Don’t rush through where Christians fear to tread

Solitude. Chagall

Someone I greatly respect recently posted the following on Facebook. It’s a short word about lament. I’ve been saying we live in circumstances appropriate for the practice of lament prayer, so I was glad someone is writing about it. However, when I read this friend’s word, I had mixed feelings. I agreed with his main point — that for followers of Jesus “lamenting simultaneously in and with trust is crucial to our well being” — but, on the other hand, these words troubled me because I don’t think too many Christians, especially here in America and particularly in the world of evangelicalism grasp the process this entails.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:8-12)

We see here the simultaneity my friend writes about. Death and resurrection mark the life and ministry of the Christian. Here’s how my friend put it:

What do the people Jesus created -— the Church —- do in times like these?

Here is what I think we do: We empathize. In biblical terms, we lament. But as the people of God, we lament in a very unique and Christlike way (John 15:11). This allows us to be a positive, faith-filled presence to the brokenness we lament.

We lament, mourn and pray in pain, but not without trust that hope and joy are in the very air we use to pray. It is not an either/or proposition.

We may feel hope/joy and lament/mourning in what seems like cycles or alternating moments. But lamenting simultaneously in and with trust is crucial to our well being and our ability to lovingly and effectively be present to and lead others.

But… but…

It seems to me that most of us are quick to rush through the “death” part so that we can emphasize the “resurrection.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to skip the first part altogether. We don’t allow ourselves to truly grieve, to mourn, to lament — to let death do its work in us.

This subsequently leads us to play the part of Job’s counselors with others. Sitting in silence with them makes us itchy. So we give immediately hand them a Dayspring card. We recommend a new Christian song that emphasizes God’s blessings in times of sadness. We spout a cliché. We run quickly from the foot of the cross and don’t stop running until Friday turns to Saturday and then we get to Sunday. But the old preacher told us to wait. Sunday’s comin’, he said. He did not say we get to skip right to the end of the weekend. He did not say Friday and Saturday don’t matter. He did not say we should avoid looking fully into the darkness of the inhabited tomb in favor of immediately embracing the empty one.

I want to advocate for a full, unrushed experience and practice of lament. We need to live in it, to soak in it, to let it do its work in us before moving on. Loss, change, and disorientation are wounds that require time and patient care to heal. And so, the psalms of lament describe a process that is necessary to move through. Taking the necessary time, not insisting upon an accelerated pace of our own choosing.

We don’t jump to hope, we more often slog our way there. However long it takes.

Let lament be lament. Don’t rush through where too many Christians fear to tread.

33 thoughts on “Don’t rush through where Christians fear to tread

  1. Heather, wouldn’t you still miss your parents and friends in the present?

    None of us can “know” there’s an afterlife, although I believe it enough that I seldom doubt it in any serious way. But I want my people with me here, now. I don’t mean to negate your understanding of your feelings, and I’m afraid that’s how this is coming across. I apologize for that. I’m just having my own reaction to the idea you’ve expressed.

    Mostly, I don’t grieve for and miss my father and grandmother etc., because I’m not sure I’ll never see them again, but because it’s been too long since last I’ve seen them. I wish I could have experienced them watching my kids grow up. I still want to talk to them. I want to hug them. I want to sit quietly with them. I want to laugh and cry with them. Their absences are holes in my life right now. Even knowing (believing) that hole will someday be filled doesn’t make up for their loss right now in the now. Believing I will see them again is a comfort, but it doesn’t negate my grief.

    There’s an old anecdote that’s been appropriated by countless pastors through the years, and for good reason — because it’s rooted in relatable emotion.

    One night during a thunder storm, a frightened little boy cries out for his parents. He’s scared and doesn’t want to be alone. Trying to comfort and calm him, his parents remind him, “Jesus is with you.”

    The little boy replies, “I want someone with skin on him.”

    I’m grateful I’ll see Dad and Nana again someday, but I want them here and now, with skin on ’em. In my stronger moments of faith, I believe that someday, the pain of separation and loss will make a higher sense to me, but that doesn’t remove my grief in the present. I even think that entering into eternal life with the eternal God will fundamentally change what I’m living now. Eternity means outside of time. It may be that when we’re complete, what now feels like separation will be revealed not to be separation. But right now, it is separation.

    I want my people back. I hate not having them here. I have learned to live without them, but I’ll never get over that grief until they are restored to me, and I would feel the same way if Jesus showed up in my kitchen with incontrovertible proof that we’ll be reunited.

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  2. As in “It’s still a bummer.”
    St Paul would be denounced as “One of LIttle FAITH” by the Happy Clappy Joy Joy crowd.
    “Are We SMIIIIIILING Today?”

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  3. Paul was probably a lot more assured about the afterlife than we can ever be. And even he said “We do not grieve as others grieve”, not “We do not grieve.”

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  4. I think that if I truly, absolutely, knew there was an afterlife, and that God would be there and so would my parents and friends — I would never grieve again. What would there be to grieve for? At this late stage of the game for me, I would know I’d see them all soon. But…

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  5. If you have a some kind of cross you can wear (maybe a leftover crucifix from your Catholic days?), consider bearing it on your body if you’re not doing so already: E. too. No magick, just reality, and a constant wordless prayer from the heart.

    D.

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  6. Which is why when you’re Hurting, the LAST people you want to go to are Christians.

