Ecclesiastes 3: 4 “There is a time and season for everything under the heavens, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”
Lamentations 3: 55-57
When we have an occasional headache or other muscle aches, we reach for our favorite over-the-counter medication. Slug down some Ibuprofen, force that smile and put one foot in front of the other and hope relief comes soon. When we have indigestion, we grab Tums or the “pink” stuff. Have the flu? There’s a remedy for that too. We are about quick fixes and instant relief.
But what about emotional pain? Oh no! Not that. We cannot tolerate that either. That’s what a tub of ice-cream is for. Or a bottle of vodka. Or worse, controlled substances. A myriad of distractions are always available in which we can indulge in to avoid our negative feelings.
We’re uncomfortable talking about our losses and struggles. Nobody likes a complainer. Just find your online therapist like everyone else. Or the opposite extreme; deny it all, cultivate the perfect smile, and pretend everything is fine. This is the rhetoric we are taught from the time we are in diapers to adulthood. This is why depression runs rampant, and we need to change our conversation about this topic.
Responses like “Aren’t you over that yet?” Or, “Just find something to get your mind of it,” are not helpful to someone in the middle of suffering devastating loss, whether it has been two months or two years. When we are in the thick of it, when we feel like our tears will never stop flowing, when we are in the pit of despair, the conversation should go something like this:
“Why are you so sad?”
“I’m thinking about ________ and remembering when _________. I’m struggling with ________ and could use some support with _____.”
“I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m praying for you daily. Would you like to talk about it more? I’m here for you whenever you’re ready”
The book of Lamentations offers comfort and help, both in processing our own lives and coming alongside others in pain.
I wish I would have known how to grieve when I was 14, and that it was okay to take my anger and sadness to God when I lost my grandmother. After my divorce, I wish a pastor or counselor would have directed me to Lamentations and told to grieve over what might have been. Now, 30 years later, after losing my mother, I finally have a much deeper understanding of what grief is and how to do it, thanks to a study of Lamentations.
Lamentations, the one between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament, gives a voice to our grief. Written by the prophet Jeremiah after Israel had been destroyed by Babylon, he grieves the loss of his beloved country and his people. The Israelites were suffering severely because of their sin and rebellion against the Lord. Still today, suffering and illness are the result of sin. Even though Jeremiah was blameless and called by God, he also endured a lifetime of suffering. Loss, pain and death are regular par for the course in this world. God does not guarantee even faithful believers a smooth path through or an easy exit from this life.
The Bible encourages hurting people to verbalize hard questions and express profound grief or struggle. A lament is crying or calling out to God in distress. A lament gives us a voice to our grief.
When we lose a loved one, we need to lament. When a precious unborn baby is released to heaven, we need to lament our empty arms on earth. When we flounder in the muck and mire of our sin, we need to lament. The healthiest thing we can do when we are experiencing emotional pain is to put a voice and words to it. Or read the words of others.
“I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.” You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”(Lamentations 3:55-57)
My five-year-old bears some resemblance to the 1940s photos of my mom when she was that age. As an astute observer, she easily picks up on my emotions when they are raw and intense, just like Mom did. This is how our conversation sometimes goes:
“Momma do you need a hug?”
“Why, yes I do, thank you.”
“Momma, are you sad about Nanna? You said Nanna is with Jesus now.”
“Yes, she is.”
“But we still miss her, don’t we?”
“Yes, we do.” (sniff sniff as my tears flow)
Because this world will be broken and full of suffering and tragedy until Jesus returns to take us all home to heaven, we would be wise to take a walk through Lamentations on a regular basis and some of the Psalms as well.
We need consistent reminders that God is still actively working in our lives, and that His mercies are new every morning. We cannot escape grief and suffering, but God has promised to be with us and walk us through it, to comfort and guide us, to teach us and lead us into the next step of our journey.
“God knows that we gain much by waiting on Him when our gas tank is empty, our strength is failing, and our answers are few. We prefer resolution, but God encourages us to trust Him for the final chapter only He will write. What unresolved situation do you need to entrust to God? Will you join Jeremiah in being humble, honest, and yet hopeful?” (mybsf.org, lesson 27: Lamentations – Poetic Expressions of Painful Loss)
Dear Heavenly Father,
You understand our sorrow, pain and suffering and have given us a way to express it. Help us, Lord, as we hang on with weary hands and fainting hearts. You made us into emotional beings, so they have a reason and purpose. May we lean into these feelings even when it’s not fun so that you can heal us.