How to Suffer Like a Christian
At Trinity we’ve been doing a Lenten study based on the book Transforming Our Painful Emotions by Evelyn and James Whitehead. In the book, the authors remind us that negative emotions aren’t a bad thing. They are our bodies’ invitation to explore what is going wrong in our lives. When we face our emotions and sit with them, we can peel back the layers to see what is really happening deep within us.
Right now many of us are experiencing a mixture of negative emotions:
- Fear as we watch the COVID death toll daily mount,
- Loneliness as we follow social distancing rules and stay at home orders
- Anger that this seemed to catch our nation unaware and so poorly prepared
- Shame that perhaps we should have been better prepared personally (Why did I let myself run out of toilet paper? Why don’t I have a functioning thermometer? Why didn’t I put more into my savings account?)
- And of course, grief…
I now walk through my church sanctuary about once a week. Last week as I walked through, I caught myself saying right out loud (not that it mattered because no one was there!), “I miss you.” It’s not just its breath-taking beauty – the stained glass windows and exquisite woodwork. I miss what it symbolizes for me. I can imagine people in their usual pews and see myself scurrying around before church to catch up with members, greet new visitors and review last minute service details with musicians and sound people. (Especially I miss seeing the kids race around.)
What about your daily, everyday life do you miss most right now? What are you grieving the loss of… even if that loss is temporary? In the book, the Whiteheads talk about steps in processing our grief:
- Accepting our loss
- Respecting our pain
- Creating cherished memories, and
- Finding hope for the journey ahead
But how do we do that? Well, one of the ways we can process our grief as people of faith is through lament. The Book of Psalms contains many lament psalms. A lament psalm is a ritual through which we can give voice to our grief. These psalms allow us to bring our distress before God, praying that what we lost might be honored and transformed.
In the sermon for this week (check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQWdjf6wVBI&t=452s), I remind us that Jesus’ words from the cross in Matthew’s gospel (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) are the opening words of Psalm 22, a lament psalm.
This week I want to invite you to process some of the grief and loss you have experienced through this current COVID crisis by writing you own lament psalm. And, you are even invited to share it with others through Trinity’s website (www.trinitylafayette.org). Below is the lament psalm literary structure.
STRUCTURE OF A LAMENT PSALM
- Intimate address – such as “My God” or “Jesus, my Friend.” An intimate address that reveals your relationship with God. Think of this as establishing that intimacy heard in the gospel hymn, “Precious Lord, take my hand…”
- Complaint – make known to God what upsets you in detail. Don’t be reluctant to engage in overstatement or hyperbole. Tell God how this virus is impacting your relationships, your mental and physical health, your employment, your financial stability.
- Demand God’s Help – The psalmists weren’t reluctant to demand that God do something. They were too desperate to be polite and reasonable.
- Appeal to God’s Honor – the psalmists reminded God that this was personal. Their message was “If I belong to you, God, and you don’t help me, what will people think of you?”
- Revenge on / Defeat of One’s Enemies – COVID-19 is an enemy threatening us. Many of spoken of it like a war we are waging. What do you wish God would do to this enemy? Personify this virus; create your own scenario of how you wish God would attack it.
- Call to Praise: after pouring out your soul…
- be still,
- rest, and then…
- Remember God’s faithfulness to you; God’s care for you and others.
- Express your confidence in God and invite others to join you in praising God
Check out my new book, Companions on the Journey: Foundational Spiritual Practices at https://wipfandstock.com/companions-on-the-journey.html or view links on my home page