Feeling broken, and helpless, as we watch the news of the plight of those in Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria and many other nations we may wonder what to do with the surge of deep emotion that can so easily overwhelm.
As new horrors seem to come to light each day, we can be left reeling but also frustrated. Should we squash down our strong feelings in order to get on with daily life, or take the time to vent all our pain, fears and anger at the injustice of evil men gaining power over innocent people before God?
It can feel somewhat irreverent to rant and rail at God, and yet that is precisely what the psalmists did. It can seem shocking to our 21st-century Western eyes to read how they longed for God to mete out his judgement upon their enemies – and yet isn't that precisely how we feel about those abusing their power around the world today?
It is not just our righteous anger; we can feel the pain of watching fellow humans suffer at the hands of others or due to natural disasters. We are all connected as human beings – the Bible even tells us that when one suffers we all do – and so we shouldn't be surprised if we feel utterly overwhelmed at times by what others are facing.
And, of course, we have all been living through a global pandemic, experiencing personal and national loss at a scale not known in most of our lifetimes. With so much of life back to 'normal' we may be quick to try and forget, but we do so at our own peril – remembering and processing are vital parts of our healing.
Taking hold of his gift
God has given us a language for all of these situations: lament. Learning from the Psalms, and the whole book given over to lament, Lamentations, we see that we can go before God with our raw honesty – indeed, he invites us to.
I was so relieved to know that truth back at the start of 2020. I had already been exploring the idea of learning to lament; I am from a lively church and realised when a dear friend died, leaving a husband and three small children, that we simply didn't have the language in our songs and other church vocabulary to express what we needed to corporately and personally.
Then came the news I had been waiting almost four years for: my mum was nearing the end of her life after suffering immense pain for years. I had watched her deteriorate, and had started grieving the mum I had once known many months before she died. I was fortunate to spend the last ten days of her life by her bedside as she journeyed to be with Jesus. Even so, caring up close for someone as they die is not an easy thing to do.
The pain of losing a parent is immense, and having plenty of time to prepare for it doesn't lessen that pain. But just a matter of weeks later we were thrust into lockdown by a virus my mum had (thankfully) missed. As we planned for her funeral, one by one people began to say they didn't feel they could travel to it, and then we were suddenly told that funerals could only have ten attendees.
While preparing to be at the funeral, we were also frantically making plans to get our church online (my husband is our pastor; I head up the worship team). We then spent weeks trying to keep people connected. Soon after church members began to get Covid themselves; others lost family members – and some were right in the thick of the fight against it in our hospitals.
Suddenly, I found myself getting angry. Angry that mum's death certificate hadn't been released straight away so we had had to do a stripped-back funeral in lockdown. Angry that I hadn't had time and space to grieve before being thrust into one of the busiest seasons of my life.
I also struggled with guilt about all of that too – feeling guilty because I had been able to be by my mum's bedside as she died, whereas so many others hadn't even had the chance to say goodbye.
The only way I was able to release all those emotions was to take them straight to God and offload them without filtering anything.
I find I need to do that regularly – the grief is still in its early stages and we are walking through something else now as a family that often threatens to completely overwhelm me.
I know my situation is not unique; we have all been touched by grief in the last 18 months, and there is much to lament over in the wider context of our world too. Let us embrace the gift of lament that God has so lovingly provided us with – but also remember that he weeps alongside us too.
The image of Jesus weeping with his friends Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus (and before he raised him) in John 11 is another gift that I have found has helped me in this time, as my tears keep flowing far more freely than I am comfortable with. But I know they bring healing too...
God is truly with us in the pain, a companion offering comfort as well as a way through it.
Claire Musters is a writer, speaker and editor who blogs at clairemusters.com. Her most recent books are Every Day Insights: Disappointment and Loss (much of which was written by her mum during the ten days mentioned) and Grace-Filled Marriage. The latter was written with her husband, and they have provided a series of free videos to accompany the book, which can be accessed on the Big Church Read website. Claire also writes and edits for Premier Woman Alive and Christianity magazines.