Do you remember back in January, how excited we all were? It was 2020—a new year, a new DECADE, rife with potential and brimming with opportunities for “clear vision” metaphors. We rang in 2020 with our sights set on a joy-filled year ahead.
We all know how that worked out. As is the case with so many misplaced expectations, ours for 2020 were confounded by unforeseen circumstances, and our happy hopes for the year have been replaced with something far different.
We can’t change the path 2020 has taken, but we do get to choose our response. For some, the chosen approach has been to push through the sadness of this year, ignoring the pain by focusing on the silver linings of our situation and anticipating happier times ahead.
Many Christians seem most comfortable with that posture. We know where we’re headed, they reason. We know that God is in control. Why sit within the sadness?
I understand that perspective. But I don’t agree with it, and I don’t see it backed by Scripture. Much of the book of Job centers around grief, and entire Psalms are dedicated to pouring out sadness to the Lord. In Psalm 31, David cries out,
“O Lord, help me again! Keep showing me such mercy. For I am in anguish, always in tears, and I’m worn out with weeping. I’m becoming old because of grief; my health is broken. I’m exhausted! My life is spent with sorrow, my years with sighing and sadness. Because of all these troubles, I have no more strength. My inner being is so weak and frail.”– Psalm 31:9-10, TPT
David is not struck down for his emotions and goes on to be described as a man “after God’s own heart.” Indeed, we see in the Gospels that Jesus Himself wept over the death of a dear friend. Clearly, experiencing sadness is not a sin; and denying sadness might be.
In her book Be the Bridge, LaTasha Morrison writes,
“Pretending that everything is okay, though, requires that we mask our true feelings. God doesn’t want our masks; he wants all of us, all our emotions, even our sorrow, our despair, and our grief. He wants to hold us close, wants to wipe every tear from our eyes. He cares about the parts of us that are burdened and weary. He wants to use our sorrow and anguish to draw us closer to him, and in that closeness, he wants to change us, change our hearts and send us out do do his work.”
We cannot begin to engage in this holy act of lament until we acknowledge our grief. Which is not to say that it’s okay to feel sorry for ourselves; lament is not the same as self pity. Self pity is taking our eyes off of God and directing our gaze to ourselves. It is selfish and indulgent and ultimately leads to hopelessness and despair.
In contrast, lament connects us to the truth while shifting our focus back to God and to the goodness of what has been lost. Lament presupposes God’s goodness and evil’s evilness. When we engage in lament, we are trusting God’s good intentions for humanity and aligning ourselves with His will. Lament gives our pain a divine purpose by connecting us to the heart of God and paving the way for growth and wisdom as we prepare to co-labor with Christ in the pursuit of redemption and restoration.
In Matthew 5:4, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In studying this verse, I learned that the Hebrew word for “mourn” is nearly identical to the Hebrew word for “wait.” In other words, mourning—lamenting—is a posture of waiting upon God. And we can wait with the assurance that He will eventually wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4).
I (understandably) did not anticipate a pandemic, economic crash, increased racial strife, or global riots when I chose to pursue joy in 2020. Any one of those crises would be worthy of heartfelt lament; combined, they are enough to bring the hardiest among us to our knees. As I grieve, I am clinging to Kay Warren’s definition of joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”