In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.
Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: “Don’t allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely.”
My first response was, “Well, that’s just too much to ask!” But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn’t hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That’s the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?
Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don’t allow sadness to dwell.
Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state
Don’t let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.
St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn’t already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.
So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).
They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.
What should you allow to “dwell in your soul?” Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).
When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor’s pass, you will not lose your joy.
Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.
It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.