and taught in Central America after college for two years and found the transition back home to the U.S. to be hard. I missed my friends, I missed my students and I felt out of sorts to be back in the First World when I knew my former students were not getting enough to eat. I was sad to leave, sad about the inequality I now knew the world held and sad that this part of my life was over.
Then I felt bad for being sad. After all, I had just been a Christian missionary. I was newly aware of how blessed my life was with access to hot running water and a drive-thru Starbucks. Plus, I knew Jesus loved me, and shouldn't this provide a steady stream of happiness, enough to combat the slump that comes from a bad day or a change of plans?
Never miss a local story.
I shared this struggle with a pastor, expecting to be admonished. I figured that somewhere along the way I had missed learning that secret formula that kept Christians happy through the hard times.
"Alison," he began, "you know it's OK that you're sad, right?"
"Uh ..." The truth was, no, I didn't think so.
"You miss people because you love them, and you wish you were still with them. That's OK. It won't get better overnight, but it will. In the meantime, being sad doesn't mean you don't have faith. It means you're not a robot."
For some reason, this had not occurred to me until he pointed it out. Feelings -- especially the less comfortable ones like sadness or grief -- happen to everyone. It's part of being human.
My faith doesn't mean I won't feel sad or experience trouble. In fact, Christ assured us that "in the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world" (John 16:33).
Years later, I'm experiencing another period of tremendous sadness as I process the loss of my grandma and realize she won't be sitting in her usual spot in church when I get married. Yet I know this sadness doesn't mean God has abandoned me or that I've somehow failed in my faith.
When my sister and I attended Mass a few weeks ago, the Gospel was taken from John 11 -- the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Before Christ called Lazarus out of the tomb and brought him back to life, we read that he encountered his sisters Mary and Martha who both greeted him with the plea, "Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21, 11:33).
Then we read "and Jesus wept" (John 11:35). God, who became man, experienced sadness. Knowing this has given me comfort and assured me that sadness doesn't mean God has abandoned me, but that he knows how I feel and walks beside me through prayer, Scripture and the support of community.
Faith doesn't prevent sadness, but leaning into faith in the hard times reminds me I'm not alone.