Susan was 38 when she found cancer. A group of Christians gathered around her and claimed healing for her. They celebrated that healing, with hilarious demonstrations. Once they put her in an arm chair and raised her in the air and carried her around a room singing praises and celebrating her healing.
As she grew sicker and was hospitalized they covered the walls of her room with scripture. No one was allowed to speak of her as sick.
Her 7 year old daughter was assured her mother was well. We helped the bewildered husband and his girl with rides and meals. One afternoon a gentle woman who taught the young was driving the daughter to the hospital to meet her dad there. Concerned, she said to the daughter, “Honey, you know your mom is never coming home, don’t you?” The little girl screamed NO! NO! She became hysterical, to the point that the teacher had to pull over and comfort her.
Susan died the next day.
The pastor opened her funeral with these words: Susan is not dead. We forbid anyone today to speak of her in the past tense. She is alive.
I remember the father standing, bleakly holding the hand of his little girl.
When I was ten, I went with my friend Rose to a Catholic funeral. As we entered, there was a terrible noise. A lady was leaning over the casket wailing and making a terrible noise. I was afraid. Then I cried.
Someone later told me she didn’t have faith, that’s why she was crying. Of course, she was Catholic.
These people were robbed of their lament.
Lament is not about fixing things. It shines the spotlight on our impotence, and we cannot bear the idea that we are not the creators of our own blessing. Maybe this is why we are afraid of lament–afraid even of those who might lament in our presence. Lament is what we do at the end of striving, at the end of our resources, in our extreme weakness. It happens when we are too tired to laugh things off. We need it when we cannot manage our pain. We come face-to-face with lament when we have no more fixes to try to help us hurry through our suffering.
Often, lament begins alone and becomes communal. Having openness to our own pain is the door to sharing the pain of others. Job 2:13 says, “for 7 days and 7 nights they sat beside him on the ground and none said a word to him for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Lament teaches us we belong to each other. When we lament with others, we share our very souls. It is not the well serving the ill, but the ill serving one another. Together, we become humans acknowledging our brokenness and pain. Lament is not simply about weeping; it is about presence.
What’s interesting to me is that sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to walk into pain. It is not easy to walk up the steps and knock on the door of a home that is in grief, or to invite for dinner the people who are losing their home.
I don’t think it is hard because we are afraid of their pain. I think it is because we are afraid of our own.
But, we need to learn to lament. People who lament over their lives can lament over mine too. I can lament with them, as well.
Marilyn Elliott is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
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