Feeling Our Way Through Lament
The hairdryer landed on my toe. It fractured. Sadly, the “it” in that last sentence wasn’t the hairdryer. The very large and, it turns out, exceptionally sturdy appliance was fine. My big toe, and the slightly smaller one next to it, weren’t so fine. Apply the right amount of pressure at just the right angle and what do you get? Fractured bones, ice packs, a lot of hobbling around and one heck of a bruise.
I don’t like pain. I run from it (or clumsily limp when my toe breaks). I smother pain any way I can. I call on my friends: paracetamol, chocolate, icepacks, Netflix marathons. I can even find distraction in lifestyle magazines, and their pretty pictures of dust-free houses and stylish hipsters with all their toes intact. I do everything I can to shut pain down.
My toe went numb the day it fought the hairdryer and lost. As I binged on Buffy reruns, I still felt pain - a hissing, zinging pain. With one part of my foot deadened by ice and drugs, my body felt disassembled. I didn’t feel healthy. I didn’t feel whole.
How to be painfully numb
There’s a pain that goes beyond our bodies, one that painkillers cannot touch. I’ve been emotionally hurt – shockingly, deeply, so deep I swore I’d never let myself be hurt so badly again. I looked at the world and saw that the greatest pain comes when we are genuine, when we love without barriers. I thought I’d be free of pain if I felt nothing at all.
When we say, “I feel numb,” we mean we don’t feel anything. But anyone who has fallen out of a tree, sat on their leg for too long or dropped a hairdryer on their toe knows that it hurts to be numb. Here is a sad truth: When we run from pain, we invite more pain into our lives.
When I shut down my emotions, I become granite. I’m harsh and hard. Constantly on alert for things that could hurt me, I jump at shadows. I mistake kindness for criticism. My eyes blur at the sight of beauty. I can’t see the goodness in this world.
When we emotionally shut down, we isolate ourselves from God’s presence and all the blessings in this life. Ironically, we spread pain, hurting others by keeping them out of our lives. As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh,” or, in honor of all the Buffy I watched the day my toe fractured, “Does the word ‘Duh’ mean anything to you?”
Learning a theology of pain
Slowly, I’m embracing pain. I’m learning that it’s right and holy to feel. When we don’t feel, we ignore reality. We close our eyes to injustice and turn our hearts away from suffering. We deny that things are broken – and we can never truly heal.
Outrage is a godly response to injustice. When discrimination robs us of opportunities, when medical care is too expensive, when migrant children are separated from parents and made to live like animals in cages, it is right to be angry. In the face of illness, miscarriage, cancer and loss, it’s natural to feel anguish, and to let this anguish flow through our heart and settle in our spirit.
Rather than ignoring pain, let’s name it. Let’s call it out and bring it into the light. Healing starts by acknowledging the injustice, the injury, the pain. When we acknowledge how we feel, God’s work in the hardship can begin. But how do we feel deeply without sinking into bitterness or apathy?
Learning to lament
Lament is an act of trust. When we lament, we call out injustice. We mourn and let genuine emotions flow. We turn to the God who grieves with us in sorrow and feels anger at the mistreatment of the suffering, the victimised and the abused. Lament takes us from outrage to hope – hope in a God who cares, who is powerful and who is good.
The Psalms are filled with lament. Psalm 44 is lament expressed through poetry and song. It’s a total shocker – the psalmist isn’t at all Sunday School nice. He’s angry. Really angry – angry at the people hurting him, angry at injustice and deeply, soul-crushingly angry with God. There is rage, confusion, grief. The psalmist hides nothing. He brings all his thoughts and feelings to God. He asks for God’s help, but only after being honest with himself and his creator about how bad things are.
When words won’t come, when emotions leave us speechless, when hurt threatens to shut us down, the Psalms can be our voice. Through the Psalms we can invite the God of healing to sit with us.
Songs of lament
She Leads Daily has curated a playlist of songs for times of lament. There are songs of outrage, songs of doubt and songs of grief. There are songs that question where God is and who we are. These moments of sorrow and confusion lead you to songs that speak the truth of a faithful, unchanging God who never leaves us.
When you hurt deeply, when life is cruel and people are unkind, when you break your toe with a hairdryer, take it to the Lord. Don’t be afraid to feel. Don’t be afraid to lament. Don’t be afraid.