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can sunshine live in valleys of sorrow?

by Shawni

I learn so much from blog readers. I love thinking about where people are coming from, especially those who have such different views than I do. I have learned so much from trying to put myself in the shoes of others, trying to see things from different perspectives. There are all kinds of things that rumble around in my brain and my heart long after they are said here that teach me.

One of those things I still think about was a while back. I wish I could remember which post and where (sometimes I’m the worst at responding to comments, but I do read them all!) Anyway, someone was talking about how in my church it seems like everyone tries to brush over sadness and sorrows. That there seems to be some unwritten rule that you should just look for the good in hard things rather than just accepting the sadness. Does anyone remember where that was? If so let me know. But I have been thinking about that a lot.

Specifically lately because it seems there are so many “valleys of sorrow” in the world right now.

So many people right in my little corner of the world to mourn with.

And because of those comments from way back when, talking about how I (or the counsel in my church) sometimes tend to brush over the sad, I wonder, if that is true, (and I think it is to a certain extent), is it ok to look for “sunshine” in the sorrows? Is it ok to look for the silver linings? If I do that, why do I do it?

Of course, the answer to that is that it’s really up to the person going through the valleys.

art by Caitlin Connolley, I love her!

We will never understand the gravity of the sea of sorrow someone else is swimming in until we are there ourselves.

Some of us want to stay.

Some of us must stay, there is such depth and gravity that it takes a hold of us and becomes part of who we are. There are parts of that darkness that embed themselves in our hearts and spread, sometimes slowly, sometimes like wild fire. Sometimes they are there for good. And never, ever go away.

But does that darkness really have the potential to make us better? Is it true that that darkness has power to make us stronger? “The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees”? Is that just rhetoric to make us feel better when we are in the midst of the valleys of sorrow?

I love the quote from Hellen Keller that says, “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

There was a thought shared in a church meeting today about afflictions. (There are so many scriptures about afflictions…Psalms 34:19 “many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all,” Hosea 5:15 “in their affliction they will seek me early,” 2 Nephi 2:2 “God shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” just to name a few.)

But the thought today was about that last one…consecrating our afflictions rather than praying them away. Trying to turn them over and over again, wondering how they are changing us. Letting them change us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is caitlinconnolly-a-sinner-like-me-e1379347720888.jpg
“A Sinner Like Me” by Caitlin Connolly

I think that’s such a beautiful thought. Beauty for Ashes.

Which reminded me of another story shared in church a little while ago from The Hiding Place (which, embarrassingly I have not read, but know I should…it’s sitting on my desk waiting patiently for me…and after this story I am more determined to read it). It is a story of the two sisters, Corrie and Betsie, who are suffering mightily in a concentration camp, and find that the straw they have been sleeping on has been infested with fleas.

Corrie asks her sister Betsie how they can live in such a place, to which her sister reminds her of a scripture they had recently read in first Thessalonians: “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”

Corrie is horrified, how in the world can they find “thanks” for an infestation of fleas in the midst of their sorrows? Here’s a little part of the story because it’s good:

“‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

“‘Such as?’ I said.

“‘Such as being assigned here together.’

“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’

She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”

But it turns out that one night they made the realization that the very fleas Corrie could not find a reason to be grateful for were the reason they had discovered so much freedom in their particular barrack. That they found they could speak quietly of religion. That they could smuggle their Bible and escape the rigid surveillance that was going on in much of the rest of the camp. The reason? The guards knew it was “crawling with fleas” and did not visit often.

I think that is such a beautiful story of finding beauty for ashes in the most poignant way.

I took notes from some quotes I loved from the This Is Us season premier:

“You were born out of tragedy. Multiple tragedies. All that loss. All that sadness. Look right here in this room. Look what you did with all of that. Do you see it?”

“This pain is not forever. This moment in time is not forever. Nothing is forever, except us.”

