The culture today is full of complainers — Christians and non-Christians both. It’s hard not to whine about the constant disruptions affecting our lives. We are creatures of continuous unhappiness and traumatic events. A recent Barna research reveals that 82% of teens (13 to 18 years of age) admit to having a traumatic experience in their life, an experience which can continue to haunt them throughout the rest of their lives. Even in the best of situations, complaining seems to be the only way to vent our emotions after a life-changing event. Overcoming it, however, involves more. It means confronting the painful experience, changing our thinking, and waiting on God’s final return to repair our broken world that caused it in the first place. After a year of pandemic disruptions, can we prepare our thoughts for Good Friday and Easter 2021 with a posture of lamenting and not complaining?
Can we think differently? What if we purposefully practice lamenting instead of complaining?
Complaining begins with personal observation.
We see traumatic events in isolation – it’s all about what happened to me. Sociologists say that problems aren’t problems to us until they affect us personally. When we register or feel that something is not right, our emotions are pricked, but the depth of that disturbance depends on us. How sensitive are you? On a scale of one to ten, do you feel a need to complain about everything that affects you personally, or are you able to absorb discomfort to a higher degree? For most, it depends on what the pain is, where it is radiating from, and how and why we are experiencing it.
Complaining doesn’t help; it only makes things worse.
Constant complaining isn’t the solution, but some good can come from it. There is a kind of camaraderie that comes from an acknowledgment that something is wrong. We feel connected to a community of complainers who have also experienced the same pain, making us feel heard and understood. Comments like, “I am done with these long rainy days,” or “It sure bothers me when people just can’t get along,” acknowledge a shared issue and invites others into the disturbance. This community response can produce comfort, a doorway to share the misery, and something to do about it. This kind of constructive complaining is what I choose to call lamenting as a believer in Jesus.
God tells us to lament.
In a recent news story about shop owners in LA after rioters had destroyed their store, I observed the difference between complaining and lamenting. As the shop owners were sweeping out the debris, they weren’t angry and complaining but were sympathetic to those who were suffering. They saw the pain of the looters as so severe that the rioters were forced to violence before the public would acknowledge injustice. Instead of complaining and being angry, the shopkeepers decided instead to pray for those who had destroyed their business. They said, “while we disdain the way the rioters have destroyed our shop, we know that our store is replaceable, but lives destroyed and even killed can’t be replaced.” They weren’t complaining but were lamenting.
Lamenting is biblically healthy. Most Christians don’t run to read the book of Lamentations in the Bible. It documents the complaining/lamenting to God by the Children of Israel at one of the darkest times in Jewish history. When Christians don’t lament, it means we have stopped listening, learning and leading with sensitivity. In a recent Caring Magazine, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah stated, “Lamenting is an appropriate, spiritual response to the pain and suffering we see in the world. It recognizes that there is pain and suffering. To lament is not an option; it’s a call.” Lamenting means we are followers of a God who cares. As such, God calls us to care for those in pain and suffering. “Without lament, we lose a sense of the injustice in the world and the need to cry out to God for healing,” Rah said. “Instead, we revert to exceptionalism and triumphalism, believing we will always win.”
Has the Church spent too much time stating how we “always triumph in God” (II Corinthians 2:14) and not enough time on how we are to be “living sacrifices?” (Romans 12:1).
What we often forget is that with great lament comes great joy.
Lamenting with and for others opens us up to greater joy in Christ’s promises. We become a community of hope. We’re adamantly prodded and instructed by God to seek and trust Him when others suffer and to do it together. When we do, we reap the joy together because it is God that wins the battles and overcomes and not ourselves. We can then rejoice together as a community when suffering ends. When we attend a funeral of loved ones and friends, we lament together. But, as believers of God’s promise of eternal life, we can also rejoice together knowing that our earthly body may die, but our immortal soul lives on with God. We lament and shed tears of temporary pain, knowing eternal joy wins. We walk in the knowledge of transformation. Death has no lasting sting because of the final and eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is why we can rejoice on Easter Sunday after Good Friday and why celebrating as a community of believers globally makes an impact. He is risen indeed!
Next time you want to complain, choose to change your thoughts and lament. A lamenting prayer changes directional thinking. It changes hearts and lives that complaining never will.