The Solution to Your Sorrow
It’s impossible to be selfish and happy at the same time. I know this from experience, for if I’m honest with myself, I find the days that I am most miserable are the days that I am too focused on myself: on my problems, my frustrations, my weaknesses. I’m certain the same is true for you. Think about the last time you felt sad or weighed down. Maybe it was yesterday, or maybe it’s today. If you take a few moments to reflect, you may find that you are focusing too much on yourself.
We all experience this gravitational pull toward the self. Self-centeredness is one the effects of original sin. But the more self-absorbed we are, the sadder we will be. God did not create us to live for ourselves; He created us to live in service. Jesus said that He did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).
There is a great scene from the Book of Numbers that illustrates the effect of self-centeredness (Numbers 21:4-9). The Israelites, who feel that they are wandering aimlessly in the desert, are pretty angry with Moses and the Lord. Food and water is sparse, and they complain about the food that they do get to eat. So, to discipline them, the Lord sends saraph serpents among them and consequently many people die. The Israelites then acknowledge their sin and ask the Lord to take the serpents away.
Then something interesting happens. The Lord tells Moses to make a bronze saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone is bitten they should gaze upon the saraph serpent and they will be healed. Now, jump ahead to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The healing power of the serpent on the pole in the book of Numbers prefigures Jesus on the cross who heals us from our sins.
The Israelites were stuck in themselves; they were focused on their problems and the result was their misery. So the Lord teaches them to stop focusing on themselves by making them gaze upon the saraph, which is a foreshadowing of Jesus hanging on the cross. We too experience punishment when we focus on ourselves; not the punishment of poisonous snakebites, but the punishment of sorrow and self-pity. This sadness that we experience from selfishness is punishment enough; it just doesn’t feel good to us and it drives us deeper into ourselves. As one of my seminary professors said, “sin is its own punishment.”
But there is a solution.
Just as the Israelites were healed by gazing upon the saraph mounted on a pole, you and I are healed of our self-absorption by looking upon Jesus crucified. When we contemplate Jesus on the cross, our hearts are touched by His healing love. When we look lovingly upon the cross, the only response is to imitate Christ’s selfless love. Jesus gave Himself completely in love for our salvation, and as we contemplate Him on the cross, we are compelled to imitate His love by serving others.
… Jesus Christ offered Himself in love to the Father for our salvation. We are called to imitate His self-giving love. In fact, the way to holiness is to live in union with Christ and imitate His love. The more we meditate on Jesus crucified, the more we will be compelled to live selflessly and advance in the way of holiness.
If we are experiencing difficulties in our lives, if we feel stuck in ourselves, if we are weighed down or sorrowful, there is a spiritual solution that can lift us out of ourselves. There is a way that we can be set free from sorrow. It will take some effort on our part, but the Lord will help us. The solution is simple: live selflessly.
Today, make a decision to live for others. Today, make a decision to serve. Today, make a decision to focus on the needs of others and not on your own needs. Today, make a decision to contemplate Jesus on the cross and let Him live in you so that you can bring His love to others. You will find that your sorrow begins to lift and your eyes will be opened to the beauty of life and the dignity of every person…
Art for this post on The Solution to Your Sorrow: Figura de una mujer de pueblo (Figure of town woman), Pedro Lira, 12 December 1910, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Moses and the Brazen Serpent, Esteban March (1610-1668), undated, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; The Crucifixion, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Detail of Jésus lavant les pieds aux apôtres (Jesus washes the feet of the apostles), Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, 1531, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; all Wikimedia Commons.