We all accumulate a host of losses over the course of a lifetime. Many of them are small losses; some of them are devastating losses. The death of children, disability, rape, abuse, cancer, infertility, suicide, and betrayal are all examples of crushing loss – losses that need to experience lament. All these losses are irreversible; we cannot return to how things once were. We must push forward by grieving each loss. And as we lurch ahead we cling to these words from Holy Scripture: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).
So, how do we lament our losses in a healthy way? Here is what the prophet Jeremiah did in the book of Lamentations:
- Jeremiah remembered his afflictions and his losses. We need to avoid superficial repentance and forgiveness. We must own and feel the pain of the loss before we can begin to offer a mature forgiveness.
- Jeremiah paid attention to faith, hope, and love. This can only be done if we are alert to the process of grieving. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was the person who identified the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and resolution/acceptance. We rarely move neatly through each stage. The important thing is that we get to the place of seeing God’s committed love to us not just in spite of the suffering but because of it.
- Jeremiah did not minimize his pain and suffering. We must sit with our pain. Do not sluff off a loss by saying others have it worse, or that it is nothing. Year after year many Christians do not confront the losses of life, minimizing their failures and disappointments. The result is a profound inability to face pain, and has led to shallow spirituality and an acute lack of compassion.
- Jeremiah prophesied about how Jesus grieved. His message predicted what Jesus faced in his passion. The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Peter Scazzero, in his book The Emotionally Healthy Church, points out what Jesus did not say, and what he did say at particular events in his ministry. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus did not say “Come on everyone, stop all this crying” but wept with the people. When entering Jerusalem, Jesus did not say “too bad guys, I’m moving on without you” but lamented over the city desiring to gather them as a hen does her chicks. On the cross, Jesus did not say “Lighten up everyone; God is good; he will be victorious!” But instead said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hebrews 5:8 tells us that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.”
Grieving is an indispensable part of a full-orbed spirituality and emotional health. Life does not always make sense. There is deep mystery to the ways of God. The Lord is doing patient and careful work inside of each one of us. While he is busy within our souls, we will likely feel lost and disconnected, not seeing the full tapestry of what he is creating. Weariness, loneliness, a sense that prayers are not being heard, and a feeling of helplessness are all common experiences of God’s reconstruction of a broken spirit.
People who have truly lamented their losses are not hard to spot. They have a greater capacity to wait on God and be patient toward others. They are kinder and more compassionate. They lack pretense and are liberated from trying to impress others. They are comfortable with mystery, not having to be certain about every theological minutiae. They are humble, gentle, and meek. They are able to see God not only in the glorious and victorious, but in the mundane, banal, and lowly. They are more at home with themselves and with God. People transformed through the power of lament are equipped to live and love others as Jesus did.
So, then, the church really ought to be the best place on planet earth for people to be open in their grief, find openness in love, and effectively move through a process of lament so that they become mature disciples able to help others with the comfort they have received. Let us pray toward that end.