Recently, I suffered a loss. Yes, I suffered. My grandfather ultimately was the “victim” of death, per se, but death takes many more hostage if grief is not dealt with in a healthy manner. I was held captive by this trauma that so quickly seemed to plague my life. After sitting by my grandfather as he took his last breath, I was left feeling all sorts of emotions that I could not make sense of –selfishness, sadness, anger, confusion. My own mind seemed foreign, at times. Most of all, though, I felt the need to fake fine.
There are many lies and preconceived falsehoods about emotional weakness. Some may fake fine to seem strong. But is there more strength in humility or having things all together? Some may minimize the pain in an effort to convince themselves and others that they’re fine. God won’t tell us “it’s not a big deal,” so why do we hold ourselves to a higher expectation of grief than God does? Some may build up walls, vowing to never be vulnerable to pain again. Are we the protectors and guardians of our heart or is God? Some may say it’s time to move on with life and forget the past. How can we receive healing if “moving on” is just running away from the problem? Some may look at emotions as dangerous and avoid them at all costs. How can we sort out truth from falsehood if we avoid the emotionally-driven questions? All of these ways of coping are in our own strength, though. They only prove to be futile. The funny thing is, God sometimes grants us that freedom to let us have our own unhealthy ways of handling the pain, only so we turn back to Him. When we do look to God in the midst of our brokenness, he promises comfort and the gift of lament.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
As soon as my grandfather passed, I felt an immediate obligation to be stronger for the other people in my family, to be strong for myself, and ultimately, to be strong for God. I cried, but I didn’t lament. I mourned, but I didn’t bring my hurt to God. I was stuck believing a lie, that I had to delight in my circumstances at all times, and if I didn’t, then I was a disappointment to my Heavenly Father and therefore a bad disciple of Christ. I knew in my mind that God wanted my brokenness, but I never believed it. Thus, I hid my hurt from God and tried to take on the pain by myself.
Honestly, faking it was simply easier, too. Rather than opening up and reliving the horror that I had experienced, I put on a mask of normalcy and continued about my day like nothing was bothering me. I made it my goal to suppress any negative feelings within myself. After I found this loophole in the mourning process, I convinced myself that this was better than being sad or angry. And it was. Acting was easier than living truth, especially when the truth was that I was a wreck of emotions and thoughts gone haywire.
I remember describing it to my family and friends like I was in a pit. I felt like I was digging deeper and deeper, not even realizing how far down in the earth I had gone. I wanted to stay in the pit. Yes, it was lonely and dark, it was scary and confusing, but it felt just as emancipating as it was imprisoning. Down there, I didn’t have to have it all together, perform for others, or brave the harsh expectations to be “over it.” At the same time, though, I cried out for a rope and God threw down grace to pull me out. The problem was, I didn’t want to be saved at the moment. I wanted the hope of seeing light again, but I didn’t want out yet. I was grateful for the offer of salvation from my affliction, but I just needed a while longer to cope in the pit with my own futile ways. Is that wrong? I thought that I had two options: sit in the pit by myself or grab on to the rope when I knew I wasn’t ready to. Little did I know, there was a third choice that God offered me – to descend to the pit and weep with me.
When we feel blessed, we give thanks and praise. When we are sad, what do we do then? As I stated before, God gives us the gift to come to Him in pieces – lament. Lament is simply a prayer for help in a time of affliction or pain. In Greek, lament is translated to thréneó, which is a comprehensive word, “designating every species of pain of body or soul” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). The pain does not have to be at a certain threshold to be considered worthy of lament. It is the outcry to God in the depths of brokenness at any level. When we come to God with raw feelings of anguish, we pave a pathway for a genuine relationship. We wrestle with God.
Lament often begs the question why. This is seen countless times in the Bible, such as Psalm, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations (the last one is kinda obvious!). Here we see God’s people crying out, begging the questions that so many of us are so scared to ask. Why do you let my attackers prevail? Why do you inflict pain upon me? Why do you…” Fill in the blank. In their utter despair, they chose to look to God in anger, hopelessness, sadness, and extreme torment. Notice, though, how the questioning of God is not rebuked in anger or turned away, instead, it brings the people closer to an intimate relationship with their Creator. God is prepared to listen and console His people in times of distress, and He gives us a way to express our grief at His throne. What a wonderful way to worship the Lord! Through trials and tribulations, we are still able to glorify God with genuine communication, holding nothing back, and still hope in a will bigger than the pit we find ourselves at the bottom of.
But let me say this. Asking why does not always mean there will be an answer. Sometimes there will be an answer, but it won’t be a likable one. Asking God questions does not mean we are entitled to a happy ending or an immediate response. In Psalm 88, we see that sometimes laments go unanswered. In Psalm 44, we see that laments do not always end on a happy note. Let me say it again for the people in the back. WE ARE NOT ENTITLED TO ANYTHING.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
Our why or how long or where are you laments show us the lies we believe, though. They reveal the deep-rooted falsehoods intertwined with our hurt, begging for truth to overpower darkness. Often times, when we have the inability or no desire to lament and ask questions, we try to answer them on our own. Instead of opening ourselves up to God’s voice, we close ourselves off in an attempt to console ourselves with convincing, humanistic responses. We project reasons on God’s actions. For example, I asked God if he would abandon me during my period of grief. I asked if he would grow weary of waiting for me to heal. Immediately after voicing it, writing it, making it known to God and myself how I felt, I combated the lie with God’s word. I knew he wouldn’t leave or forsake me (Deut. 31:6), and that doing so would be a direct violation of His character. The best way to discern falsehood is to know truth. Pouring our heart out to God gives Him the opportunity to directly battle the lies running wild in our minds.
I also found myself holding to a “karma” theology when it came to trials and hurt in my life. If something negative occurred, then I would assume that it was due to something I did to deserve the repercussions of my actions. I assumed it was God’s way of punishing me and showing me his disfavor. Although there are some instances in the Bible where God allows hardship to fall on people as a result of sin, He is a just god, not a punishing one. Not all pain has a direct cause and effect. It may just be the result of the fallen world we live in. Not all traumatic experiences have a precise equation of A+B=C. Our minds are too finite to understand the ultimate reason for suffering on this earth, that is why God permits our laments.
Through this process of learning to be okay with not being okay, God has revealed to me his abundant love. His love in wanting to use this to build me back up. His love in growing me closer to him despite my flaws and grief. His love in weeping with me. That alone makes me want to sing again!
End Note: A lot of the concepts in this blog post come from the book No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece. Check it out!