There are days when I feel immobilized by all the pain in this world. I’ve had quite a few of those in the last few weeks. Days when despite the sunshine, I see clouds of gray. Days when I wonder where God is, where hope is to be found, when relief will come.
Sometimes this is personal pain. More often, it’s pain carried by someone I love. And then, there is all.the.angst — the burdens borne by our big, wild, crazy world. I’ve lived long enough to see too much ugliness, too much suffering, too much.
I’ve tried cutting myself off from news sources. And that helps for a while, at least until reality intervenes at some other juncture in my life. You can only hide for so long, it seems.
I’ve tried focusing on the small graces of every day life. And that helps considerably. Counting gifts is good therapy, and a habit that I’ve lived with for a very long time now.
But, in and around the thanksgiving, there are those other days. The days that feel like —
uncertainty deep in my soul,
tears beneath the tears,
knots within knots within knots.
And on such days, words escape me, gratitude is much harder to find, and I sense myself suffering what Madeleine L’Engle used to describe as the flu-like symptoms of atheism, the temporary variety.
Where are you?
How could you?
This is too much!
These are the words that rise, the only words that seem to be appropriate in the midst of the ‘slough of despond.’ And these are also, by some miraculous gift of Goodness, the words that slowly but surely open the door to grace and truth.
These are the words of lament.
And they are worthy words indeed. They are also necessary words, healing words, honest words. And they are words that weave in and out of our Holy Book, enriching the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, the prophets, even the words of Jesus himself.
How is it that we so easily forget this beautiful language? How is it that too many voices in too many churches seem to sing in only one key? How is it that we have not made room for the full spectrum of human emotion, including the deep sorrow that we all carry? The deep sorrow of being human in a broken and sinful world.
After many years of reading and study, I have yet to find a single word in scripture that is trite. Not one. Yet I see such words, I hear them, I cringe at them in so many parts of the larger Christian community. I choose to believe that the motives behind such words are good ones, that perhaps those who use truisms, clichés, and bromides have not yet been introduced to the lovely language we’re given, the words and questions that comprise over half of the ancient psalter, language that speaks for us when we cannot find our voice.
“How long will you hide your face from me. . .”
“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself!”
“O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear; do not stand aloof, O God.”
Every word, every question, every complaint — aimed directly at God. For where else can we go when the questions overwhelm us, when the answers seem buried in a land we cannot see? Who else is there to hear the cries of our hearts, to carry the weight of our tears?
It is lament that carries us directly into the presence of God when we are feeling furthest away; it is lament that addresses our unanswerable questions honestly, even profoundly; it is lament that opens the door to worship.
Each of the psalms quoted above winds its way around to acknowledging something fiercely important and true: God is God. Mysterious? Yes. Inscrutable? Sometimes. Unreachable? NEVER.
For this is where each of the three laments listed above ultimately lands:
“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”
“Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
“Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD — that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”
That you alone are the Most High over all the earth. When I am sinking beneath the unbearable weight of the broken hearts in this world, these are the words I need to hear, the acknowledgement I must come to and own.
But. . . I cannot, indeed, I must not, get to those words without first singing out the plaintive words of lament, without first acknowledging my pain, my confusion, my sorrow.
Lament leads me where I need to be. Lament loosens something inside, opens doors and windows into the soul and the psyche. Lament, even the angriest, darkest lament, allows me to be me, to be real, to be honest.
And when someone comes alongside me when I am in the midst of the grief, I need that someone to listen, maybe even to offer some harmony in that minor key. I do not need reminders of God’s goodness, God’s plan, God’s sovereignty.
I’ll get there. But when I’m sitting in the in-between, when I am walking through the valley — please let me sing the sad song for as long as I need to. And if you can, sing it with me. Then, together, we can turn the corner as the psalmists do. We can pour out the pain and make room for the praise, we can sit in the ashes and reach for the roses, we can discover again that we are safe in the presence of God.
And there is not one thing cliché about that.