The church where I pastor has now gone more than two months without seeing each other in-person for a worship service. The indefinite nature of the COVID-19 quarantine seems to be pressing people into a place of unique misery. Whatever novelty there was for video Bible studies, Zoom community groups, and church from home is rapidly wearing off. We’re near the projected “peak” of the disease in California, but we’re likely only about halfway through (at best) the shelter-in-place order. The pain of social distance is not going away anytime soon.
We need an outlet to mourn our grief in this season, but everyone around us is also mourning and bearing incredible burdens. To whom can we bring our pain and express our anguish in the fullest expression? I know a guy, and he wants to hear about it.
Tell God About Your Pain
If cellphone bills were still structured around minutes, my bill would be sky-high right now. I’m on the phone daily checking in with folks in our church, trying to fill needs, and praying with them. One theme that seems to dominate (more than it did a month ago) is an overt willingness to suppress or downplay pain. I see this tendency in myself as well. We say things like, “Yeah, it’s really tough right now, but I’ll get by,” or “I know others have it worse, so I just need to get through it.”
On the surface, these statements seem confident and humble. In reality, they’re likely dishonest and even arrogant, an affront to God’s providence and fatherly heart toward his children. Yes, God will provide for you. Yes, others probably do have it worse. Those aren’t reasons to avoid honesty with God about your pain. He knows your pain before you even tell him (Matt. 6:8), but he still wants you to tell him.
God knows your pain before you even tell him, but he still wants you to tell him.
When I’m outside with my 3-year-old son, and he falls while playing, I know why he’s crying; I saw it happen. But I love it when he comes over and asks me to hold him, kiss where it hurts, and tell him it’s going to be OK. Kissing his knee doesn’t provide some magic to make the pain go away, but it does remind him that I’m here, and I love him.
God wants you to do this, too. When you lament, you are telling God about your pain—big and small, and he wants to hear it. He can take your honesty, and he’s not going to be surprised by how you’re feeling. He’s our compassionate Father in heaven, and he promises to strengthen the afflicted (Ps. 10:17) and comfort the downcast (2 Cor. 7:6). When you draw near to him in all your brokenness, he reminds you he’s here, and he loves you.
Saying ‘Amen’ to the Pain
Charles Spurgeon is thought to have said, “I’ve learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the rock of ages.” Right now, we’re all being tossed around by the waves of COVID-19. Whether it’s through the limitations of quarantine, financial hardship, or the scariness of sickness and death, we’re experiencing communal pain to a degree most of us have never known before. The whole world is weeping, and that makes our own pain all the more painful. God doesn’t want us to downplay or ignore it, however. Rather, he’s using this time of anxiety and loss to draw us closer to him and remind us of his providence.
Seasons of pain reveal where you’ve built your confidence. You’ve either placed your faith in creation or Creator, and our heavenly Father wants you to build your life on the rock-solid confidence of his Son, Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:24–27). When our assurance is God himself—his character, his promises—we can not only lament confidently before him, but we can also begin to see him using our pain to form us more into the image of his Son (James 1:2–4; 1 Pet. 1:7–8). The point of pain is our refinement; the forging of our trust. God is using this time to teach us to say “amen” to his leading, even when his leading takes us to painful places.
Where Lament Points
People are begging to return to “normal.” We desperately want to return to pre-pandemic life.
But “normal” is not a sustaining hope. “Normal” will only let us down. “Normal” is full of pain as well. “Normal” also includes sickness and death, for all of us.
People are begging to return to ‘normal.’ But ‘normal’ is not a sustaining hope. ‘Normal’ will only let us down.
We need a biblical hope more considerable than the pain this life brings. We need a confident assurance of what’s to come. We’re groaning with the rest of creation for that moment we will be set free from all bondage to corruption and obtain true, complete freedom in God’s presence (Rom. 8:20–21). Only the hope found in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ can carry the weight of our pain. Only the promise of the Lord one day setting all things right can ease our burden in a world of so much “wrong.”
Tell God about your pain. Lament the good things lost, and the new pains found, but do so with a confident and eternal hope that this life is not God’s ultimate plan for your joy. He plans to bring you home to dwell with him, and he will surely do it (1 Thess. 5:24).