The hearts of the people
cry out to the Lord.
You walls of Daughter Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest.
Lamentations 2:18 (NIV)
I have a friend who is experiencing pain in life that I can’t imagine. Every day is a torment. My friend has actually compared daily life to Sisyphus, who perpetually struggled to roll a boulder up the hill only to have the law of physics win every time. He would watch as the boulder rolled back down requiring him to start again, and again, and again.
My friend steadfastly refuses to talk much about it.
“I remember you telling me thirty years ago about these old farmers in the church where you interned that one summer,” my friend said to me. “How these old guys were so stoic they would refuse to go to the doctor or the hospital even though they were suffering and dying. I’ve always admired that.”
I don’t begrudge the sentiment. I’ve observed that human nature often leads one to do almost anything to avoid pain. This is especially true when that pain is perpetual. I might find ways to numb out and avoid it. I might distract my mind and soul with any number of things. I might, like the old farmers my friend admired, stoically stuff my pain and suffering down deep and stoically steel myself to silently endure. In each case, I’m still just avoiding what the Great Story states, quite directly multiple times in multiple ways: the path of spiritual progress in this life is in pain, trouble, trials, and suffering. Jeremiah’s amazing five poems of Lamentation might easily be presented as Exhibit A.
Here’s a little Jeopardy! trivia: The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is “How” (Hebrew: ‘êkâ), after the first word of the first line of chapters 1, 2, and 4. Here are the three lines in succession:
How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How the Lord has covered Daughter Zion
with the cloud of his anger!
How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
There’s something I really love about that. It recognizes what I find to be exactly what I need when I’m suffering struggles on this life journey: to honestly, emotionally, and unashamedly express my thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. That’s exactly what Jeremiah’s five-poem volume, How, is all about.
How I should grieve!
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found it interesting to observe so many people who have a base assumption that life should be free of trouble, and that when experiencing trouble one should deny it, avoid it, and pretend that everything is okay. On the contrary, my perpetual journey through the Great Story reminds me constantly to experience trouble head-on, to fully express sorrow, and to allow life’s troubles to do their spiritual work in me as I cling to hope in God’s promises and have faith that there are good things on the other side of the pain.
The Sage of Ecclesiastes said that there is a time and season to mourn and grieve on this journey just as there is a time and season to dance. I love the juxtaposition of those realities in one verse. It gives me permission (I might even say it commands me) to fully feel and express my grief, but it doesn’t allow me to sit in and wallow in victim status forever. Rather, it is in fully working through my grief that I make my way out of the valley and to the next mountain vista where I can just as fully dance on the summit. They are part of one another. My grieving gives fullness to the dancing. My dancing gives perspective to the grieving. I find that treating them as either-or experiences in life is spiritually anorexic. Experiencing their both-and interconnectedness is spiritually empowering.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that there are times in this life when God gives me permission, even commands me to:
Cry out! Wail! Moan! Sing the blues!
Let my tears torrentially flow like a raging river.
Let it out around the clock.
Don’t stop until it’s done.
It’s through the free flow of my grief that God spiritually transports me to where He’s leading me.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.