Yes, some valleys of sorrow last a long, long time. Some never seem to go away. And sometimes sitting with our sorrows is what teaches us the most. I am grateful I have been taught to seek out the lessons in the darkness.

They are there for the taking if we look.

I love that the “Heavens” WILL “weep with us” (the title of this painting below), if we let them in.

Caitlin Connolly

I don’t pretend to know and understand the depth of the myriads of hardships people are going through. I don’t even understand the depths of the things I’m dealing with myself. But I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to mourn with those who mourn to the best of our abilities. To sit with others in their sorrow. For those who have been willing to sit with me in mine.

I’m thankful that we can in some way pave the way for others to go through the trials that come when we have experienced part of those trials ourselves. I”m thankful for those who have gone before me who have braved unknown valleys and come back to show me the way. I’m thankful that when those things hit the hardest and the deepest, I am able to reach Up, like Betsie in The Hiding Place, and look for the beauty amidst the ashes.

Just some thoughts for a Monday morning. I’d love to hear yours if you have some to add.

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30 comments

Kim January 11, 2021 - 7:42 am

“The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend towards cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which makes compassion possible.” – Francis Weller

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KS January 11, 2021 - 5:26 pm

Thank you SO incredibly much for sharing this powerful quote. I am a children’s grief counselor and I have never heard of or read this quote before!!! I can’t wait to share it with my colleagues. Thank you, so much. Sending gent

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KS January 11, 2021 - 5:27 pm

*sending gentleness!

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Kim January 11, 2021 - 6:18 pm

You are welcome!

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 8:28 pm

Oh I love this so much. I especially love the thought of being “stretched large” by grief and gratitude. Thank you so very much for sharing!
xoxo

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Sarah January 11, 2021 - 7:47 am

When I have gone through some of the toughest times in my life, I let myself be sad but I also look for the “sunshine in the valley.” Allowing myself to be sad helps me have empathy for others going through their tough time, even if it isn’t anything like mine, and looking for the sunshine helps me get through those tough times and focus on what good God will have come from my sorrows.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 8:30 pm

I love this, Sarah. There is such a balance to be found, and it is so different for each person and each circumstance.

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Annie January 11, 2021 - 8:09 am

Twenty three years ago, my brother and I agreed to co-manage a family trust. It had ups and downs, entirely due to circumstances out of our control. Four years ago, two of our sisters sued us for mismanagement. Thankfully, last fall a judge finally stated that he could find no mismanagement. A very sad period filled with emotional and financial stress. I am a glass-half-full person. I feel you can find something good in a situation or not and I choose the former. I don’t think it is a church-based outlook, though I think religion often promulgates certain positions. Rather, I think a person’s basic nature dictates how he/she approaches life. I had 6 brothers and sisters. I may have been the only up-beat thinker in the group, yet we were all raised with the same parents and with the same religious teachings. Having said all that, I completely agree that you have to walk in another person’s moccasins before you can understand their troubles. And I don’t think it is entirely possible to do that, although we must always try to do that. As bad as my situation was, I know other people have much worse situations, death of a loved one, chronic illness, homelessness, joblessness, I could go on. I love reading your blog. Always thoughtful.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 8:36 pm

So much to think about. Thank you for sharing your experience with your family…I am so sorry it sounds like it has been quite a journey. I so agree that we all just come with such different approaches and basic natures. It is so interesting to try to figure out how to try to understand each other from such different vantage points even from the very same family. My friend and I had a deep discussion about this this week, we are all part of different families with different personalities, and we are raising children with such different personalities, which really can be tricky. It sounds like from your comment that the situation “was” bad, I’m hoping it is better now, and if so, it’s most likely because you worked to see things from their perspectives.
xoxo

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Annie January 12, 2021 - 11:41 am

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It’s a saga and not everybody is happy with it but I’ve put it behind me.