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  7. Our cat Lea is beyond the sufferings of this world now. We were with her when she passed. She had a good life, we treated her well, and she was well loved and gave love as good as she received. But our hearts still ache, they ache.

    My wife grieved and complained out loud to God today at the timing of this loss, happening as it has almost on the eve of a deeply traumatic challenge that she must face. As for myself, the loss of our cat, besides grieving me terribly in it own right, fills me with dread at the possibility of the loss of my wife. The ways of God are an excruciating mystery that weaves in and out of events, and sufferings, that make little sense.

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  8. Yes.

    There is something about the ache of our heart and soul in the midst of grief and despair that makes us conscious that Someone is close and hears us.

    “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.“

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  9. ‘deep is calling on deep in the roar of waters
    Your torrents and waves have swept over me’

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  10. It seems to me that lament and hope do not really go well together. When you hear the positive spin in the midst of lament it seams really jarring and tone deaf.

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  11. Praying that a peace that transcends all understanding falls upon you and your household in the coming days, Robert.

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  12. You are in Christ. He knows.

    So very, very sorry about your cat. Jesus knows about that, too, as do the many people who have been close to Him and whom animals have not feared (there are lots of others besides St Francis).

    Prayers today and through the coming days. Hugs to you & your wife.

    Dana

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  13. Robert, please know that you and yours are being prayed for now. You are not alone in this.

    Peace of Christ, give us shelter.

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  14. “When Jesus wept over the dead body of his friend Lazarus, many things seem to have been at work in him, and there seem to have been many levels to his grief. He wept because his friend was dead and he had loved him. Beneath that he wept because, as Mary and Martha both tactlessly reminded him, if he had only been present, Lazarus needn’t have died, and he was not present. Beneath that, he wept perhaps because if only God had been present, then too Lazarus needn’t have died, and God was not present either, at least not in the way and to the degree that he was needed. Then, beneath even that, it is as if his grief goes so deep that it is for the whole world that Jesus is weeping and the tragedy of the human condition, which is to live in a world where again and again God is not present, at least not in the way and to the degree that man needs him. Jesus sheds his tears at the visible absence of God in the world where the good and bad alike go down to defeat and death. He sheds his tears at the audible silence of God at those moments especially when a word from him would mean the difference between life and death, or at the deafness of men which prevents their hearing him, the blindness of men which prevents even Jesus himself as a man from seeing him to the extent that at the moment of all moments when he needs him most he cries out his Eloi Eloi, which is a cry so dark that of the four evangelists, only two of them have the stomach to record it as the last word he spoke while he still had a human mouth to speak with. Jesus wept, we all weep, because even when man is good, even when he is Jesus, God makes himself scarce for reasons that no theodicy has ever fathomed.”

    – Buechner

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  15. We’re with you and your wife today in spirit and prayer, Robert. Peace to you both and may God grant the surgeon and staff skill and wisdom in providing care.

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  16. She’s in the hospital. It is likely that she will need to be euthanized. The good news is that we are allowed into the hospital to be with her in her last moments, despite coronavirus restrictions on human companions in the building; the bad news is that there’s nothing good about it — it’s good-for-nothing news, as Bob Dylan calls it.

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  17. I’ve had chronic migraine for 15 years. The first couple of years after I quit working I spent in Lamentations and Psalms. I had never learned lament in church, but it was so good for my soul to know that I could tell God how awful things were. I just went back to start reading Lamentations again. Yes, God is good, but he still allows us to live on this earth where bad things happen.

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  18. Because it shares most of that society’s assumptions which breed that isolation and loneliness.

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  19. It’s easy to forget when one is having a hard time oneself that others are also struggling with their own burdens, burdens that they cannot for one reason or another speak about, and which make it impossible for them to hear or share yours. I did not know that man well, I was new to the church and he had been a regular for years; it’s entirely possible that he was staggering under burdens of his own, and I was ignorant of the fact. Yet, even if true, what a lonely culture was involved in producing our discrete isolations. The church is meant to be a sanctuary from such isolation, which is pervasive in society, but mostly seems to share the same condition.

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  20. At least he was honest about it. I’ve gotten more than my share of forced smiles and platitudes after I’ve been “too” honest.

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  21. It’s such a lonely state of affairs. I remember years ago, when I was a recently received member of the Episcopal Church, a man in the congregation that had received me asked in greeting one Sunday morning how I was. I replied truthfully that I wasn’t doing well, to which he said, “I don’t like to hear that,” then promptly turned away from me to talk with another parishoner.

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  22. I think that many of us here – those with loved ones with long illnesses, chronic depression, those who’ve spent a lifetime on the “other side” of the popularity fence – have by these circumstances, been forced to live in the wilderness. We can’t NOT lament, because it’s all we have, and for whatever reason we can’t play the “pretend it’s all ok” game with everyone else in church.

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  23. My wife is scheduled for a double mastectomy on Tuesday morning for breast cancer. Last night our eight year old cat, who my wife loves and from whom she receives love and incalculable comfort in return, became suddenly very ill with multiple issues that we had no idea existed, but for which the vet gives a poor prognosis — it doesn’t seem our Leah will survive. Grief and lament have taken hold of us with brutal hands, and we could no more rush through them than we could rush through the heart of a massive hurricane. Resurrection? That’s just a word now.

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