The Christian life is not easy.  We are a people called to perfection (Mt 5:48), but we achieve it ever so gradually.  We implore God for His grace and put forth much effort, but perfection always seems to escape us.  This often leads to discouragement, and even at times despair.  Unable to relate to the Psalmist—“But you, O Lord…are the lifter of my head” (Ps 3:3)—we sometimes sulk and walk around with our heads down.  To quote Pope Francis from Evangelii Gaudium: “That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life” (2).  Therefore, we must fight this sadness when it comes.  The book of Sirach has some advice for just such a fight.

Sirach 30:21-25 is one of my favorite passages from the Bible.  Not only is it beautifully written and accurately expressive of human experience, but it also contains some practical advice for driving out sadness:

Do not give into sadness,

    torment not yourself with brooding;

Gladness of heart is the very life of man,

    cheerfulness prolongs his days.

Distract yourself, renew your courage,

drive resentment far away from you;

For worry has brought death to many,

    nor is there aught to be gained from resentment .

Envy and anger shorten one’s life,

    worry brings on premature old age.

One who is cheerful and gay while at table

    benefits from his food.[1]

I bolded verse 23 for its practical advice.  Let’s take a look at the three proposals.

1 – Distract yourself.

The first time I read this passage, I found it odd that the Scriptures were urging me to “distract myself.”  I thought: “Isn’t that just a way of ignoring my problems?”  The answer is yes, but that’s not always a bad thing.  Sometimes we need to pay our worries no attention.  Often, they do nothing but skew our judgment about our circumstances—not to mention about ourselves, God and our neighbor.  Distracting ourselves from our worries in such cases can help us to return to them with clear-mindedness, or even forget about them if they are unimportant.  You decide what this means for you.  Maybe it’s playing guitar, reading a good book, exercising, etc.  Don’t forget, leisure is the basis of manliness.

2 – Renew your courage.

At first, this advice doesn’t seem so practical. How do you “renew your courage?”  One way of doing so is found elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms.  Psalm 143 reads: “I remember the days of old, I meditate on all that you have done; I muse on what your hands have wrought” (v. 5).[2]  In short, we renew our courage by remembering what the Lord has done.  By reflecting on those times when we knew that God was working in powerful ways, we can regain courage to keep fighting the good fight of faith.  Keep in mind, you may want write those times down when they happen, so you can remember them later.  We weak humans are prone to forget…why do you think we have a Bible?

3 – Drive resentment far away from you.

It can be extremely easy to become resentful.  Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we are hurt by others regularly.  We sometimes even grow resentful toward God.  Resentment is poisonous; it stems from and leads to sadness.  Anyone who has felt it knows the experience St. Augustine described as “curvatus in se”—being “curved inward on oneself.”   When we harbor resentment, we can regain our joy by acting against it.  If you’re feeling resentful toward, say, a friend or a coworker—look for something kind or thoughtful that he (or she) has done and compliment him for it.  Deliberately looking for such things will help you to see that person’s goodness and let go of resentment.  If you are harboring resentment toward God, reflect upon and thank Him for the abundant blessings He has bestowed on you.

Distract yourself. Renew your courage. Drive resentment far away from you. 

Such living can lead us back to joy, which is meant to be spread and given away. As sadness tends to “curve” us in on ourselves, this advice can help regain our orientation toward love of God and neighbor.

[1] New American Bible translation

[2] Revised Standard Version translation