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Lisa Hall January 11, 2021 - 10:18 am

That was a beautiful blog! Thank you so much for sharing with us and “keeping it real”. I’m always so grateful for your posts.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 8:48 pm

xoxo

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Nicole Taylor January 11, 2021 - 11:04 am

So beautiful. You have such openess and grace for wherever a person is at. I’ve been reading Dr. edith Egers books lately. She is also a Holocaust survivor, who went on to help trauma victims. She also did such a beautiful job of acknowledging pain, and the gift that pain can bring. My favorite quotes of hers, “there is no heirachy of pain”. Meaning that hers is not worse or more important than someone elses. And something along the lines of, hope is knowing that suffering won’t last forever and having curiosity about the future.
https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-choice-escape-your-past-and-embrace-the-possible_edith-eger/11685047/item/30201970/?mkwid=%7cdm&pcrid=448932070482&pkw=&pmt=&slid=&plc=&pgrid=104532441516&ptaid=pla-957656784437&gclid=CjwKCAiAi_D_BRApEiwASslbJ3Rqyi8Z_hz8XGX84ZuReCqL7mN16X5yfUOb0M7khVeXdYfx_OacGhoChGEQAvD_BwE#idiq=30201970&edition=11253114

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 8:57 pm

Thank you for sharing this, I loved that you mentioned “the gift that pain can bring,” and yes, “there is no hierarchy of pain” is such a true statement. We are all experiencing such different and unique levels of pain and we have to give each other grace and also hold spaces for each other as we wade through our own valleys of sorrow.

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Christine January 11, 2021 - 12:01 pm

I’ve been listening to a series of lectures that are so good, called ‘Becoming Spiritually Centered’ by James Cox. In the lectures, he explains that every hardship, rejection, or adversity we face in life is part of the curriculum or purpose of life. We can either use that hardship to grow, or fight against it. The first is easier and brings more solutions/peace, the second usually brings an increase of problems. I’ve really been benefiting from listening to these lectures, and I can feel my anxiety decreasing. I don’t think we should ever pretend to be happy, but knowing there’s a purpose for it makes life much more liveable.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 9:01 pm

Love these thoughts, and I’ll have to look into those lectures. And your last line is so right on.
xoxo

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Jessica Nelson January 11, 2021 - 1:33 pm

Thank you! I enjoy reading your blogs but the deeper thoughts really help me dig in deeper. This is beautiful.

I can absolutely see where our religion, or individuals tell us to find the silver lining during dark times. I can also see where it is painful to be told, in the dark moments, to look for the silver lining. I have felt that frustration myself. But I have learned, for me, that the frustration comes because I feel unseen or unheard IN that pain and frustration. It’s also because I can’t see clearly, yet. Your example from the Hiding Place is perfect. It is my absolute favorite book (outside of scripture). Corrie couldn’t see because she couldn’t fathom there being beauty in fleas. It ties in the absolute horror and reality of the Holocaust (humanity) and the “silver lining” of the Savior and having “eyes to see” (gratitude) that He is there. Even in the horror, even in the barren wasteland – He is the manna from Heaven during our starvation. None who truly turn to him will feel unseen or unheard in our pain. He knew the fleas would allow miracles. It was an ugly reality, but a beautiful one if you choose to see it.

The paradox here is you often have to get to the horrific “starving” part in order to deeply see, experience, and and value the manna.

I honestly have come to see those dark, ugly, horrific times as evidence that He is about to do His greatest work. That He wants us to turn to Him so He can show us His majesty and power. If we have food, manna is nothing. If we can swim, a life guard is not so valuable. You get the point. It is when I have completely failed. When I have exhausted everything I have, am figuratively drowning – or taking up the cross, if you will – that is when He is most “there “. He is close by, waiting for me to reach for Him. That is when He shows up to help us carry the cross we are called to bear. There is great depth to that. It is ugly and full of pain and it is heavy – yes. All of it. But the silver linings can be most present then and that is when it is most beautiful. That is when we forge our deepest love and devotion for His capacity to heal, make whole, and help us bear what we are given. So I only find it fair that we DO invite others (ourselves included) to seek and find those silver linings. It is evidence that He is there and He cares – even when it seems all is lost.

