Weep with those who weep

Every now and then during my time in the Air Force, I would come home to find Jana upset. Sometimes it was because the boys had been fighting, sometimes it was because of bad news from back home. As often as not, there was something I had done or failed to do. Once in a while, Jana was upset because of the way someone on base had treated her. Then I was ready to swing into action. I was a colonel, and I could fix this.

But Jana rarely wanted anything fixed.

She just wanted me to listen.

Hopefully, I’ve gotten better at that, though I’m still not as good as I could be. But I have learned to cringe when I hear well-meaning people offer advice to hurting people on how to fix their problems.

At the heart of his great letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul gives a list of practical advice on living out the Gospel in the world. In Romans 12:15, Paul says “Weep with those who weep.” The Greek word can also be translated “mourn,” but the usual sense of the word is to bawl, to wail, to cry loudly. Sometimes, rather than trying to fix a situation, or appeal to facts (“See, it’s not so bad”) it’s best to just enter into the hurt of others.

In his book Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation, Pastor Mark Vroegop says that lament gives people the language to talk to God and one another about the pain and sorrow that hinder racial reconciliation. “When Christians from majority and minority cultures learn to grieve together, they reaffirm their common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Paul never said, “Fix those who need fixing.” Just “Weep with those who weep.”

Shared lament

This week a protest a few blocks from the church made national news when a protestor hit a bicyclist in the head with a skateboard. A few other protestors accosted diners sitting outside. It all felt like salt in a wound. Restaurants have been struggling to reopen, and most protests in Pittsburgh have been peaceful. So why this?

How long, O Lord?

We’ve been preaching on the biblical understanding of lament in response to the pandemic and the unrest across the country. We’ve said anyone can complain, but it takes faith to bring your complaints to God. When you lament in the biblical sense you turn to God, state your complaint, tell God what you want God to do, and then choose to trust God.

And then repeat. You remind yourself that God is good, and that God can be trusted.

Lament can be a source of strength in times like these. But Pastor Mark Vroegop, author of the book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, says that once you learn to lament, you next need to learn from lament. 

The Old Testament Book of Lamentations is a collection of poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. But it was not just the destruction that made the poet weep. It was knowing that the people of God shared the responsibility. They had turned from God and worshipped idols. They had lived for themselves and failed to care for the poor and marginalized as God had commanded. God finally let them experience the consequences.

Most often we lament over bad things beyond our control.

Sometimes we lament over the bad things we do.

Sometimes we need to lament over the bad things we all do.

We all suffer from a condition called sin.

Not every white person is a racist, but racist structures exist and need to be dismantled.

Not every protestor is violent, but violence is destructive and must stop.

But we all suffer from sin, and shared sin calls for shared lament.

Lament

What’s your favorite 2020 meme so far?

Here’s a typical one: A picture of a beautiful bride in her wedding dress with the caption, “My plans.” Next is a picture of a zombie apocalypse, with the caption “2020.”

One meme said, “2020 is going to be the synonym for “crazy” for the rest of time.

Remember the good old days when there was just an impeachment going on?

We don’t have the resources to process a year like this, do we?

But maybe we do. What if we learned to lament?

Mark Vroegop is a pastor in Indianapolis. Years ago, he and his wife had a child who was stillborn. Even though as a pastor he’d often walked with people through grief, he and his wife weren’t prepared for this.

Mark had always known that a third of the psalms were laments. But in his grief, he began to read the psalms in a new way. In the psalms of lament, and in the Old Testament Book of Lamentations, he discovered a movement. The psalmist turned to God, complained to God, asked God to act, and trusted God for the answer. Mark realized that in the psalms of lament God had provided a way for believers to move from grief to hope. There was no promise of an easy fix, but there were reminders of God’s faithfulness in the hardest of times.

Mark realized that his church, like so many others, hadn’t taught people how to lament. It had skipped over the psalms of lament in favor of the psalms of triumph. He wrote a very helpful book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament.

This week Mark released a new book to help Jesus followers begin to deal with our current crisis. It’s called Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation. The Gospel Coalition has made a free PDF copy of this book available at https://tgc-documents.s3.us-east-1.amazonaws.com/Weep%20With%20Me/Weep_With_Me_EPDF.pdf

So many of us have been searching for something to do to make sense of this crazy year, to reach out to our friends who are hurting, and to make positive changes in the world.

What if God has already given us a path forward?

What if we started by learning to lament?