In praise of lament

December 9, 2015 — Leave a comment

We once had a children’s bible one of our daughters dubbed The Happy Bible, because the word ‘blessed’ was translated as ‘happy’. “Happy are the…” read the beatitudes in Matthew. Even, “Happy are those who mourn.” Frankly, I think we all found that a bit jarring, because we knew better.

But truthfully, when I began to follow Jesus, I expected less sadness in my life. I read the verse in Revelations about the hope of heaven when all the tears will be wiped away, and I wanted that now. Many Christian speakers and authors have been happy to oblige me, offering a false faith that acts like a magic button: you press the button with faith and presto! No need to feel sad.

It is true that we have hope of joy in eternal life. It is true that,”The evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence, he desires that every one should be like himself.” [Frances de Sales]

The trouble is that “Jesus saves” quickly turns into “I shouldn’t feel sad because faith in Jesus means perpetual sunshine.” The evil one may be pleased with melancholy but he is also pleased with the lies of shallow happiness:
• Believe in God and you will be happy all the time.
• If you have enough faith, enough hope, and enough love, you won’t feel sad.
• If you are sad, don’t be, because God loves you and Jesus fixes everything.
• When you feel sad, just praise God instead.

Thanks to C.S. Lewis and “A Grief Observed”, we have come to believe we can grieve the loss of someone we love. But when a vague sadness moves in like a thick cloud cover, it’s easy for us to view it as a failure of faith.

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It’s not a failure though. When I feel sad, it indicates loss in my life–not only from the loss of a person but from other losses as well: failure, lost dreams, rejection, broken relationships. Given the state of our sin-infused world, there’s more than enough justification for us to feel a heart-wrenching melancholy.

In fact, you could argue that shallow happiness is a far greater danger in turning us away from God. First when the intoxication of happiness makes us believe we don’t need Him, and then when we feel a bitter anger because our happiness has been replaced by suffering .

I remember when a friend of mine, after years of trying to become pregnant and undergoing three in-vitro treatments without success, finally had to face the reality that she and her husband were not going to have a baby. She was exploring Buddhism at the time, a philosophy whose approach to sadness is detachment. Get rid of desire, and you get rid of sorrow. [I should add that the false ‘happy, happy’ approach some Christians promote sounds just as hollow as ‘give up your heart’s desire’.]
But the view of detachment wasn’t working for her. My friend felt the depths of sorrow over her unfulfilled desire and I mourned with her.

God knows and understands this. Reading through the psalms that deal with lament [over a third of the psalms fall into this category], it is clear that God values truth in our inmost parts. These psalms are filled with the heartfelt cries that the world is not the way it is meant to be.

O Lord have mercy on me in my anguish. My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow.Psalms 31:9

The holy reaction to feeling sad is not to ignore it or bury it. Pushing the sadness down and pretending it isn’t there is not a healthy spiritual response either. There isn’t an easy ‘fix’ for sadness. But a start is to let the feelings surface and share them with my loving, heavenly Father. I find a deep comfort knowing that I can pour out my heart to God. What He desires most of all is that I am authentic, not respectable, with Him. He knows the fissures of sadness that seep in the dark places of my heart, even before I tell him.

One day He will wipe every tear away from my eyes. But until then He will listen to me as I cry. He is present with me in my sadness and comforts me. He mourns with me.

“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the entire Bible and also one of the most profound. God incarnate was moved to tears. Later, he looked over Jerusalem and cried. And on the cross, I imagine, he cried as well. This is what “Emmanuel, God with us” really means. He came to the darkness we walk in, and experienced, as we do, all the sadness of this world.

This is who I share my sadness with–“a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, the One who understands.

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Where is there sadness in your life?
How is God present with you in it?

“And if I weep may it be as a man who is longing for his home.”
Rich Mullins

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