When our country is figuratively at each others’ throats – It is horrific and it will (unfortunately) get much worse – It is preparation for us to seek, find and ultimately SEE Him.

As much as I would never seek for those horrific moments, I would never trade them either. I have learned lessons in ways that are forged on my heart. It has smoothed off very rough edges in a way only He knew I could bear – with His help. And that is beautiful.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 9:07 pm

That IS beautiful. Whenever darkness seems to enclose around me, I would do anything to be able to flee from it. It isn’t until much later that I can start to see “all things work together for good.” It definitely takes long-term perspective. Thank you for your beautiful words.

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Jessica Nelson January 11, 2021 - 1:37 pm

Also your post reminded me of a song that came on the other day…
God is Still Here by J.J Heller

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Shelly Rawlins January 11, 2021 - 1:43 pm

I am a member of the church and yes there is a belief to brush over sorrows and sad times. We need to mourn as it is part of the process, but to dwell on it to a point of obsession is another thing. Right now I am in sorrow as I watch my husband struggle with a diagnosis of stage for cancer that the insurance company wants to deny treatment for despite it being a cancer that responds very well to treatment and his fairly young at 50 and otherwise healthy. I have taken a step back to see what I need to learn from this and how I can turn it into a positive experience. I know that my experience as a mom to a special needs child and nurse. I know I can use my knowledge/experience to help, which I have. I have also taken the time to ponder what the Lord’s will is. This helps ease the stress somewhat.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 9:12 pm

Oh Shelly, it sounds like you are in the midst of some really difficult valleys of sorrow right now. You are strong to take that step back and look for lessons to be learned. My heart is reaching out to you and your husband..and your special needs child as well. I hope that you will have angels to buoy you up and carry you through the most treacherous parts of the journey. I think that when you go through things like you are going through, you are being prepared to be an angel to others who will need you in the future. May your family be blessed as you go through this difficult time.
xoxo

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Courtney January 11, 2021 - 1:59 pm

Reading The Hiding Place is a gift you give yourself. Beautiful art work accompanied by wonderful perspective.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 9:13 pm

I think I will read it with Lucy, I’ll have to come back and report.

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Shawni January 11, 2021 - 9:30 pm

Thank you everyone for all the great input, I’m so thankful for all these thoughts to ponder over.

One more that I forgot to add to the post…it’s from Richard Rohr and I love it so much I think I better add it to the body of this post as well:

“There is deep beauty in the darkness, in the unknowing, in the indescribable, if only we can open ourselves to its purpose. Metaphorically, the dark emotions of grief, fear, and despair can be profound teachers and guides. . . . The primal howl of existential suffering holds within it the lesson that we all must learn at some time in our lives: To heal from our suffering—not merely to ease or palliate it, but to transform it into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom—requires a journey through it. We must listen attentively for whatever message it has for us and, according to [psychotherapist Miriam] Greenspan, find authentic ways to befriend it so that we can surrender to its transmuting power. All spiritual traditions teach some variation of this wisdom. While it may not come naturally to us to respond to suffering in this way, through practice, it can become a learned skill. . . .

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Leslie January 11, 2021 - 10:37 pm

Love Richard Rohr! I discovered him through your blog. Thank you Shawni!

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Mom January 13, 2021 - 12:24 am

I love this post! And the comments that followed by both the readers and your replies are incredible! It brought such peace to my soul as I was treading through a valley yesterday. Thanks to all of you!

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Jan January 13, 2021 - 12:24 pm

The last few years have been incredibly cruel ones to me. My husband died after a routine hernia surgery. Friends have walked away. My dog had to be put down. Pandemic. Work. You name it. I have lost myself also. A very strange thing I did not expect from my loss, is that I lost all self esteem I had. When you lose the person that knows, and loves, all those little flaws about yourself, it does a number on ya. There are 2 other REALLY heartbreaking things that have happened, that I am not at liberty to discuss.

