I am watching with curiosity, as I’m sure you are as well, how the world is going to unfold before us in the next few weeks. Businesses are reopening; people are emerging; the world is seeking to establish a new sense of normalcy. But what is it going to be like?
Will we associate with one another in the same way we did in the past? Will schools meet in the accustomed way in the fall? Will we sit and watch a baseball game in bleachers again? And these are just the questions of a tangible, practical nature. There are other questions – more emotional questions – we have as well. Not so much about what things are going to “be” like, but more about what things are going to “feel” like.
Will we walk with a new sense of gratitude and celebration? Will we take with us an abiding cautiousness in our daily interactions? Will we have a heightened sense of our own relative powerlessness and smallness? Probably, the answer to all these is “yes” to varying degrees in varying people. But perhaps, in all these feelings too, we should make sure we have made room for the sadness. Because we have all born witness to sad things in the last few months.
The Bible helps us do this, for the Bible is, of course, a book about joy. About hope. About security. But it is also a book about sadness. And it helps not only give ourselves permission to be sad, but it also shows us the right way to be sad. The Bible is full, in fact, of laments.
In its honesty, time and time again God’s Word shows us the example of people who were truly, genuinely, deeply sad. Psalm after psalm depicts people in the midst of trying and heart-wrenching circumstances pouring out their hearts to the Lord. There’s an entire book, for goodness sake, called “Lamentations.” But what can we learn about the right way to be sad from these examples?
Many things, but at least part of them is this – that the end of the lament is not a return to the way things were. The end of the lament is not “happily ever after.” And that’s okay. Take, for example, Psalm 130:
Out of the depths I call to you, Lord!
Lord, listen to my voice;
let your ears be attentive
to my cry for help.
Lord, if you kept an account of iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that you may be revered (Psalm 130:1-4).
Here we see the sadness. The confusion. The desire for an answer and for deliverance from on high. But then there is a transition:
I wait for the Lord; I wait
and put my hope in his word.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning—
more than watchmen for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord.
For there is faithful love with the Lord,
and with him is redemption in abundance.
And he will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities (Psalm 130:5-8).
Unless I’m mistaken, this psalm was not written in two parts. That is, the psalmist did not pen verses 1-4 when things were bad, and then verses 5-8 when things got better. No, verses 5-8 were written during the same period of confusion, trouble, and anxiety that verses 1-4 were. No “happily ever after” here. Instead, we find that the end of the lament is faith. And that’s where we still are today.
Christian, these are days when we should be lamenting. It’s not that we also shouldn’t be excited to get back together, but we should not move too quickly passed the sadness for all that has been lost. And as we are free to be sad, let’s follow this example. Let’s not seek to assuage the pain of loss by telling ourselves and each other that everything’s going to just be okay; let’s do better than that. Let’s instead move each other toward faith. To put our hope in the Lord rather than a return to some degree of normalcy.