Chapter 86

  1. Sorrow

Sorrows gather around great souls as storms do around great mountains, but, like them, they break the storms and purify the air. Those who have suffered much are like those who know many languages—they have learned to understand and be understood by all.

Sorrows sober us and make the mind genial. In sorrows we love and trust our friends more tenderly, and the dead become dearer to us. Just as the stars shine out in the night, so there are faces that look at us in our grief, though before they were fading from our recollections. Suffering! Let no man dread it too much, because it is better for him, and will help make him sure of being immortal. Just as it is only at night that other worlds are to be seen shining in the distance, so it is in sorrow—the night of the soul—that we see the farthest, and know ourselves natives of infinity, sons and daughters of immortality.

The path of life meanders through a bright and beautiful world—a world where the fragrant flowers of friendship, nourished by the gentle dews of sympathy and the warm sunlight of affection, bloom in perennial beauty. But through this bright world there flows a stream whose turbid waters cross and recross the path of every pilgrim. It is the stream of human suffering. As the rose-tree is composed of the sweetest flowers and the sharpest thorns; as the heavens are sometimes overcast, alternately tempestuous and serene, so is the life of man intermingled with hopes and fears, with joy and sorrow, with pleasures, and with pains.

Life is beset with unavoidable annoyances, vexatious cares, and harassing events. But we endure them—we strive to forget them—or, like the dustworn garment, or the soil on our shoes, we brush them off, and, if possible, scarcely bestow a thought on the trouble it requires. But when we have once been called upon to feel and undergo a great sorrow, to bend the back and bow the head, to endure the yoke and suffer the agony, to abide the pelting of the storm of adversity and sorrow, when few, perhaps none, sympathize with us—these are the days of anguish and of darkness, these the nights of desolation and despair; and when they have once come upon us with their appalling weight, their remorseless power, we can never be beguiled into a forgetfulness of them. The memory of them will endure as long as life shall last. We may again behold the beams of a cheerful sun throwing a delusive coloring over the landscape around us, but while our eyes may rest upon the lights they will dwell upon the shadows of the picture.

“Time is the rider that breaks youth.” To the young how bright the new world looks! how full of novelty! of enjoyment! of pleasure! But as years pass on they are found to abound in sorrowful scenes as well as those pleasant—scenes of toil, suffering, difficulty, perhaps misfortune and failure. Happy they who can pass through such trials with a firm mind and a pure heart, encountering trials with cheerfulness, and standing erect beneath even the heaviest burdens.

Sorrow is the noblest of all discipline. Our nature shrinks from it, but it is not the less a discipline. It is a scourge, but there is healing in its stripes. It is a chalice, and the draught is bitter, but health proceeds from the bitterness. It is a crown of thorns, but it becomes a wreath of light on the brow which it has lacerated. It is a cross on which the spirit groans, but every Calvary has an Olivet. To every place of crucifixion there is likewise a place of ascension. The sun that is shrouded is unveiled, and the heavens open with hopes eternal to the soul which was nigh unto despair. Even in guilt sorrow has a sanctity within it. Place a bad man beside the death-bed, or the grave, where all that he loved is cold—we are moved, we are won, by his affection, and we find the divine spark yet alive, which no vice could quench.

Christianity itself is a religion of sorrow. It was born in sorrow, in sorrow it was tried, and by sorrow it was made perfect. The, Author of Christianity was a “man of sorrow and acquainted with grief.” Sorrow is exalting, and a baptism of sorrow is awarded to every one who strives for the higher life. Since Christ wept over Jerusalem the best, the bravest, who have followed him in good will and good deeds have commenced their mission alike in suffering. Sorrow is not to be complained of; it is the passport by which we are to be made acceptable in that house where all tears shall be wiped away. It has power for good; it has joy within its gloom, and, though Christianity is a religion of trials and suffering, it is not less a religion of hope; it casts down in order to exalt, and if it tries the spirit by affliction it is to prepare it for a future great reward.