I am normally a very positive person, and my go to reply when life got a little raw was, “But if that’s the worst that happens……..”

But hearing every single person around me talk about how there can always be something positive in your life? Honestly? I am so over it. While I can appreciate the sentiment, at times it feels like I am being told that my sorrows are insignificant. Maybe I just want to be acknowledged for the crappy hand I have been dealt lately, and maybe I am not ready to embrace the good, and maybe I want to wallow a little bit in the darkness without being told that my grief and hurts aren’t valid to stand alone. Sometimes allowing the darkness to take up space is okay, too. It doesn’t mean that eventually I won’t see the light, but to have someone sit next to me IN the darkness? Only then will I be truly seen.

I am not trying to come across as rude. I am just showing how someone who is in the midst of hurt and sadness might feel, and maybe, help someone see that telling someone going through the worst of times to look on the bright side can be more detrimental than anything else.

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Shawni January 13, 2021 - 5:01 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jan. You said it all perfectly. Sometimes we just need someone, right now, to sit in the darkness with us. I truly think the darkness is what teaches us and sometimes we need to let it in and that’s ok. Sometimes we just need people to “hold space” for us. I want to hold it for you even in some tiny way…a stranger who you don’t even know. But I want to say that I am so very sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry for the pain it has caused. I’m sorry the last few years have been filled with that darkness. I do hope that angels can be sent to you to buoy you up…not to make you try to feel better just yet, but to “see” you, and to see your pain, with you. And I hope you will recognize them. And that some day, when you are ready, IF you become ready, that you will be able to feel the sunshine again. xoxo

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Jenny January 13, 2021 - 6:26 pm

I am sorry Jan! While the things that have been so, so hard for me are not as deep, or all at once as yours, I came to the conclusion this Summer that a broken heart is the loneliest place to be. I am a stranger too, but I am a stranger that cares. I would sit with you. Bring you lunch. Talk or sit in silence. Whatever you wanted to do. I would love to hear stories of your love. The happy memories. The sad ones too. All the things that made your love for him real. I have tried to think about the experiences I go through and how they draw me to the God I love and the Savior I love. Sometimes though, it has felt silent. Sometimes my prayers seemed unanswered. And then as you said, the light started to come in. It will come for you too. Sending love to you and a prayer to heaven on your behalf. Much love (internet) friend. ♥️♥️♥️

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Diana January 16, 2021 - 10:09 am

Thanks Shawni for the great discussion and great quotes. I’ve recently learned through hard times in my life that it is best to fully experience negative emotions for however long it takes. There should be no rush to find the positive without fully venting out the negative. This can actually cause more issues. I feel like a lot of people like to just sweep things under the rug and avoid or suppress their strong emotions due to trying to put on a happy face and then the rug can start to become lumpy and create an unbalanced surface. There should be no shame in weakness and struggles and I wish more people were open and real about their heartaches because that is what can help the healing process and create a more genuine environment. Now this doesn’t mean revealing intimate details from the rooftops, but just admitting that you are struggling or speaking with the appropriate people especially if you have an issue with them. Or more fully speaking to the Lord. I think the title of a book on my to read list makes a good point: Feelings Buried Alive Never Die. I had a friend tell me “a head full of gospel and a heart full of shame is like a living hell”. Processing negative feelings of shame appropriately and not just pushing them away is so important to mental health. The Lord and others are there to help us, but we have to sit in our dark places long enough and face them head on with openness to ourselves and others. And it’s ok to tell others that you need the space and time to feel sorrow. And that you are not yet ready to look for the silver lining. Maybe we can all be more mindful of telling people and our kids that “you’re ok” or “you’ll be fine” when all they need to hear is “I’m here for you”. It’s ok for things not to be ok. Let’s get out of our comfort zones and take time to feel and express the bad more fully because that is what can make the good come about more smoothly. It’s easier said than done that’s for sure!

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