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Practical suggestions for handling the great sadness

This is a time of year, for various reasons, that many of us experience a deep sadness.

It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t experience it. It’s heaviness a blanket, a looming cloud. It might be a form of depression but it also might also be a heavy dose of reality. Or maybe depression is a heavy dose of reality. A dose far too potent. Because of a divorce, the loss of a child, family tension . . . the fact that your favorite NBA team is 1-8. You know, the important stuff.

It’s a sadness that sneaks up on you in the strangest moments. It is waiting for you when your feet first hit in the floor on a cold winter morning. The sadness is happy to greet you as you unwind from a long day of hard work and concentration. If you are not intentional, it can become your best friend, closest companion. Though a great teacher, the deep sadness isn’t ultimately the missing thing that will lead you to true contentment. On the contrary, it is the thing that reminds you of how far you have to travel before you can arrive at such an audacious destination as peace and contentment.

Some practical suggestions of the personal experience persuasion not the professional.

1. Breathe. Seriously. I am amazed at how many times I forget to pay attention to my breathing. The Hebrew word for breath is the same word for spirit. There’s something going on in the physical/spiritual world. Pay attention to breathing deep and slow. If we breathed more when we drove in traffic, life would be different.

2. Thank God for the millions of little and big gifts in your life. I had a friend do this recently. “I never stop to realize that I literally have thousands of things to be thankful.” Warm blankets, milk, ESPN, giggle of a toddler, Blue Bell, note from a friend.

3. Go for a long walk. Or Run. Or Pick-Up Basketball. Try it. Enough said. 45 minutes. Did you know that exercise is on the rise in Great Britain because of changing beliefs about the connection between the body and the spirit? I hope this trend comes across the pond!

4. Confide in a trusted friend, minister, or co-worker.  Researches believe that confession and deep conversation can be far more healing than conventional methods (not that conventional isn’t a good approach).  It might be that you simply need someone to help properly fit all your “little stories” into a “bigger story” . . . someone who knows the art of listening.

5. Drink deeply from good stories. I’ve recently been devouring THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL. You make sense of your life by the power of story. Live in good stories, not bad ones. Which stories are you privileging into our imagination? For me, this starts with Jewish and Christian Scripture. But I don’t stop there. “The human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story.”

Dr. Josh Graves is a minister and writer in Nashville, Tenn. (www.ottercreek.org). He is the author of three books: "Tearing down the Walls: a Guide for Muslims and Christians in North America" (2013), The Feast (2009), and "Heaven on Earth" (2012, with Chris Seidman). Josh completed doctoral studies at Columbia Theological Seminary focusing on the relationship of Christianity and Islam in the United States. He blogs at www.joshuagraves.com and tweets from @joshgraves.