I do not wish to prove I am vindicated in my anger or justified in my sorrow. I think I am, but it is not my goal as I journey through mourning you to make excuses for anger, but rather to give myself grace to experience anger and grief and sorrow whether they are correct or not.
But my heart aches for all those who know this suffering. Before experiencing your loss myself I had a naive understanding of suffering. I don’t think that’s a bad thing–and in fact I’m blessed to have made it this far in my life with moderate suffering only. But now that I felt grief this devastating, I want to work through it in a healthy way and help others to do the same. Hence the following.
So far in my grief journey I have discovered that the church has a huge heart of love for those who are suffering. Those who have also grieved are the best comfort, for obvious reasons and with no blame to those who haven’t. But while the church as individuals will listen and care and comfort, I think the church as a whole stifle sorrow and lamentation.
Suffering and grief is uncomfortable. It goes against the American Dream and causes the American Christian to look at the world in a way in which he or she would rather not. It causes him or her to look outside of the comfort and ease of life and to realize that the world suffers deeply. How much would we rather blame others’ suffering on something they did wrong when that may not even be true? I mean, yes, everyone in the world suffers because of sin in general. But that person suffering from AIDS may not have obtained their disease from a sinful decision. The prostitute may not have chosen (and probably didn’t choose) to be where she is. And how on earth do we keep rationalizing mass genocide and ignoring the suffering in third world countries as “simply the result of the fall and there’s nothing we can do”?
We don’t all do this. Many of us ache to help ease suffering. Many of us give resources and time to alleviate the suffering of our neighbors, within and out of the church. But this is not what I’m referring to now. I think the church needs to do far more than it does to help others, but what I think it needs to start with is lamentation.
Coincidentally I was reading an article in Christianity Today on the importance of lament this week. Christopher J. H. Wright shared his thoughts on books like Psalms, Job, and specifically Lamentations:
“So much of our worship is cover-up: pretending to have emotions we don’t really feel, or smothering the emotions we do. That is not praise. It simply leaves us to pick up our suffering again on the way out—without bringing it into God’s presence or hurling it at him in questioning (but trusting) protest. Spending time in Lamentations helps us learn how to plumb the depths of lament as well as scale the heights of rejoicing.”
Authors of Psalms, Job himself, and Jeremiah writing in the book of Lamentations, are all examples of those who call God out for letting injustice reign on earth and ask him to prove his faithfulness by making it right. They lament openly their griefs. As a poet myself I have never felt that lamentation was wrong. Complaint isn’t either, as long as it is done in the right attitude and toward the right person. While I don’t think I have been stifled in my own lamentation in the slightest, good Christians may question whether my anger at God, my spoken complaints both now and in years past as I have written psalm-like poetry, is sound. I don’t say this to vindicate myself. I say this for the other ladies reading this who feel like they cannot mourn their own losses, or even if they haven’t experienced loss, perhaps mourn injustices, abuses, ailments. You have my permission to grieve, mourn, lament as much as you need to.
But why? Why must we continue to stifle lamentation in the church and in our families because of the negative emotions it produces, or how uncomfortable it feels, or how we may feel that God only wants us to have happy attitudes?
Where on earth can we have gotten the idea that God only wants us to be happy? If we take this idea too far we will never be refined by affliction and we will never work through our emotions properly.
As David wrote his psalms of lament he was openly angry and honest about his suffering. He always called on God to make it right and concluded by acknowledging God’s faithfulness. Both Job and David questioned God while acknowledging faithfulness. God answered Job and David, but he doesn’t respond to Jeremiah’s Lamentations. On this, Wright adds,
“One commentator, Kathleen O’Connor, calls God’s silence ‘inspired.’ This resonates on three levels. First, God allows the suffering people to have their full say. He listens, without interrupting to comfort or correct. Second, the Prophets had already explained that this would happen and why. And third, although God does not speak as a character in the book, he speaks by including it in his Word, within the canon of Scripture.”
I think that is telling. The larger canon of Scripture answers the Lamentations by showing us who God is and what he has done and will continue to do. But the fact that an entire book of unanswered Lamentations is included in the Word suggests to me that God has no problem with and in fact desires our honest lamentation not only for our own suffering but for the rest of the world.
Psalm 56:8 says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?” Clearly our tears and our mourning is known to God. He does not spurn our grief or turn us away if we aren’t joyful. It feels like he is spurning me, right now, in my own experience. He feels very far away. But I know in my head if not in my heart that he hears and sees my suffering and is not unmoved.
I lament and beg like David, without shame and without holding back, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; the my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.” And I hope that one day I will be able to rejoice with David in the rest of Psalm 31 and say that God has been faithful to me in my affliction and delivered me from my distress.
But in the meantime I will be like Jeremiah in the book of Lamentations: mournful, grieved, angry, and unanswered, and that will be sufficient for me.
Link to article here.