Back in 1976, Richard Dawkins first coined the term “meme” in his book The Selfish Gene as a way to talk about ideas that rapidly spread through the public consciousness. But that’s probably not the way that any of us would describe what a meme is today. For us, memes are images we see and share on social media that express our thoughts, experiences, or frustrations in clever and amusing ways.
And, if you’ve spent much time on any social media platform in the last fifteen years, there’s a pretty good chance that you have a few favorite memes. You may be a fan of Grumpy Cat’s ill-tempered humor like in this meme that says, “I had fun once…it was awful.” Or maybe you prefer the way that Philosoraptor wrestles with life’s hardest question like in this meme where he wonders, “If you watch an Apple store get robbed…are you an iWitness?” Or maybe you like celebrating life’s small victories with Success Kid in memes like this one where he’s excited that the fly flew out the window after he opened it.
And all of those are great memes, but if there is one kind of meme that will get me to stop scrolling when I’m on social media it’s the memes that explain some of the reasons why kids have meltdowns. And I think I enjoy these meltdown memes more than any other memes because the first time I remember seeing them was when my daughter was still in her prime meltdown years…so it was nice to know I wasn’t the only parent going through this phase.
So let me share a few of my favorite meltdown memes. And I’ll start with this one because it tells a perfect story: a little girl is melting down because she keeps dropping her fork. And why does she keep dropping her fork? Because she’s trying to eat with oven mitts on. Or then you have this little guy who’s melting down because he ate all of his muffins and we’ve all been there, right? Or then you have this kid who was none too happy to meet Bill Murray. And the first thing I thought when I saw this picture was that this poor kid must have seen Bill Murray’s performance in Charlie’s Angels too.
Now, of course, we can all laugh about these memes because these aren’t our kids. But we can also laugh at these memes because we have all seen kids meltdown for seemingly no reason whatsoever. But the truth is that kids don’t melt down for no reason. Kids meltdown because they are experiencing emotions that they have not yet learned how to express in other ways.
So kids will cry when they’re frustrated. They’ll cry when they’re tired. They’ll cry when they’re angry. But the biggest reason why kids cry is the biggest reason why we all cry. We cry when we’re sad.
And what does it mean to be sad? Well, sadness is one of our most basic emotions. It’s an emotional state characterized by feelings of unhappiness and being in a low mood. Sadness is a normal reaction to situations that are upsetting, painful, and disappointing.
So even though most of us don’t enjoy being sad, sadness is a normal emotion that we all feel from time to time. But sadness can become unhealthy when it lasts for long periods of time and when we fail to address the reasons why we’re feeling sad.
And you know that sadness becomes unhealthy when it starts to affect your ability to live your normal life. Unhealthy sadness can affect your appetite and cause you to eat too much or too little. It can make you want to withdraw from the world around you and stop doing things that you typically enjoy doing. It can keep you up at night or make you sleep too much during the day. So unhealthy sadness can take you to a dark place.
And because sadness has the potential to become unhealthy, we all learn an important lesson about sadness from an early age. And that’s what we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks here at Melbourne Heights. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working our way through a series of sermons called “Imprint” where we’re talking about life lessons that have been imprinted on us since we were kids.
And, let’s just be honest here, there are a lot of important life lessons that are imprinted on us when we’re kids. By the time you learned how to tie your shoes, you also learned how to share, how to play fair, and how to clean up after yourself. So there are plenty of life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
There are plenty of life lessons we learned as kids that we should never outgrow.
But throughout this series, we’re not just talking about lessons that your parents tried to teach or things that you learned at school when you were growing up. We’re specifically talking about lessons we learned in church. And throughout this series, we see that one of the most important lessons we learned in church when we were kids is a lesson that Jesus taught when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. And in Matthew 5:14, Jesus teaches us that:
14 You are the light of the world…
And he goes on to tell us to:
16 let your light shine before people…
So one of the most important life lessons that we learned when we were kids – a lesson that should be imprinted on us for as long as we live – is that when life feels dark, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
When life feels dark, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
But how do we do that? How do we shine Jesus’ light when life feels dark? Well, the word shine can mean to direct light on or toward something. And that’s what we mean when we talk about a spotlight shining. A spotlight directs light toward an actor on a stage so that everyone in the audience can focus their attention on that actor. And that’s what Jesus wants us to do when we see darkness in the world, Jesus wants us to direct our light onto that issue and work to resolve it.
But what does all of this have to do with being sad? Like I mentioned a minute ago, when sadness becomes unhealthy it can take you to a dark place. So when people are sad, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
When people are sad, we need to shine Jesus’ light.
And, again, this is a lesson that we start learning when we’re really young. I saw it happen every day when our church still operated a preschool. My old office was just down the hall from the toddlers' class. And I loved watching these kids — who hadn’t quite mastered the whole walking thing yet — ambling down the hall. And just about every day one of these kids would topple over and start to cry. And, as soon as they started to cry, another kid would waddle over to them and wrap their arms around them to comfort the child who was hurting.
Or, when I was in elementary school, I remember a time when I jumped down off of the swings when recess came to an end…but I didn’t exactly stick the landing. And this happened back in the day before we put down rubberized mulch on playgrounds. So when I hit the ground I landed on gravel. And it absolutely shredded the knees of my jeans and left me with a pretty good scratch.
