This is me. From the outside, I look like your average, healthy, strong 21-year-old woman. I’m just beginning my senior year of college. On a normal day, you will see me going to class, studying, going to the gym to work out, and having fun with my friends.
On these days, there are often moments when I’m able to forget about the internal brokenness of my physical body. The daily reminders of my chronic illness—the pills, the dietary restrictions, the little aches and pains—have become so routine that they no longer make me feel anything less than the healthy 21-year-old I appear to be.
This Isn’t Normal
But every six weeks, I drive myself to the hospital early in the morning. I sit in an armchair for four hours while the drugs slowly trickle into my veins. Sometimes it all goes smoothly, and I walk out at noon and carry on with my day.
More often than not, something goes wrong. Today the nurse blew my vein, and the fluids began to fill up my arm, causing painful swelling while my blood pressure plummeted. I laid back trying to breathe through internal panic and increasing light-headedness.
On these days, I drift in and out of uncomfortable sleep while nurses worry that my blood pressure is too low and alarms on the IV pump go on and off. When my appointments are like this, I shuffle slowly out of the hospital to my car, thinking, This isn’t normal. I can’t pretend to be normal today.
I don’t believe in feeling sorry for myself or letting my ailments control my whole life. I learned early on in my health struggles that feeling sorry for myself won’t accomplish a single good thing, or help me learn to live with my brokenness.
Time to Mourn
But when the weight of my physical brokenness hits me hard, and I have to sit and cry for a minute or two, I acknowledge that this isn’t normal. These are the days when I lament.
In my experience, lament isn’t a popular evangelical response to suffering, especially physical suffering. All too often, the Christian community seeks to support those suffering physically by offering encouragement and exhortation to hope—without providing space for lament.
Encouragement and hope in the absence of lament invalidate a sufferer’s experience.
Encouragement and hope in the absence of lament invalidate a sufferer’s experience. It says, “You should be happy and hopeful always” without saying, “We mourn with you because what you’re experiencing isn’t what you were made for, and it’s hard and painful.”
You can’t offer real hope and happiness to those suffering without first acknowledging that they are, in fact, suffering.
There’s certainly a time to pray for healing, a time to rejoice in the hope that my body will be well again someday, and a time to soldier on. But there is also a time when the sufferer must lament the brokenness—the brokenness that reveals this world isn’t how God created it to be.
The kind of lamenting I envision is simple. My father recently corresponded with the wife of Andrew Brunson, a pastor who’s been unjustly imprisoned in Turkey for more than a year. He sent her a note that simply said, “I’m so sorry; I know this is so hard for you.” In saying this, he both acknowledged the difficult reality of her situation and also affirmed that he stands alongside her.
I can think of no stronger Christian argument for the act of lament, which Webster defines as “to mourn aloud,” than the simple fact that Jesus himself participated in it (see John 11). When he heard that his friend Lazarus was dying, and in fact already knew when Lazarus would die, he delayed going to Lazarus’s home. When Jesus arrived, although he already knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead, he didn’t rush to do so immediately. Instead, he stopped. He weeped. He lamented. Jesus laments.
Our Lord’s actions show the importance of taking time to acknowledge, and enter into, suffering and pain. When physical suffering feels like a crushing weight, we can sit and cry over the reality of a broken world, because Jesus sits and cries with us.
This article was originally written in September 2017, when Ryken was undergoing intense treatment for her illness.