A couple weeks ago I watched the Avett Brothers perform a live concert. They’re one of my favorite bands, partly because I love the banjo, but I also because of their lyrics. One of the songs they performed was the title track of their most recent album, “True Sadness.”
The primary theme of the songs is that, despite the image we often project to others, when you peel a few layers most of us are not actually “fine.” Many live through or experience true sadness, and can often feel alone in that.
Low Outer Walls, High Inner Walls
The song always reminds me of a conversation I had with another Southerner in New Zealand. We were pretty new to the country, but our friends from Alabama has already lived there for two years. He made the observation that, in the South (of the USA), we have low outer walls and high inner walls. Low outer walls means we’re constantly friendly, we say “hi” to strangers and “how y’all doing?” to everyone we meet. High inner walls means, despite being welcoming on the exterior, we don’t really want people to know what’s going on in our lives. You wouldn’t ask how someone’s marriage is going, share about your kid’s struggles in school, or talk about your anxiety.
In New Zealand, however, it seemed to be the opposite. People had high outer walls and low inner walls. I remember my wife (a teacher) visited a few schools to drop off resumes in our first few weeks. She kept saying, “I don’t think they liked me.” One of our friends from New Zealand described it as, “we like to have a poker face when we first meet people.” After a few months of a relationship with someone, however, they would suddenly share everything that was going on in their lives.
These are generalizations, of course, but it was an important distinction for us to recognize. We also realized that neither situation is ideal. Our best friends in New Zealand were the ones who were welcoming and friendly from the start, and our best friends in the South were the ones who would be real about what was going on in their lives.
Taking the First Steps
Sometimes the best way to help others share what’s really going on in their life is to take the first step. If you can open up about your struggles, you’ll find that other people are more willing to open up about theirs. We often think we’re alone in our sadness, but when you talk about it, odds are you will start to find others who have the same feelings and challenges. You can encourage each other, push each other, share successes, and pray for each other.
One of the reasons we have high inner walls in the South is the culture of shame. We’re afraid to talk about what’s really going on because, “what will people think?” The beauty of the gospel, however, is that it doesn’t matter what people think. We can have confidence when we confess because we know Jesus loves us, has died for us, and therefore we are righteous in the eyes of God.
Looking to the Kingdom of God
There is an interesting line towards the end of True Sadness. “Just know the kingdom of God is within you, even though the battle is bound to continue.”
Throughout Paul’s writings, he is open about his suffering. Paul is a man who knew sadness. In 2 Corinthians 11, he shares a list of pain and struggles that is far longer than any list I or anyone I know has ever endured. His hope, however, is found in the Kingdom of God. He consistently looks ahead to the glory that is to be revealed, to the day when there will be no more suffering nor tears nor pain nor death.
Christ has come, the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that means the sad things will someday be made permanently untrue.
While the battle continues, however, we need to help bring the Kingdom of God into the lives of those around us. We must be willing to support people in their sadness, whatever it may be. We must take the time to listen, empathize, and encourage. We must also be transparent about our own sadness, and demonstrate to others the hope we have in Christ.
Without Jesus, no one really is fine. But through him and in him, we are more than conquerors in all things.