The Gift of Lament: Suffering
According to the Oxford Dictionary, suffering is “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” No one escapes it. It has been said that all of us are in 1 of 3 places: In Suffering, Just walking out of suffering, or About to Walk into Suffering. Scripture tells us, “In this life, you will have trouble.”
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
But why must we suffer at all? Where did suffering come from?
Way back at the beginning of Creation, God made a choice. He chose to give humans free will. He knew that without free will, His Creation could not feely choose to love. And if love is not freely given, it is not love. So God placed the trees in the Garden so that there would be a choice. With that choice, however, God knew the risk. The risk being that humans would choose to sin. And so they did. It is out of that sin that ALL suffering is born. C.S. Lewis goes on to say, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”
Picture in your mind for a moment the individuals, be they children or adults, that you have chosen to love. Imagine for that moment that there was no longer the option of loving them. Imagine that there was no longer the option of feeling love from them. Then take a moment to examine the sufferings you are experiencing right now. Some of those sufferings may be lost dreams or lost friendships. The hardships the Covid virus has brought. Maybe you struggle with depression, anxiety, or some other mood disorder that makes it difficult to function at times. Maybe you have physical limitations that make it difficult to thrive.
Each of us has our own sufferings. We cannot judge the sufferings of others, because suffering cannot be measured. We cannot compare sufferings because suffering is incomparable.
What we do know is that God believed so strongly that love was worth the price that He Himself chose to suffer the greatest and most horrific experience of all times. The Pure & Holy One became sin, took on God’s full wrath, was separated from Perfect Love and experienced the terrifying loneliness of full abandonment. He knew the cost up front. He said love was worth it. God walked through abandonment so that we would not have to. Because of free will sin and suffering exist. But at the same time, because of free will, true love is possible.
There are two times we are the most vulnerable: when we are suffering and when we are loving.
It is in these 2 experiences that our souls are the most open to experiencing the truth and magnificence of who God is. We do not have a God who does not know what it is to suffer. We have a God who longs for us to draw near to him in the midst of suffering.
We must take caution in the midst of suffering because the evil one will wield the weapon of shame. He will come and hijak the connection the Lord is offering by convincing us that we need to suffer alone. He will work to steal the gift of lament from us. We need to call this out for what it is, a lie from the father of lies, and work continually against shame’s unhealthy coping strategy of isolation.
There are seven levels of suffering.
Personal suffering is the suffering that is unique to each of us individually. Familial suffering is the suffering of our relatives and close friends. Tribal suffering is the suffering experienced by those in our race or tribe. Congregational suffering is the suffering of those in our church. Communal suffering is the suffering within our community. National suffering is suffering within our nation. And finally, global suffering is the suffering within the world.
When we suffer we may experience one or more of these at one time. For example, during the Covid pandemic we have experienced suffering on every level. We all have personally suffered due to changes we have had to go through because of the safety protocols. Some of us have actually experienced the disease itself and have ongoing effects from it. Some of us lost friends and family members. Some races, such as the African Americans, have experienced the impact of Covid to a greater degree than other races. Our congregations have suffered as we have not been able to attend church together as a group. Our communities have suffered as businesses have suffered and jobs have been lost. Our nation has suffered with millions of deaths and economic impacts. And this disesase has not just impacted us in the United States. Every nation, tribe, and tongue have been impacted by Covid.
But God did not leave us with no way to cope with the suffering brought into the world by the Fall. While Shame offers isolation. God offers us vulnerable connections through a practice known as lament. Lament is special because it has a relational element to it. It is when we take our grief, hurt, pain, fear, anger, confusion, etc and express it to Someone who we know is listening and who can help.
This practice leads to hope.
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