I sat on the couch with tears in my eyes, this after who knows how long staring out the window, somehow numb in thought. My four-year-old, more adept than you sometimes give them credit for at that age, came up and touched my leg without saying a word. He paused his play long enough to sense something was wrong.
“Daddy, why are you crying?”
I did my best stereotypical American male, grunting Tim Allen impersonation. “Oh, I’m not crying. (clear throat). No, Daddy was just thinking.” He looked at me with this great compassionate, fully resonant calmness, and said, “Daddy, this is about your friend who died, isn’t it? It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry.”
And I wept. That moment made me realize something about the drastic, often catastrophic warping that takes place somewhere on the path from childhood to adulthood. Somehow it becomes unacceptable to cry, to show sadness, to acknowledge the obvious pain. Hold back the tears, hide the sorrow, get busy right away and put it out of your mind. But children aren’t like that at all. They weep and howl like it’s nobody’s business. They grieve the loss of their blanky without the possibility of condolence.
I think this says something about our American culture. With our advances in medicine and our fear of facing pain, we run from it as fast as we can. You intentionally get busy back at work. You run to what’s funny immediately following tragedy. You force yourself not to cry. We are afraid of pain, so we run. While other cultures, including the biblical ones, spent considerable time grieving, Dustin Shramek writes,
We, on the other hand, have about a week before we are expected to return to work and put up the front that we are okay. Even worse, in America most of us work hard at holding back the loud cries during funerals. Indeed, we even try to hold back the tears (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 178).
We need to face the pain for what it is. We need to weep and lament and grieve. Of course I tie this to the death of my friend Davin, and I preach to myself, “Don’t flee from this.” Especially for those of us on the periphery, it’s easy to want to not move closer to the pain, to just get back on with our lives. But a few thoughts on this, the day of Davin’s first memorial service.
First, only when you truly face the pain and enter into it can you experience deeply the healing power of hope in the promises of God. You can walk away from the pain, but you’re also walking away from experiencing the healing of Christ in your sadness. So don’t run from what God has ordained for your life as both the striking blow of despair and, in time, the healing balm of hope in the Resurrection, Jesus himself. Weep. Cry. Acknowledge the ache that won’t go away, the thoughts of sadness that make each day feel like a numbing blur. And when you do, cry out to God. Run to the One who knows agony and life afterward.
Second, and I think more importantly, face the pain and agony because we can’t love those who are suffering at the center—we can’t come beside them and weep with them—if we aren’t also willing to get near that pain. The call as Christians is to carry each other’s burdens, to weep with those who weep, and go to our brothers and sisters when they are suffering. We can’t heed those commands unless we are willing to get near their pain, feel the agony, and allow our hearts to break with theirs. So face the pain and weep, that you may also be with them in their weeping.
You can choose to turn and go the opposite direction of the carnage of tragedy, but you can’t at the same time experience the healing power of God and come alongside those who are mourning and crying out in despair. You will find yourself simultaneously fleeing the mercy of God for yourself and as an instrument in the lives of others.
“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:13).
On this May the 2nd, we will probably all feel tempted to escape the agony in some form. Don’t. Embrace the pain and the mercy to come, for your sake and for the sake of others. And weep like a child, falling on his promises for those who do (Matthew 5:4).