But, almost as soon as I stood up and dusted myself off, one of my classmates came running over to see if I was okay and to walk with me to the nurse’s office so she could clean up my scratch and give me a band-aid.
So, from the time we’re little, we learn that we need to comfort people who are sad. But, as we get a little older, we learn that not all of life’s problems can be solved with a hug or a band-aid.
Not all of life’s problems can be solved with a hug or a band-aid.
So, I want to spend the rest of our time together today figuring out how we can move beyond hugs and band-aids when we want to comfort people who are hurting.
And to help us do this, I want to take a closer look at a story that we find in the Gospel of John. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to John 19. And, as you’re finding it, I want to point out that we call this book a Gospel because the word gospel means good news. And the Gospel of John is going to tell us the good news of Jesus.
So the book of John is kind of like a biography of Jesus. And that means that when you’re reading the book of John you can read about who Jesus is and what his time on earth was like. You can read about the places Jesus went and the people he met. You can read about his ministry and the miracles he performed. You can read about his crucifixion and resurrection.
And the passage that I want us to take a closer look at today takes place while Jesus was dying on the cross. So let’s take a look at John 19 together. We’ll start reading in verse 25, which says:
25 Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross.
As Jesus is dying on the cross, John tells us that Mary — Jesus’ mother — is standing right there. And saying that Mary would’ve been sad as she stood there watching Jesus die isn’t just an understatement but it also feels like it minimizes what Mary was going through. But, as we keep reading in John 19, we’ll see how Jesus shines his light when his mother is sad.
So let’s pick back up in verse 26, and see what Jesus does. John writes:
26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19:25-27 (Common English Bible)
So how does Jesus shine his light when his mother is hurting? He starts by calling her attention to one of his disciples that is standing right beside Mary. And when Jesus does this he shows Mary that even while she is hurting, even though she is sad, she is not alone.
And that is one of the most important things we can do to shine Jesus’ light when people are hurting. We can show them that they are not alone in their pain. They are not alone in their sorrow. They are not alone in their sadness.
This reminds me of a story that John Swinton — who is an author and theologian — shares in his book Raging With Compassion that a colleague shared with him. Swinton tells us that a mother of four was driving home from a local store with one of her children. But when they were 400 yards from their home they were both killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Swinton goes on to tell us:
Her husband heard the noise [from the accident] and ran out of the house, accompanied by their other three children. He called for an ambulance on his mobile phone and ran towards the car. It was not until he got up close that he realized that the tangled mass of metal was his wife's car [and that his wife and child had been killed]...As the ambulance drove off, the youngest son moved closer and lay over his father, who was sitting on the curb, shocked. One by one, the other two children lay across their father and began to cry out. At first, it was simply sobbing, but eventually, words began to formulate from the huddle of bodies: “Why?” “Why did you take her, Lord!” “Why her? Why now?” “I want my [mommy] back – now!”...My colleague, who had arrived at the scene, sat down beside the huddled pile of broken people. In silence, he prayed...and wept.
At that moment, there were no words that anyone could say to help that grieving family. But what they needed was to know that they were not alone. They needed to know that there were people around them who loved them, cared for them, and would be there for them no matter what.
And that’s the first thing we can do to shine Jesus’ light when people are sad. We can be present. We can be with them. We can let them know that they are not alone.
But Jesus does more for his mother than just reminding her that she was not alone. Simply by acknowledging her presence at the foot of the cross, by speaking to her, and by trying to comfort her in that moment, Jesus also acknowledged her pain.
And that’s something that we all need to hear when we’re sad. We need to hear that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay for us to feel pain. Because that’s not the way the world usually reacts to people who are hurting. The world will tell you to dry your tears. The world will tell you to get over it. The world will tell you to get on with your life.
So we need someone to let us know that our pain is valid. We need someone to tell us that it’s okay to be upset. We need someone to tell us that we’re allowed to feel the way that we feel.
And the final thing that Jesus does for his mother in this passage, is he offers her practical help as she’s hurting. Here’s what I mean, we know that Jesus was Mary’s oldest son. And, as the oldest son, Jesus would’ve been responsible for taking care of his mother after his father died. So Jesus would’ve been the one who was responsible for making sure that Mary had food to eat, that her bills were paid, and that she could live her life the way she wanted to.
So, as he was dying on the cross, Jesus knew that someone else was going to have to fill that role. He knew someone else was going to have to take care of his mother. So he looks at the beloved disciple, John, the one disciple that showed up at the cross, and he says, “Here is your mother.”
And if we want to shine Jesus’ light when people are hurting, we need to be able to offer them practical help as well. That practical help could mean offering to cook someone dinner or giving them a gift card so they can order a meal from one of their favorite restaurants. It could mean offering to come over and clean their house or watch their kids for a few hours. It could mean that you take them shopping or send them a book that helps them deal with their pain. But if you want to shine Jesus’ light for people who are sad, you have to find ways to offer them practical help.
So it’s true that we learn how important it is to comfort people who are hurting when we’re kids. But hugs and band-aids won’t fix all of life’s problems. So, when we see people hurting we need to be willing to follow Jesus’ example. We need to be willing to shine his light.