For God’s sake and yours, don’t spiritualize lament.
APRIL 25, 2023
For God’s sake and yours, don’t spiritualize lament. Let’s talk, on key life.
That was Steve Brown. He’s an author, seminary professor, and our teacher on Key Life, a program all about God’s radical grace. We’re committed to bringing you Bible teaching that’s honest, straight-forward, and street-smart. Keep listening to hear truth, that’ll make you free.
Thank you Matthew. We’re talking about the sound of silence and how important silence is in the freedom that we find in Christ when we’re going through hard and difficult times. Don’t spiritualize your lament. You know, we tried to make lament into something nice and it’s not. Now lament is what we feel when it gets dark, what we feel when we’ve lost somebody we loved, what we feel when we’ve gone through divorce, what we feel when the doctor says we have cancer, what we feel when we’ve lost a job, what we feel when we’re broke. Lament is the expression and it’s given words throughout the Scripture, and we’ve seen that, read Lamentations or the Psalms of Lament or listen to Jesus lament on the cross. It is a time when we are called to be honest and authentic before the God of the Universe and it’s not nice. Sometimes in the mornings early when I pray, I grade God. I tell him, you don’t love my friends. If you loved them, you would treat them a lot better. And then I complain about what’s happening to me, and then I complain about a lot of other people. And then he says, you through? That’s his response to our noise. And it’s never unkind. It’s always spoken with gentleness and compassion. It precedes the silence and in the silence something surprising happens. It’s a calm and a place that has no other explanation, but God. I experienced that in a graveyard once. Ron, my brother, and my closest friend had died and he was way too young to die. I’m the preacher in the family. He was the lawyer. He was a district attorney and our daddy used to say, I have one son who’s a preacher and one who’s a lawyer, and there’s no problem I can get into that one of them can’t get me out. And, but then he died and I died some too. It was an awful time. As I said, I’m the preacher in the family. And everybody waited for me to get there cause they were going to lean on me to hold it together. And I did that, you know, they closed down the streets of Asheville where I grew up and where my brother was the district attorney in the 28th Congressional district. And the police saluted as he went by. In the funeral, everybody wept, but I didn’t cause I’m the one holding it together. I made the arrangements. I did what one has to do in that kind of situation, and frankly, I did it well. And it was awful. It was one of the most awful times in my life. Then a couple of weeks after the funeral, I flew back to my hometown, I was speaking somewhere. In fact, over those years, my mother, who was a widow and had lost her son, you don’t expect to bury your son, you expect your son to bury you. And it was a hard time for her. So, whenever I’d be speaking any place, I would take a separate flight, fly into the mountains of North Carolina and spend some time with my mother. The first time after the funeral, I drove out to the graveyard and they hadn’t put up a tombstone yet, and I, and I couldn’t find my brother’s grave. I mean, when the committal was going on, the Marines were there with the gun salute and all the people from the town, the politicians were there. A lot of my friends were there, and I knew the hill where he was buried, but when I went back and it was just me, I couldn’t find it. And you know what I did? I stood there in the rain and I said, God, how could you do this? My best friend, my brother just died. And I can’t even find where he is buried. This is awful. And you, I, you don’t love me. And then after the lament, an honest and wretching lament, it got quiet and he came and he said, why are you looking for the living among the dead? And I realized my brother wasn’t there. Most of us have experienced that kind of thing, the anger, the pain, the darkness, the harshness of the bad things that happen. And we cuss and spit and kick against the goads and we yell. That’s all a part of lament. But once it’s spent and there’s silence, he comes. His, you through? is kind and gentle. And in the silence there are things you experience that you can’t experience anywhere else. I’m giving you some practical advice on the sound of silence, and the first is make some noise before you’re silent. And then secondly, make some noise for others to hear. Genuine lament is not only noisy, it’s noisy enough for others to hear. Now, later on as we pursue some of these themes, we’ll spend some time talking about the family nature of laughter and lament, but something needs to be said here. Job’s friends in the book of Job have not received very good PR from the preachers and the Bible teachers, you know, and that’s the understatement of the year. I mean, these are not the kind of friends you want, but they’re there and nobody else is. We call them false friends who pretend to comfort Job in his pain, but were more interested in their own self-righteousness. And I suppose that these friends were that to Job, but we also shouldn’t forget, as I said that they were there hearing the noise of Job’s lament. Even if their advice was bad, their presence was a gift. It is to our detriment that we think it’s Christian to hide the tears and clean up our language when we we’re in pain. Being there is supposed to be the gift that Christians give to one another, not wisdom or clichés or Bible verses. I remember as a young pastor in a small Cape Cod village where I was serving, it was the first time, it was the first time somebody ever died on me. And frankly, I had never been to a funeral before. I was young, and this was new to me. I had gone to seminary and graduate school. I knew what you did at funerals, but I’d just never been to one and I didn’t know what to say to anybody, but I knew I was a pastor and somebody ought to visit the widow. And they had a house overlooking the harbor there in East Dennis on Cape Cod. And he had been a sea captain before he died. And I thought, I’ll go and minister. And I thought of the kind words I would speak, the wisdom I would bring to the situation, the comfort I would give the widow. When I got to the door of that little cottage, I lost it all. I, I didn’t know what to say, I just stuttered. And she said, oh, pastor, come in. And I came in and sat down on the couch and that’s all I did. People came and went and comforted her. And I didn’t do anything except sit there. Finally, after about an hour of this, I got up and I went to her and said, let me pray for you. I can do that. And I prayed for her and I left thinking, man, I’m going to go into vinyl repair, it’s easier than this. I’m not going to do this anymore. And the next week she came to the church into my office, she sat down and said, and started crying. And she said, Steve, I just wanted to thank you for what you did right after my husband died. And I said I didn’t do anything. She said, I know, but you were there and you listened to the sound of my tears. That’s the gift that we give to each other. And one other thing, genuine lament is an answer to our prayer request for the faith to believe that God hears our noise too. The prophet Isaiah said.
That God not only hears our lament, but that he answers before we speak and hears even while we are speaking.
Isaiah 65:24 When others hear and stand with you, that is an answer to that prayer. Don’t lament alone. When it hurts, tell somebody, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. You think about that. Amen.
Wow. Thank you Steve. There is so much to learn and unlearn about lament, powerful stuff. Of course today’s teaching was continuing our exploration of Steve’s new book, Laughter and Lament. Oh, and in case you missed the Scripture reference that Steve quoted earlier, it was Isaiah 65:24. More insights on this subject tomorrow, do join us. Well, recently on Steve Brown Etc, we spoke with authors Richard Foster and Brenda Quinn about their new book on humility. And at risk of sounding off theme, it was a really good show. In their book, Richard and Brenda argue that humility may well be the most important virtue of our time, and yet it’s vanishing. I think you’ll find that conversation to be absolutely riveting, and we’ll send you that entire CD, for free. Just call us at 1-800-KEY-LIFE that’s 1-800-539-5433. You can also e-mail [email protected] to ask for that CD. Or to mail your request, go to keylife.org/contact to find our mailing addresses. Just ask for the free CD featuring Richard Foster. Finally, would you prayerfully consider partnering in the work of Key Life through your giving? Remember that any gift of any size really does help. You could charge a gift on your credit card or include a gift in your envelope. Or simply text Key Life to 28950 and then follow the instructions. Again, that’s Key Life, one word, two words. It doesn’t matter. Just text that to 28950. Key Life is a member of ECFA in the States and CCCC in Canada. And we are a listener supported production of Key Life Network.