Certainly the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended; certainly God’s compassion isn’t through! They are renewed every morning. Great is your faithfulness. –Lamentations 3:22-23
You wouldn’t think that kind of celebratory sentiment would be found in a book of the Bible titled, “Lamentations.” I mean, when I think about lament, I think about tear-flowing, snot-running, breast-beating anguish. Lamenting isn’t happy stuff. It’s no wonder Bible verses from Lamentations show up only twice in the entire three-year cycle of weekly scriptures called the lectionary (and one of those is on Holy Saturday, which gets lost in the shuffle anyway). Yet, here’s something hopeful, something positive—"the faithful love of the Lord hasn’t ended…God’s compassion isn’t through…They are renewed every morning”—and it comes out of that tear-flowing, snot-running, breast-beating anguish, from God’s people lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem: the loss of their homes and livelihoods, their rituals and traditions, their hopes and dreams.
Yes, goodness follows anguish. Hope rises from lament. When I was on sabbatical, away from my family, and I received the news that my last grandparent had died, it wasn’t until I leaned against a wall, hung my head, and cried that I could hold my head back up, smile, and thank God for her life.
But when we’ve endured nearly 10 months of isolation from a pandemic that has caused more pain and loss that we might ever be able to fully appreciate in this lifetime, we are slow to lament. It’s not just that the heaviness of these long days tempts us with indifference and threatens us with emotional numbness; it’s that when things are like this and something bad happens to us, we look at our bad thing comparatively with the plight of the world, shrug our shoulders, and think, “This isn’t nearly as bad as what other people are going through.” But minimizing my pain in comparison with someone else’s pain does neither of us any good. Loss is loss, and pain is pain, no matter how perceptibly large or small; and when they are shrugged off, they can become something worse.
Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, a psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University, calls this toxic positivity—the impulse to compare yourself or others with those in less fortunate circumstances—and says that it leads to trauma. She advises that we not be ashamed of our grief, especially during a pandemic, because such “silencing,” as Dr. Bryant-Davis terms it, “is unhelpful when it comes to processing loss.” Lamentations are necessary.
So, when we something bad happens to us and the plight of the world is still a crushing reality, when we are experiencing genuine pain and loss, grief and sorrow, but our neighbor is struggling to pay a utility bill while their spouse is on a ventilator from COVID, don’t assume that it is petty to face your own anguish. Loss is loss, and pain is pain. And don’t belittle your lamentations. Lamentations are a powerful gift big enough to embrace my pain and loss as well as yours. Remember, like the sermon from January 3, 2021 mentioned, “It’s not either/or with God. As Jesus, the penultimate representation of God, reveals to us by transcending every restrictive, suppressive binary that we construct, God is not either/or. God is both/and.” You have the power to scream lamentations from your own anguish, and to pour them over the struggles of others.
So, as we assess the year in our rearview mirror and all the loss and pain that resulted from it, let’s offer intercessory lamentations along with our own expressions of lament. Praying for God to intercede on behalf of your neighbor and all the plight of the world is not only faithful; it might just be an act of liberation whereby you would be set free to face your own pain and loss fully and unabashedly.