We often think of grief as a response to death, but grief comes from other losses too. Families facing a young parent’s illness grieve the loss of health, loss of finances, loss of productivity, loss of relationships, loss of opportunities, loss of future plans, even the loss of hope. Their grief and their illness make them feel isolated. Renowned preacher Thomas Long describes such grief as “living in a land where nobody speaks your language.”
What is the language of grief?
Lament. Our culture is not good at speaking the language of lament. Think about the movies and TV shows you watch. Do any of them center on lament? We are good at speaking the languages of humor and success, but we steer clear of pain and disappointment. If lament is spoken at all, it is brief.
Sometimes Christians are not good at lament either. We follow the cultural pattern of avoiding this difficult language. The Bible, though, is great at lament. Entire psalms are laments – some by individuals, some by communities. The prophets, especially Jeremiah, knew how to lament. David lamented when his son died and when Saul and Jonathan died. Jesus lamented over the city of Jerusalem and wept when his friend Lazarus died.
The Bible even has an entire book of lament – Lamentations. Here is a sample, from Lamentations 3:14-18:
I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
. The object of their taunts all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness;
He has sated me with wormwood.
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
And made me cower in ashes;
My soul has no peace;
I have forgotten what good is.
So I say, “My endurance has perished;
So has my hope from the LORD.”
That’s heavy, right? Filled with bitterness. Teeth grinding on gravel. No peace. Forgotten what good is. Loss of hope.
The Bible has strong lament, but it doesn’t leave us there. Just a few verses later (3:21-24), the tone changes:
But this I call to mind,
And therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul.
“Therefore I will hope in God.”
What a dramatic change! We’ve gone from no peace, no good, and hope lost to hope found, steadfast love, and “great is Thy faithfulness.” In this biblical poem, we see that hope is not separate from lament. Hope does not ignore lament or try to minimize it. No, the biblical example is that lament is the very thing that gives rise to hope. We don’t have to pretend that “it’s all good.” When young parents are sick, that’s not good, and we can say so. We can speak the language of lament.
But we can also recognize with biblical wisdom that awareness things aren’t as they should be gives the promise of things set right great appeal. In the deepest darkness, the appearance of light is most striking. When we are weak, God is strong. In the face of death, resurrection has meaning.
When we lament, we remember “great is Thy faithfulness.”
Let’s not hide from lament, avoid it, or downplay it. With biblical wisdom, let’s embrace lament – so that hope can have its full value.