Joy and Sadness

  • Joy and Sadness
  • Esther 9:20-22
  • Bill Couch
  • January 24, 2016
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Joy and Sadness

I’ve seen this movie three times and watched several clips multiple times. Each time I watch it, I grow more amazed at the levels of meaning and symbolism—and the overall message of this movie. It is incredibly written and full of creativity. Don’t miss this movie. It will open all kinds of conversation for families about emotions.

The movie “Inside Out” tracks a major transition in the life of eleven-year-old girl named Riley. She experienced a very stable world full of joy in Minnesota: friends, hockey, loving parents, fun. Then her family moved to San Francisco and her world turned upside down. We are given a glimpse inside Riley’s head as she navigates through this transition. In “headquarters” her emotions of joy, sadness, disgust, fear and anger vie for the control board—which emotion is going to be dominant at any given moment. As Riley encounters unfamiliar and challenging situations, two of her emotions joy and sadness get lost in long term memory. She begins to lose or reinterpret some of the core memories of her life that have shaped her personality. She loses her former identity. She no longer knows who she is. She is becoming an adolescent and needs a new identity. How the lost emotions find their way back to headquarters is the primary plot of the movie. In the process Riley discovers the value of all her emotions and develops a new identity.

Each week we are looking at the different emotions Riley experiences and what we can learn about how to deal with our emotions. We have looked at joy, fear, anger and disgust. This week we look at the relationship between sadness and joy. One of the recurring themes in the Bible is about the relationship between these two emotions. Our scripture reading this morning is from the Book of Esther and talks about the day of Feasting known as Purim (poor-im) commemorating how Queen Esther helped to deliver the Jews from their enemies. This feast celebrates how sadness turns to joy.

20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar (uh-dar) 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. Esther 9:20-22

The writers of “Inside Out” originally considered having 20 emotions in headquarters! I’m glad they decided to simplify and go with five primary emotions—it would have really complicated the plot! At the end of the movie, a new control board is installed which has all kinds of emotional options for Riley as she approaches adolescence. Hormones are about to make her life much more complicated! I think the stage was set for a sequel—at least I hope so!

Our emotions are wonderful, powerful gifts from God. Like all of his gifts, they can be misused or abused. The journey of life is more full and enjoyable when we allow ourselves to experience all of our emotions as God intended. We tend to misuse our emotions either by allowing them to control us or by denying them and repressing them. Some people allow one emotion to take over their lives. For instance, some people allow fear to dominate their lives. So this movie provides a great catalyst for discussing and learning how to handle our emotions

Have you wondered why “love” is not mentioned? Do you consider love an emotion? Karla McLaren has written several books on emotional intelligence. Karla says that love is not an emotion.:

“When an emotion is healthy, it arises only when it’s needed, it shifts and changes in response to its environment, and it recedes willingly once it has addressed an issue. When love is healthy, it does none of those things. Love does not increase or decrease in response to its environment, and it does not change with changing winds. Love is not an emotion. Love is in a category of its own.” (Karla McLaren, The Language of Emotions, pg. 123)

Emotions are messengers. They alert us to something in our environment or inside of us that needs attention. But once the need is addressed, they go away. Emotions come and go. The Biblical definition of love is that it is a commitment, a promise, a foundation for a relationship that is solid. Listen to how the Apostle Paul defines love in I Corinthians 13:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.

13 And now these three abide: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8,13


Love embraces all emotions and transcends them. Spans a wide spectrum of meaning, but the core of love is acting in the best interests of another person. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” At the highest level, it is a covenant to journey through life together as the marriage vows proclaim: “in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.” On the other end of the spectrum Jesus made it clear that love is not an emotion when he said: “Love your enemies.” He did not mean to conjure up a warm, fuzzy feeling toward our enemies, but to act in the best interest of even our enemies recognizing that it is love that ultimately conquers evil.   Emotions come and go, but true love abides through all the emotions.

At the beginning of the movie, Joy is busy keeping all the other emotions in check. Her goal is to keep everything in Riley’s life calm, predictable and happy! Riley’s life is full of simple joys. Riley believes that her parents want her to always be a bundle of joy and she delivers. Joy prevails in her life 90% of the time. Joy especially tries to manage and minimize sadness. She tries to keep her away from the emotional control center and prevent her from touching any of Riley’s joy-filled memories and turning them sad. At one point, Joy draws a circle around sadness and encourages her to stay there. But sadness keeps venturing out.

In spite of all Joy’s efforts to keep Riley happy all the time, life has other plans. At some point the simplicity and innocence of childhood has to come to an end. The hard realities of life come crashing in on all of us: an unexpected move, a betrayal, a divorce, sickness, failure, loss of a loved one that brings sadness.

Life crashes in on Riley’s perfect world in Minnesota when she moves to San Francisco and starts a new school, moves into a house with no yard and no furniture for weeks. Joy tries to make Riley rise above all the challenges and make the best of them. In order to accomplish her goal she must keep sadness, anger, fear and disgust minimized. When we minimize an emotion it upsets the whole balance in headquarters. In the process both joy and sadness get lost in long term memory. Without the full range of emotions, Riley can’t cope with the changes in her life. Her identity is lost and she begins to shut down and withdraw even to the point of running away—she hopes back to Minnesota where she can reclaim her old life.

