Often, I write while sitting in my recliner and watching TV. Two activities. At the same time. I occasionally talk on the phone at work while surreptitiously completing tasks on my computer. I even walk while chewing gum.
Yeah, I think I’m proficient in the skill of multitasking.
Alas, cognitive science says we’re not as good as we believe. One National Safety Council study said 28 percent of all traffic accidents and fatalities in the United States are caused by people driving while on their cell phones.
Other studies cite stats such as 70 percent of us thinking we’re above average at competently doing two or more things at once when, in actuality, as little as 3 percent of people are “supertaskers.” We likely perform much better if we focus on one thing at a time.
But what about emotional multitasking, or even spiritual multitasking?
I thought about that — and began to contemplate the idea in prayer — when a friend recently asked me if I experience joy. Ever.
A promise: This isn’t yet another discourse about mental health. Instead, it’s a humble attempt to provide some insight and some hope by exploring a question:
Can sadness and joy co-exist within the same heart and soul?
I haven’t kept either my ongoing major depression or frequent spiritual darkness a secret, as my writing and various talks have proven. But I’m often good at hiding it in everyday life. For better or worse, though, being a member of my family or one of my close friends means occasionally seeing and hearing the pit of the darkness.
That can involve a somber demeanor, moods ranging from frustration to despair, all tinged with what we call sadness. There are a variety of flavors for that emotion: regret, grief, sorrow, despondency and, yes, that profoundly deep sadness of depression that exists every waking moment, day after day after day.
Yet there can be smiles and laughter peppered throughout those days. And there can be pleasure, satisfaction and simple, abiding joy existing at the same time as the melancholy.
I’ve seen a great deal of that in recent months. A friend passed away at the age of 59 after battling early-onset Alzheimer’s. I sensed her husband’s sadness. Yet, because she suffered so much the last two months, he had prayed for an end to her suffering, feeling at least some small contentment in the answered prayer. He also displayed joy about a long marriage to a wonderful person.
The pandemic has caused the cancellation of graduations. People feel sadness about not getting to watch their children walk across that stage and receive a diploma. But they simultaneously feel a wholehearted joy that their children have completed that stage of life.
Perhaps you remember this: Jesus had been risen from the dead for 40 days, much of that time instructing His apostles and speaking about the kingdom of God. He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. He was alive! Their joy was indescribable.
Then, one day, Jesus “was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight.” All they could do was stand staring at the sky.
Sadness and joy. At the same time. They would miss Him. They were afraid. The future felt uncertain. But their Lord lived and had made promises that they trusted with all their hearts. And these words from Jesus probably echoed in their hearts:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
When I feel the sadness, those words always continue echoing in my heart. Think of wandering in a desert while carrying a bottle of cold water. The intense heat of the seemingly unending desert is unrelenting, but the bottle never runs dry.
Sadness and joy in the same heart. At the same time.
Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus in St. Charles.