How to deal with sadness, guided by St. Thomas Aquinas
The saints can guide us in dealing with difficult emotions and turning to God in moments of distress.
“I realized that we can’t go to Mass leaving our anger or sadness out in front of the church. The Lord asks us to come to Him with our whole being,” says Edwige Billot, a married mother of three.
She’s been working for 10 years in human resources, and earlier this year she published a book in French on getting guidance from the saints on how to handle our emotions (“Et si les saints nous coachaient sur nos émotions?”).
Billot is passionate about both human psychology and the testimonies of the saints. She’s convinced that the saints have grasped the extent to which God wishes to reach us at the very heart of our emotions.
Our emotions and our relationship with God are, she says, two facets of life that can be unified. We shouldn’t ignore our emotions (physiological reactions of our body to an event). We should welcome them, understand them, and help them go in the right direction.
Emotions can make us stumble. But the saints show us that emotions also can allow us to grow, to move forward and to make good decisions.
Sadness and the danger of despair
St. Thomas Aquinas defines sadness as “the pain of the soul.” The danger of sadness is that we may indulge in it indefinitely and sink into despair. This is the “excessive sorrow” St. Paul warns against (2 Cor 2:7). That state ultimately distances us from God, who is the source of hope.
St. Thomas points out the value of exterior expressions of sorrow—”tears and groans”—as a means of assuaging it. Indeed, for the author of the Summa Theologica, a psychologist before his time,
“a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened.” (I-II q. 38 a. 2).
Melancholy is accentuated if we do not accept our sadness. Let’s allow ourselves to cry and to talk about our sorrow. This will help us avoid falling into the trap of despair.
Pope Francis strongly encourages this, saying, “Some realities of life are only visible once our eyes have been cleansed by tears. I enjoin you all to ask yourselves: Have I learned to cry?”
Crying is also a way of placing our sadness in God’s hands. It allows us to be comforted by the One who is the source of all consolation: