How in God’s name did people endure this? Such longing and uncertainty and hope? The latter, in particular. Even in the midst of loss, it was there, buried deep.
— from Something Fabulous, by Alexis Hall (2022)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the value—the necessity—of making space for lamentation in our lives.
Space in which we do not insist that everything be cheerful, optimistic, or even hopeful all the time.
Space in which we do not look on the bright side or find the silver lining or insist that “this too shall pass”.
(Even though we know, in that deepest place of wisdom and meaning, that this too shall pass.)
I’m not talking about the very real experience of depression and anxiety that demands and deserves professional medical attention, as it threatens to overwhelm one’s life with despair or disinterest or the inability to function at all. And I’m not talking about the large-scale burdens of systemic oppression, climate chaos, or human rights crises. I’m not even talking about lingering melancholy or ennui, which many among us experience, regardless of other health factors.
I’m talking about the need simply to have the space, and to give ourselves permission, to lament, “THIS SUCKS!”
Not to make meaning of it or “figure it out” or find a resolution, but simply to release some of the bottled-up frustration and sadness and loss and longing from our bodies.
For me, lamentation is most often expressed by tears that simply won’t be contained any longer—tears of outrage, of despair, of frustration. Tears wept after my second miscarriage, when I couldn’t rationalize the visceral, primal sense of loss over the life dying inside my body. Tears wept when I couldn’t imagine a way forward in a moment of intense conflict with people I love. Tears of relief and grief after my father’s death.
Others lament with words of poetry, like in The Lamentations of Jeremiah in the Hebrew scriptures (the Christian “Old Testament”):
Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure. (Lamentations 5:20-22 NRSV)
Some just scream: These Mothers Were Exhausted, So They Met on a Field to Scream
But whatever one’s personal mode of harmless-to-self-and-others expression, I encourage everyone to make spaces in their lives to say, “I know I’ll need to—and be able to—function more constructively at another time, but right now I’m just going to feel these feelings.”
And the truth is—we know this, as people of faith—that we welcome lament, in part, because there is hope. As Valentine muses in that quote above—“Even in the midst of loss, [hope] was there, buried deep.” The knowing may be buried deep in the recesses of our awareness, but it exists—that hope for eventual change and renewal and restoration.
In the meantime, we’ll allow ourselves to exclaim how awful everything is this particular moment. Auuggghhhhh!
With abiding love,
Thank you for this. We’re so often overwhelmed and frightened by sadness and other negative emotion that our instinct is to deny it or wall it off. It’s nice to hear a voice in favor of hauling it out into the open and sitting with it or letting it pulls us where it takes us.
Though I confess to be a little bit jealous of anyone who can accompany their pain with tears. My body/mind connection seems no longer to be capable of it (nor has it been for many years). I can produce tears of joy but when I’m hurting the tears do not come.
At my daughters college they had a ritual on the night before finals called “primal scream “ where everyone opened their windows and screamed into the night. Maybe we should adopt it.