Our church did a Good Friday service on the words of Jesus from the cross. I was asked to reflect on his word of lament, as a spiritual discipline, in four minutes. I do a lot of prayer and thought preparation for an assignment like that, but don’t write things down as I prepare to speak. My theory is that if I can’t do the prep in my head, I can’t expect hearers to do understanding with only their heads. But I’m usually able later to record what I said, so I think the words below are close to those of Friday night. Lament is not just about Good Friday, and like most writers, I like to get as much use as possible out of a piece, so I share it with you now…
THE SILENT PAIN CONTEST [W, 4-4-18]
In my midnight surgery, they cut me open from coast to coast and took out a good deal more of my insides than I really wanted to part with. Afterward, I was in a lot of pain, but for what seemed to me good and proper reasons, I refused pain medications. My reasons were not good enough for my wife, so she talked to the nurse, who said to me, “Look, this is not a contest to see who can stand the most pain.”
That was news to me! I thought all of life was a contest to see who could stand the most pain. Not just stand the most, but stand it without saying anything about it. If you said anything about it, you lost points in the contest.
But as the nurse sat there beside me, and the pain medicine entered into me, I began to think more clearly. [It’s hard to think clearly when you are in pain.] I began to wonder why I thought life was a silent pain contest.
After all, I was a Bible scholar. There are laments about pain all through the Bible. That is why the Bible is so valuable and helpful to us—it’s realistic about what life is really like.
And I was a follower of Jesus. By the time of my surgery I had preached about twenty Good Friday services, preached about Jesus on the cross saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Surely if it were okay for Jesus to acknowledge his feelings of pain and abandonment, it was okay for me.
Now some preachers tell us that Jesus was not really lamenting, really feeling abandoned. He was a Bible scholar, too, and was just quoting Psalm 22, which starts with those very words, “My God, my God, why…” That psalm goes on to describe a scene very much like Jesus’ crucifixion, and finally ends on an upbeat note—it’s not all that bad… no abandonment…
As Lee Corso says on the Game Day football show on ESPN, “Not so fast, my friend.” We don’t know Jesus was quoting that psalm. We do know that he cried out in lament, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” and if he were indeed Psalm quoting, of all those 150 psalms from which he might have quoted, this is the one he chose. Because it said how he felt.
If it is okay for Jesus to lament feelings of pain and hurt and loneliness, then it is okay for us. The problem is that most of our laments will sound to others only like complaints, whining. It is probably best to express our laments to God.
So as a spiritual discipline, I suggest this: keep a lament journal.
Each day, on a piece of paper, as each cause for lament presents itself, write it down. Or do it on an electronic device. Or speak it into a recorder. At the end of the day, turn it over to God. Throw the piece of paper away. Wipe the phone or the iPad or the recorder clean.
I’ve been doing this so long I can do it in my head. At the end of the day, I just pray it away.
If it is okay for Jesus to lament feelings of pain and hurt and loneliness, then it is okay for us.