The Purpose of Crying Out in Sorrow

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One of the seven deadly sins, according to ancient writing, is acedia.

Acedia was considered a most deadly vice. The Greek root of the word means the absence of care. The person with acedia refuses to care, or cannot any more make the effort to be drawn into care. Apathy, boredom, and meaninglessness do not fully capture its meaning. Acedia starts with boredom and ends with hatred.

When life becomes too challenging, when engagement with others is too demanding, acedia is a kind of spiritual morphine. You know the pain is there, but you can’t rouse yourself to really care.

A friend once told me, “If I start crying I will never stop.”

It hurts to care. It costs to care.

The Indo-European word for care means to cry out or to lament. So, in that context, I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your crying out on God for he cries out for you.” Lament does what acedia cannot rouse itself to do. Lament is the fruit of openness to life even as acedia is closed to life. The Psalms express this openness to life. The Psalms are wide awake expressions of the contradictions, mystery, suffering, ecstasy and search for meaning of human experience in life.

The psalmist stumbles back and forth between the pain he endures and his confidence in God – just like we do:

My tears have been my food day and night … while men say to me all day long, where is your god? … put your hope in God my soul, for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God. (Psalm 42)

And in this very rhythm, the back and forth wrestling with our human condition and our hope in God–lament and hope–we find our strength together.

Lament is a necessary line of the song, but yet, it is not the whole song. Lament is an essential element of life. Without it, you will miss meaning, depth, and richness. But, lament is not about a lifetime of being Eeyore or of cultivating a depressive attitude and perspective. It is also not an expression of unresolved rage and bitterness. It is more like surrender to what is real.

Lament is not all of life. It is not intended to be.

My son in law, Curtis, has led his worship team in following the Daniel fast: nuts and fresh vegetables, etc. Some of you have probably done that before.

A woman on the team had her birthday during that time. She decided not to break the fast, but had the team over to her home and served the austere food of the fast.

Her comment later was interesting.

She said, “I learned something. I learned that feasting is as important as fasting. My birthday was not a celebration. I missed it because we did not feast.”

In that surrender to what is real, lament makes celebration richer and more joyful. In fact, the mystery of lament is that it leads into celebration. When we enter into suffering together we also enter into the deepest of human experiences and joys. Lament shreds power structures – and makes person to person sharing of life possible.

Marilyn Elliott is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.

Image attribution: Monkey Business Images Ltd / Thinkstock

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Vice President for Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary and has been a church leader in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination since 1979. She has wide pastoral experience in partnership with her husband Steve. Together, they have lead three churches over 31 years, provided missionary member-care and pastoral retreats in Chile, Argentina and Venezuela since l985, and formation teaching during Field Conferences in Eastern Europe and Indonesia.

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