I remember sitting through sermons that spoke about how Christians should be the happiest people in the world. We’re representing Jesus to the world, after all. We’ve got to show everyone the joy of the Lord. So, turn that frown upside down, sister. You’re an overcomer, count it all joy, etc., etc. I would leave those Sundays feeling like a failure.
Okay, so for full disclosure’s sake, as I sat down to write this, my husband looked over my shoulder at the title and laughed. “You’re just proving your Enneagram number to the world!” It’s true. I’m an Enneagram 4 (and proud of it!). We have LOTS of feelings-it’s our biggest strength and our biggest weakness. On the one hand, I don’t fear hard emotions. In fact, I’m quite comfortable in them. Sadness doesn’t scare me and my emotions often feed my creativity. It gives me a high capacity for empathy and care for others. On the other hand, I have to learn (and re-learn and re-learn) that I am not my feelings and that feelings can be misleading. (For more information about the Enneagram click here.)
But in the past I’ve embraced the idea of the Happy Christian to the fullest. I put the “Choose Joy” sign in my house and put quotes on index cards to try and pull myself up to the fullest place of joy. I thought there was something wrong with me because I felt things so deeply. Why did God make me this way? Why do I feel depressed? Why can’t I just be joyful all the time? WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME???
Now, please hear me, I don’t mean to mock truth. We are overcomers and the joy of the Lord is our strength. These truths have been anchors to me in trying times. There are times when we do have to speak truth so as to silence the lies of the Enemy. We have to encourage ourselves in the Lord (Why are you so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God!) But can I just say it?- the Church has done a crummy job talking about grief and lament.
I’ve sat with friends stricken with grief, battling great heartache and loss and yet, in the middle of their tears, they feel like they have to add that little caveat: “But, it’s okay.” Other such platitudes include: “I just need to be thankful,” “Other people have it harder than me,” and “It could be worse.”
Sometimes though, it’s not okay. And it’s okay that it’s not okay.
The Bible is full of people who lamented. They spoke the honest truth from their hearts to the Lord. I heard someone speak recently who likened lament with a relationship between husband and wife. Kevin is my best friend. We share everything with each other: the good, bad, and the very, very ugly. This has made us the closest of friends and has increased our intimacy and affection for each other. Why would we not want that kind of intimacy with God? If the fullness of joy is found in God’s presence, so shouldn’t our goal be intimacy with God? Instead of seeking joy, shouldn’t we just seek God?
God wants to know when we’re mad, sad, and crushed. He can handle it. He wasn’t offended when David said, “How long, oh Lord, will you forget me?” He wasn’t upset when Paul was close to despair. And he was okay when Mary said, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died!” I imagine that she was disappointed with Jesus. If he had just come sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died! But what was Jesus’ response? Did he rebuke her? Did he discipline her for her lack of faith? Did he quote scripture to her? No, he wept. He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he still cried with his friend because she was bitterly sad, confused, and disappointed.
My daughter’s memory verse this week was “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” I wish the Church would do this more. In my missionary care training, one of the most significant take-aways was that the my main job is to just to listen to people. When you quote platitudes and yes, even scripture, most people will shut down, feeling ashamed for their feelings, and thus I become an unsafe person to talk to.
Lament is a healthy thing. Acknowledging emotions is so much better than stuffing them down and pretending they don’t exist. The things swept under the rug always have a way of coming back.
God can handle your cuss words, your anger, and your screams. He’s close to the broken hearted, holding all our tears in a bottle. He’s weeping with you who weep. There’s a time and a season for your lament. Joy is found in God’s presence, where you are safe to come just as you are.