The Beauty of Melancholy: An LDS Perspective

trees

It’s February, friends.

For most people in my family and social circle, this means everything slows down a little. We’re more prone to procrastinate, we want to sleep more, and we crave fattening foods. It’s dark and cold outside and we might go weeks without seeing quality sunlight. Christmas was almost two months ago, Valentine’s Day reminds us single folk how truly single we are, and Easter is over a month away. College students just start to see the mid-semester mark, and the weeks ahead seem to be moving slower than ever. We might listen to lots of Enya and watch Netflix while eating copious amounts of chocolate. We might want to cry occasionally, for no reason. We might want to be alone. We might want to be in London instead of Utah right now. Why?

Because it’s February, and February is rough.

I’ve followed this pattern every year since I was about thirteen years old. That’s when my grades started slipping every second semester, when I lost any sense of discipline I might have had in the Fall, and became a little depressed until the sun came out again and magically made things all right. For a long time I thought I’d just gotten burned out from being in school for so many months in a row (which could be true), but as an adult it’s become a lot easier to see a pattern. Come November, and my emotions go a little shaky. Winter break helps immensely, but by February I’m a mess again. I think a lot of people are like this.

Now I want to be clear that I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression, and that if I were to ever exhibit signs of self-destructive behavior or true hopelessness, I would seek out help. I’m all about mental health, believe me!

But February blues are a different beast, I think. I feel like something deep within us tells us to retreat for a bit, to hibernate inside our homes and take time to think and feel the world around us in ways not possible during the upbeat, lighthearted warmer months. Sure, the laziness and falling grades are a major inconvenience, but beyond that I try to see something beautiful.

Which brings me to a HUGE, MAJOR THING we need to discuss in Mormon World. There is such a pressure for LDS individuals to constantly express joyous, chipper, happy feelings, even in avoiding sincerity.

I understand where this comes from. We are taught that “men are that they might have joy,” and I believe that fully. I believe that we are on this earth to feel joy, and to continue on in our eternal existence to experience the joy that can only come from becoming like God. Joy is great. Joy is a necessary, beautiful part of life.

But if you want to hear “the gospel of Emma” perspective, I have to insist that men are also that they might have sadness. And anxiety. And fear. Melancholy, ennui, anger, frustration, anguish, and hopelessness also happen to make the list. I’m not saying all of these things are “of God” per se, but they are of the human experience, which we believe every one of us chose in order to learn and grow to our eternal potentials. There is beauty in that.

We are commanded to “mourn with those that mourn.” In one of the most poignant scenes in the New Testament, Jesus wept with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. It’s obviously not healthy to wallow in self-pity, but Jesus made clear, through his actions, that he welcomed and encouraged human emotions – by no means just the happy ones!

Nobody should be able to tell me that they can read about the current crises in Syria and feel warm and fuzzy inside. They shouldn’t be able to study the atrocities of World War II and say the earth is an endlessly-joyous place. They shouldn’t be learning about devastating earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, cancer, incurable viruses, and drug-resistant bacteria, and feel happy. No one should ever be expected to respond in that way, because they’re sad, terrible things. Yes, have faith and use the gift of prayer, but make room to feel things, too. It’s okay. It is in fact an extremely Christian thing to do – without all the horrific, sad, unfair things in this world, what would we have to be redeemed from? What would we need a savior for? Why would we need Christ?

A truly beautiful piece of Mormon doctrine that I’ve been learning about in my Doctrine and Covenants class teaches us that we chose this. This is heavy stuff. It’s difficult stuff. I would never walk up to a cancer patient or a trafficking victim and tell them that they chose their lot, because I really don’t think it works that way.

What I do believe is that we all came here knowing the possibilities. We knew that we would lose loved ones to death one day, and that it would hurt more than we were able to comprehend in the pre-mortal life. We knew about mankind’s ability to hurt, and kill, and ruin. We knew of illness, confrontation, tragedy, and Februaries. We knew all memories of our glorious past would be blocked by the veil. We knew that we might struggle in faith, and learn about really sad things, and have to work through the most difficult trials imaginable, and we chose to take that risk. We chose to come to the earth knowing we had agency, and knowing that horrific, unpreventable things wouldn’t likely happen, but definitely, without-a-doubt happen, out of necessity.

I believe we knew the gifts, too. The birth of a new baby, the very different types of love shared between friends, brothers, and married couples; the beauty of the natural world that at once can kill us and enlighten us with its sublime powers; nice hugs, long walks, good books, and the smell of hyacinths. Kittens! We knew we’d be given bodies that could taste food, and stretch out and yawn every morning. We knew we’d have the chance to bring new bodies into this complicated world, and raise them with joy, long-suffering and wisdom.

We knew what the world would give us. We knew what our omnipotent Heavenly Father wanted to give us when he offered us free agency and the chance to receive a body. We knew we would feel new things, and that those feelings are precisely what would give us the necessary experience to develop into something greater, to become like our Heavenly parents one day.

Some of the darkest moments in my life were also the most character-forming. They taught me to feel empathy, and to treat others in the way Christ would treat them. Those moments taught me patience, hope, and the ability to see the deep beauty in the good times. I have learned to be grateful for my privileged, comfortable life.

The good feelings taught me, too. Christmases with my family, summers spent at girls’ camp, silly games with my niece, and sweet memories of exploring the world beyond my home have shown me brightness I could have never known without the gift and the blessing of the earth I believe I chose.

We are loved, and the world is a token of that love. Sometimes love hurts, you know. Sometimes we need to learn difficult things to find true happiness. Sometimes we need to be disciplined and humbled before we can truly become worthy. Sometimes we need February to remind us of the beauty in June. Without melancholy, we would never know joy, and without joy, we could never progress.

So next time you’re tempted to brush off your very real, upset feelings to put on a plastic smile? Maybe don’t. Maybe go to BYU campus, or sacrament meeting, or Family Home Evening with your emotions in mind. Share them with others, seek comfort, remember our decision to be here. I’m not saying that we should just cry all the time, but I would like to encourage genuine behaviors and the freedom to express less-than-joyful emotions and to be comfortable doing so in a gospel context. These are the things that bring us together, under Christ, and under our mutual destiny of greatness.

It’s midnight, I just ate a slice of cake, I have a new Enya song on repeat (the sad kind), and I haven’t started my homework yet. Tomorrow morning as I walk to campus, I’ll look at the overcast February sky and dream of summer. I’ll probably think a lot about the Thames, my favorite London neighborhoods, and ancient cathedrals I have no way of accessing. I can almost guarantee I’ll be eating more chocolate. There’s a real possibility that I might cry.

And that’s okay, you know.

March is coming soon, and I can already smell the hyacinths.

hyacinths

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