Riley needs to learn the value of all her emotions in order to navigate all the changes in her life and to form a new identity. When she becomes lost, Joy is pursuing all the fond memories from Minnesota and hoping to restore them to the forefront of Riley’s life. But living in the past is not going to restore joy. Riley needs to feel the sadness of what she has lost and let it go. She needs to make new memories and build a new identity.

Because Joy would not allow Riley to feel Sadness, they both get lost. Anger, fear and disgust take over headquarters. Riley lashes out at her parents because she does not understand what is happening inside her. She is not getting the message she needs from sadness. Sadness helps us let go when we need to. If we don’t allow ourselves to grieve what is left behind, then we attempt to hang on to the past and we do not allow ourselves to accept and even joy what is—right now. Joy is chasing the happiness of the past and not allowing Riley to let it go. When we do not allow ourselves to feel all our emotions, we get trapped and we don’t grow up. While lost in long term memory, Joy reconnects with Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong—symbolic that Joy is still clinging to the past. In order for Joy to be restored in headquarters, Bing Bong must stay behind. He sacrifices himself in order that Joy can escape discarded memories. It is one of the saddest moments in the movie and one of its most powerful. In order to continue to mature into adolescence, Riley must let go of her childhood and her old identity in Minnesota. Bing Bong has served her well as a source of comfort and joy as a child. But she must let him go in order to move forward into maturity. Letting go means grieving what is lost.

There are many people who struggle with expressing grief and sadness. I have heard some people say that if we believe in heaven and the resurrection then we should not be sad when a loved one dies. They are in a much better place and we should put on a happy face. Sometimes I see a person begin to grieve and someone in the family tries to shut them down by saying, “You’ve got to be strong.” Often it is because that person speaking is afraid of his/her own grief. That shuts down the very real emotion of sadness and the whole grief process. I will intervene and say, “It is OK to feel your sadness. The healthiest thing you can do right now is cry and even wail. It is OK. Let it out.” When the sadness is not expressed, often anger, fear and disgust begin to leak out all over life. Sadness and tears allow us to let go. Life will not be the same when someone dies or when we move to a new town. We have to allow ourselves to grieve what is lost in order to let go of the past and open up to life as it is right now. We have to trust that joy will come. “Our mourning will turn to joy.” But we can’t short circuit the process and skip the grief without serious consequences. In the time of Queen Esther, the Jewish people had to experience the sadness of oppression and persecution before their joy would return.

The beauty of this movie is we see Joy discovering the value of sadness. She discovers that life is fuller when we feel both joy and sadness at the same time. While lost in long term memory, Joy for the first time allows herself to feel sadness about the memories she sees evaporating around her. She notices one particular memory that is both yellow and blue—sadness and joy are linked together. Let’s watch as she reviews a memory of when Riley’s team lost a hockey game in the play offs.


That is an amazing scene as Joy discovers that sadness has a place in healing and restoring joy. Riley’s parents came because of her sadness and it turned to joy—but she had to go through it. Joy realizes that both she and sadness must return to headquarters. When they return, Joy takes out of her bag the happy memories she had collected originally hoping they would bring happiness back to Riley. Now she grasps that the only way back to happiness is to let Riley feel the sadness about the loss of all the things she left behind in Minnesota. So she hands the joy-filled memories over to Sadness and allows Riley to grieve. The yellow memories turn blue. Let’s watch:


          Riley believed that her parents would be mad at her if she expressed sadness about what she missed in Minnesota. She thought that her role was to pretend to be happy even when she was not. Once she expressed her real emotion of sadness, her parents can embrace her and comfort her and share in her grief. Her emotions are validated by her parents—she feels loved. How often do we tell our kids or grandkids: “Don’t feel that way. Get over it.” Or worse “You should not feel that way.” Often because as parents we are uncomfortable with our own emotions. We need to discover together the value and importance of all our God-given emotions. They are messengers. What is the message? And how can I express this emotion in an appropriate way to get my needs met?

Riley expressed her sadness and new possibilities begin to emerge. A new healthy memory has just been experienced in San Francisco. This memory is different. It is the first memory ball that contained both yellow and blue? Up to this point all the memory balls were only one color. Riley is growing up. She discovers that we can feel multiple emotions simultaneously and it is OK. A new island of her identity emerges. The family does not return to Minnesota. They stay in San Francisco and Riley makes new and more friends than ever. She finds a new hockey team. Joy returns.

As a church we are in a time of transition—we are moving from one chapter of our history to the next. The first chapter has been long one—like some of my sermons–37 years I’ve served as senior pastor. It is time for a new chapter—a new identity. We will all need to let go—to allow ourselves to grieve what is left behind. It is OK. And at the same time to realize that joy is coming—a new season of growth and maturing as a church. It is healthy for us to feel sadness and joy at the same time. And we can experience both because we trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us through this time. And of course, Margaret and I are doing the same thing as we prepare to move to a new location and a new chapter in our lives. Our mourning will turn to joy as we open ourselves to the new possibilities and opportunities that God has for us.