It was good to celebrate Easter this past Sunday though it doesn’t feel much like Easter. Nothing feels like anything familiar and I find myself at a loss for words to describe my days. Underneath all my daily activities I feel a dull ache and heaviness. I would love for life to just go back to normal—for work and school to resume, for grocery stores to revert back to being friendly places, for regular events to fill the calendar, to gather with friends and extended family, and to worship and gather around the communion table.
But even when we are allowed out of our homes on non-essential business we won’t be going back to our old normal. The status quo we long for is now a memory from our lives before the pandemic and what the world will be like afterwards is still unknown. What will emerge after the death, sickness, isolation, and economic turmoil? It is no wonder that I feel adrift, unable to name this rush of heavy feelings. Perhaps you are experiencing your own version of this.
Modern parenting advice aimed at helping young children regulate their emotions teaches parents to welcome their children to share their feelings freely. No emotion is bad and anything can be expressed safely with a parent who will help young children understand what they are feeling and how to respond in a healthy way. The parent’s job is to communicate that the child’s anger or fear or frustration is not too overwhelming or inconvenient or inappropriate.
This does not come naturally to me because it wasn’t the message I received as a child or have believed as an adult. I often feel as though my emotions are too much and that I should just suppress the roiling sadness or anger and put on a happy face. On a fundamental level I am convinced that God cannot bear to hear my complaints and fears. After all, aren’t they insignificant in the light of eternity? Why would God be concerned with momentary suffering?
I am so inexperienced with lament that I don’t even have the words to speak about it. Lament in scripture is simply giving voice to the suffering and anguish of the world that is not as God intends it to be. God does not ask us to overlook pain or turn a blind eye to injustice. He doesn’t prefer exuberant praise to the sound of heartfelt lament. Scripture offers us rich examples from the Psalms, the prophets, and even the language of Jesus himself of lament that expresses untidy pain and open ended sorrow in the presence of God. This has always been the right response to witnessing the corruption of the good world God made.
I am well practiced in offering praise and celebrating the victory of God in Christ but I am a novice at putting my discontent and sadness into words mostly because, by virtue of my comfortable life and privilege, I have personally avoided most hardship. Theologian Soong-Chan Rah in his book Prophetic Lament points to the inadequacy of having only a theology of celebration at the expense of a theology of suffering. “The intersection of the two threads provide the opportunity to engage in the fullness of the gospel message. Lament and praise go hand in hand.”
Like a loving parent nurturing the emotional health of a child, God can bear to hear your sadness, anger, and frustration. His arms are open and he welcomes you. Call out the brokenness of systems meant to create order and safety, the injustice of a pandemic that has affected the whole world, and the sadness you feel over this disruption of life. And when you are able, offer praise to God who holds all things together and is working to make things right. God’s response to our call for help is everything Jesus said, did, and continues to do. Lament is a prayer of faith to God who can and does save.
It doesn’t feel like Easter right now. It’s hard to sound triumphant and celebrate the victory of Jesus when you feel defeated. But you can trust your pain and sorrow to the resurrected one who is already making all things new.