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by Chad Pierce
“Please don’t thank me.” I imagine I will think, but not say, this 500 times over the next few days.
As a veteran, Memorial Day weekend is always bittersweet. On Monday I will get up early, suffer through a workout in honor of a fallen Navy Seal Michael Murphy, go to a parade, probably work on that master bathroom I talked about last week, and enjoy family. I hope it will be a great day.
Throughout the day many people, knowing my service in the Marine Corps, will graciously thank me for my service. I am no war hero. I’m not even a combat veteran, but the gratitude is appreciated. That feeling is always short-lived. For while my lips say “You’re welcome,” my mind says “Please don’t thank me. It’s not my day.” The same is true for the parade. As my children stand, applaud and honor our veterans, I am grateful that those vets, especially those who fought in Vietnam, are finally appreciated. And yet, it’s not their day either.
Isn’t Memorial Day is supposed to be a national day of mourning? The day has been set aside to remember the dead, not celebrate the living. In some ways I guess we honor lost lives best by continuing to live in the freedom that they have helped to provide. And yet it seems that the day should include at least a period of national lament. Shouldn’t we mourn lost sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers? Shouldn’t we lament that war exists and also long for a day when our weapons are turned into implements for harvest? Shouldn’t we lament the selfish sin that leads to war in the first place? As a nation, I do not think we always we lament well.
I wonder if the same isn’t true for the church? Many have recently written more eloquently on this than I, but there is a growing awareness that there is an unmet need for healthy lament in the church. At a recent funeral service for a loved one, I was told that we shouldn’t be sad, for we are gathered to celebrate a life. I have and will celebrate that life, but can I mourn today? “Why do you weep, so and so is with Jesus now?” Umm, that doctrines of the afterlife and intermediate state are probably a little more complicated than that, but in some ways it’s true. But Jesus took time to weep at the loss of a friend and the pain that Lazarus’ death caused his community.
Psalm 13 reminds us that it is okay, even therapeutic to lament. Like so many of us, the psalmist simply wants to know where God is. Life obviously has not gone the way the author wanted. We don’t know what has happened, but we do know the result. The psalmist experiences sorrow. Not just a fleeting sadness, but a mourning that appears to be going on daily for a period of time. The author also admits that he wrestles with the thoughts and questions swirling in his/her mind. We’ve all been there. Where is God? How could this be happening? Why?
We learn though that the psalmist’s laments do not reflect a lack of trust or faith in God. Just the opposite. It’s because of faith that true lament can happen. The Psalm ends with trust, hope, and praise. These feelings are not occurring only at the conclusion of the author’s lament, but during it. The author does not just look for a future time when everything will be made right. It seems that the psalmist understands lament itself as a form of faith and praise. The praise is so rich, so deep, that an understanding of God’s blessings can occur even in experiencing the deepest pain.
We don’t like pain. We don’t feel comfortable with questions that do not have answers, at least I don’t. And yet I wonder if our lack of lament demonstrates not a developed faith, but rather a lack of one? I wonder if our lack of lament reveals not that we have full hope in the resurrected life, but rather that we haven’t experienced the true freedom to ask our questions and to feel the pain that the resurrected life provides? For those of us who experience honest despair, I encourage us authentically to pour our hearts out to God. For soon, the comforter is coming, and the Spirit comes for the broken.
This weekend I will mourn. I will mourn the loss of friends and brothers I knew. I will mourn the evil of war. I will mourn for members in my church who carry heavy burdens. I will mourn for Manchester and Egypt. I will mourn for the long food line I witnessed in Nashville, Tennessee this morning. I will mourn the devastating effects of sin. And in doing so my hope is that I will experience the true freedom, trust and hope that comes through hopeful lament.
Chad Pierce is pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.