Lament: it’s not just ok to cry, we should.

I found the next sentence very hard to type. I cried today. Whether it is an inherited Ulster Protestant stoicism or the yet to be expunged remnants of my foray into neo-Calvinist machismo, I don’t cry often and still struggle to admit and come to terms with the fact that I do. I’m working on that.

I should have seen it coming. We were driving and a song I’ve never paid attention to before came on the radio; What About Us by Pink. Lyrically, it is pretty hard hitting;

“What about us?

What about all the times you said you had the answers?

What about us?

What about all the broken happy ever afters?

What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?

What about love? What about trust?

What about us?”

We talked about how the song is like a Psalm, but not the poster on the wall, fridge magnet kind of Psalm. The Psalms later in the book where the writer is barely holding on and screams to God in His rage, sadness and desperation; that kind of Psalm. The gritty, real life type of Psalm. The type of Psalm that I worry we’ve forgotten how to engage with.

The last few years have at times been wonderful for us but also at times they’ve been incredibly hard. There’s been physical illness, financial pressure, bereavement, pain in relationships, a mental health crisis leading to walking away from the job I’d worked towards my whole adult life, a car crash and recovery physically and mentally, unemployment and relocation stress. These things didn’t come one at a time. They came together. They came in pairs, in threes and fours. They came in gangs and beat away at us. They have taken their toll.

I believe that the theology we hold writes a commentary over our experience. Whether our beliefs are wise or foolish, they throw up lenses through which we focus and unfocus particular details of our experience. These details form the narrative that becomes our truth.

Somewhere along the journey I picked up the notion that the pain in our lives is God’s plan and we should see it as a sign of some coming promise. Somewhere along the line an idea planted itself into my mind that if something bad happens it should be seen as an indicator that something good is about to happen; that all pain is actually just a signal that joy is coming, that every defeat is a sign that winning is near. If not that God is testing us and we should rejoice.

It doesn’t take a long look at my past to see that sometimes bad things happen and that’s it. There’s no grand redemption for some tragedies. Sometimes life kicks us in the head and moves on to the next person. Sometimes there is no imminent victory. Sometimes there is no ‘something good.’ Sometimes life just is.

I should have known that tears were near because I had begun to deconstruct that theology. I had begun to take it apart because of what it was doing to me. My passive and unconscious belief in a connection between all the good and bad in my life, that one paved the way for the other, silenced my ability to grieve properly.

The silent (and unintended) lesson in that theology is that a full embrace of the pain is an act of weak faith if not an act of faithlessness. A still, small voice whispers, ‘Don’t you trust God anymore?’ ‘Don’t you believe His promises?’ ‘You’re letting doubt take root in your heart.’

Have we forgotten how to hurt? I worry that we’ve lost sight of lament. Do we still know how to engage our faith with the pain of our lives without having to contort ourselves to think that our tragedies are God’s paths to blessings? The Bible is full of lament. It’s full of men and women, including Jesus, yelling at God in his apparent absence.

“How long oh Lord?”

“Am I the only one?”

“Kill me here under this tree!”

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

I’m sure there are people who are barely limping through life but feel silenced from being real about it with their Church families. I know from messages I’ve received after writing about my own mental health that there are a lot of people who feel unable to tell their church they are ill because it would be seen as a sign of weak faith or even demonic activity.

Faith is not mindlessly smiling through the pain. Faith is a belief that the same God you hope will come through for you, whether that hope is vast or a mustard seed, is also big enough to hear your anger and sadness and desperation.

Faith is believing that you can pause the TV and sit on the sofa, sobbing out random sentences about your feelings of being forgotten or abandoned by God when things went wrong, and knowing He doesn’t love you any less for it.

Faith is getting up everyday and trying to get through to bedtime whether the pain goes away or not; because sometimes it won’t go away, but sometimes it will. Sometimes we need help to get through it. Sometimes we can do it on our own.

Faith without reality is a sad thing to live with. It doesn’t set me free and I’m sure it doesn’t set you free either. Faith is as much in our anger and pain as it is in our joy and gratitude. Embrace it and engage it; shout and sob. I already feel better for it, it’s like a weight off my chest.

We are each far too precious to force ourselves not to engage our pain for fear of being faithless. It’s bad for our health.

“What About Us?”

We are searchlights, we can see in the dark

We are rockets, pointed up at the stars

We are billions of beautiful hearts

And you sold us down the river too far

What about us?

What about all the times you said you had the answers?

What about us?

What about all the broken happy ever afters?

What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?

What about love? What about trust?

What about us?

We are problems that want to be solved

We are children that need to be loved

We were willing, we came when you called

But many fooled us, enough is enough

What about us?

What about all the times you said you had the answers?

What about us?

What about all the broken happy ever afters?

What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?

What about love? What about trust?

What about us?

What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?

What about love? What about trust?

What about us?

Sticks and stones they may break these bones

But then I’ll be ready, are you ready?

It’s the start of us, waking up, come on

Are you ready? I’ll be ready

I don’t want control, I want to let go

Are you ready? I’ll be ready

Cause now it’s time to let them know

We are ready

What about…

What about us?

What about all the times you said you had the answers?

So what about us?

What about all the broken happy ever afters?

What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?

What about love? What about trust?

What about us?

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