On Thanksgiving, my grandma started getting a little upset after dinner. I imagine it was because she knew this was the last time she would see me and my cousins all together at once. I remember after dinner, she just began to cry and cry and cry, and the sobs wracked her small, weakened frame. And I wasn't sure how to react. She was one of the kindest, most loving people I have ever met. It wasn't fair for her to suffer like this. To undergo such a slow, painful death and have to be so, so sad.
That night I was reading a chapter of Lamentations. Lamentations is written by Jeremiah and is all about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. And that night, as I was filled with such sadness, frustrated by all the crappy things that I could nothing about, I came across Lamentations 3:28-32:
Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust--there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.Here's what struck me about this passage. Jeremiah is watching his homeland being demolished and his friends and countrymen being dragged off as captives to Babylon. And what he essentially says in the first bit of this is, "Be sad!" So often as Christians, we think, "There's no room for sadness in my life! I'm supposed to be filled with joy! I need to look peppy and happy all the time, or there must be something wrong with my faith!" So when something truly bad happens, our solution is to push our real emotions beneath the surface, keep our chin up, and act like everything is A-OK. But that's not how Jeremiah reacts. He laments. He sits in silence and buries his face in the dirt. He's upset, and he expresses it.
Crappy things happen, and they suck and they're worth getting upset about. Grandmothers get sick. Parents get divorced. Fathers lose their jobs. Kids are taken captive as slaves in Asia. Relationships fall apart. AIDS rips through a continent. Mothers die.
Jerusalem gets destroyed.
So be sad. When these things happen, we don't have to pretend that it bounces off our denial-plated armor. Cry. Punch your pillow. Strum your guitar till blisters cover your fingers. Open your window and shout at the clouds. When crap happens, by all means, by sad.
But don't despair. That's where the difference is. Lamentations is all about being sad. It's about weeping and crying out at the bad things that happen. But it's not about hopelessness. Sorrow lasts for a time. We need to remember that in the midst of our sadness, God is there. When we fall facedown in the mud, he's ready to pick us back up. "For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love." God is there in our sorrow. And he's there in our happiness. While circumstances aren't constant, while our emotions definitely aren't constant, he is constant. It's okay to be upset at the right things and to express that emotion. But we shouldn't remain there. We need to allow God to comfort us and steady us and strengthen us to face life again. In the 1300's, Julian of Norwich wrote, "It is profitable for some souls to experience these alterations of mood--sometimes to be comforted and sometimes to fail and to be left to themselves. God wills that we know that he keeps us ever equally safe, in woe as in well-being."
And I think Jeremiah would agree.