All mankind must taste the cup which destiny has mixed, be it bitter or be it sweet. Be not impatient under suffering. It is for the correction of thy soul. It is better to suffer than to injure. It is better to suffer without a cause than that there should be cause for our suffering. By experiencing distress an arrogant insensibility of temper is most effectually corrected. Endeavor to extract a blessing from the remembrance of thy own sufferings. If so be that Providence has so ordered your life that you are not subject to much of the discipline of sorrow, strive to extract this discipline from the consideration of the lot of those less favored than you are. Step aside occasionally from the flowers and smooth paths which it is permitted you to walk in, in order to view the toilsome march of your fellow creatures through the thorny desert. The designed end of temporal afflictions is to cause men to consider their spiritual wants, and to seek the good of their higher natures.

Often suffering not only fails to purify the soul from sin, but aggravates and intensifies its selfish and malignant passions. This is always the case where the heart fails to accept the lesson taught. By submission to sorrow the sweetest traits of character are developed, as some fruits are brought to perfection only by frost. Misfortune should act upon us or upon our feelings like fire upon old tenements, which are consumed only to be rebuilt with greater perfection. The winds of adversity sweep over the soul and scatter the fairest blossoms of hope. But the blossoms fall that the fruit may appear. So with us, when the flowers of hope are gone, there come the fruits of long-suffering, patience, faith, and love. Thus the darkest clouds which overhang human destiny may often appear the brightest to the angels who behold them with prophetic ken from heaven.

The damps of Autumn sink into the leaves and prepare them for decay, and thus are we, insensibly perhaps, detached from our hold on life by the gentle pressure of recorded sorrows. Who is not familiar with the fact that life, which to the young promises so much, but to the middle-aged presents a stern reality, seems to the old as a day’s labor now closing; and even as the laborer, worn by the burdens and heat of the day, looks forward to rest, so does the aged pilgrim, oppressed by the accumulated griefs and sorrows of a life-time, look forward to the rest of death?

The first thing to be conquered in grief is the pleasure we feel in indulging it. Persons may acquire a morbid and unhealthy state of feeling on this subject, and by a constant giving way to feelings of grief become at last so constituted that on the slightest occasions they give way to apparently uncontrollable sorrow, converting thus what was intended as a means of discipline necessary to soul growth into an evil which contracts life. Remember, then, that in the matter of giving expression to sorrow self-control is no less necessary than in the other affairs of life. There is but one pardonable grief—that for the departed. This pleasing grief is but a variety of comfort, the sighs are but a mournful mode of loving them.

There are sorrows too sacred to be babbled to the world, griefs which one would, forbear to whisper even to a friend. Real sorrow is not clamorous. It seeks to shun every eye, and breathes in solitude and silence the sighs that come from the heart. Every heart has also its secret sorrows, of which the world knows nothing, and ofttimes we call a man cold when he is only sorrowful. Sorrow may be divided into two classes—that which really comes from the heart and is for the bettering of man, and that which comes from wounded selfishness, egotism, and pride. It is our duty to strive against giving vent to the latter kind of sorrow. It is, after all, only selfish in feeling and expression. It is the duty of all to cultivate cheerfulness of manner and disposition. Another hath said, “Give not thy mind to heaviness. The gladness of heart is the life of man, and the joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days. Remove sorrow far from thee, for sorrow hath killed many, and there is no profit therein; and carefulness bringeth age before the time.”

As limbs which are wrenched violently asunder do not bleed, so the sudden shocks of overwhelming sorrow are unrelieved by tears. The heart is benumbed. The eyes are dry, and the very fountain of feeling obstructed and stagnant. Our lighter afflictions find relief in lamentations and weeping, and the voice of sympathy and compassion brings some consolation and peace. But when the heart has been deeply and powerfully struck by some cruel blow of destiny, the intensity of suffering exceeds the bounds of sensibility and emotion.

Those who work hard seldom yield themselves entirely up to real or fancied sorrow. When grief sits down, folds its hands, and mournfully feeds upon its own tears, weaving the dim shadows that a little exertion might sweep away into oblivion, the strong spirit is shorn of its might, and sorrow becomes our master. When sorrow, then, pours upon you, instead of giving way to it, rather seek by occupation to divert the dark waters that threaten to overwhelm you into the thousand channels which the duties of life always present. Before you dream of it those waters will fertilize the present and give birth to flowers that may brighten the future—flowers that will become pure and holy in the sunshine which illumes the path of duty, in spite of every obstacle.

, In, pager

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