Can you cry at your church? Real crying, I mean, not that little tear of happiness or sadness that barely disturbs your mascara. Not the gentle streams that redden your eyes, but are hidden with a quick tissue. Not even the quiet crying interrupted by an occasional gasp for air.
I am wondering if it is ok to express those huge wracking sobs that come after a truly devastating loss. I am asking whether it is ok to gasp and moan and sob again and again; whether it is ok to cry out in the pain of loss; whether it is acceptable in your church, my church, our churches to express pain that no one can console.
I have always believed that the church is a place you can go to when you cannot be consoled. And yet I have not found a place called “church” where that is true. And I find that I cannot sit in worship and hear the words of hope, words of promise, or words of a better kingdom at hand while I am experiencing grief.
To be clear, I believe that worship should be full of hope, full of the promise of the Kingdom, full of the image of a life that is better. At the same time, in the immediate moments, hours, weeks, even months of horrific loss, all of those promises are crass parodies that ring horribly untrue during the time of bereavement.
In the aftermath of a tragic accident, a suicide, an unexplainable disaster, in the aftermath of extreme loss, in the aftermath of inconsolable pain, many of us do not want to look ahead to a time when we might move beyond this loss to a new normal. Our life is forever changed, and the idea that this might be normal someday only adds to our pain.
There is a time when it is right to sit in the pain. There is a time when it is right to see the brokenness as beyond repair. I am at that time, and I cannot sit in worshipful hope. I can only sit in pain.
Perhaps people in that much pain need to be accompanied outside of worship by a part of church—an individual member, a small group, a support team. Maybe church members should search out pained neighbors and sit with them where they are—outside of worship. Maybe it is too soon to be back in the full circle of community, maybe the care must be intimate, one child of God sitting with another. Maybe the time to be invited back to worship is still to come. Maybe the promise and hope and image of the Kingdom are gifts for a later healing step.
The return to corporate worship may come slowly, or it may come quickly; it will come to each person at their own pace. It will happen after—after the complete sense of being alone, after days spent with people one at a time, after gatherings with two, maybe three others, and after exhaustion sets in—exhaustion with all that time sitting in pain.
Loving people instinctively want to ease each other’s pain. That is why we bring the casserole, send the card, attend the funeral and/or make the visit, sitting there and filling up an all too empty house. These are all things the people of God need to do with and for a neighbor in pain.
But loving people also instinctively want to reassure that all will be ok. Loving people want to jump quickly to hope, and want to pass a tissue in hopes that the unbearable, heart-breaking crying will stop. We want to stop it because we care, yet is it our need that is met by sharing words that insist on looking ahead? Those words often do not meet the need of the sufferer.
At the same time, worship by its very nature must look ahead. We as the church, as the people of God, are then faced with a challenge: how can we make a place for those who cannot look ahead? Can we make a place that is not in worship, but is still inside our circle of love? Can we sit with people who are not ready for hope, who are not ready for looking ahead? Can we sit with those who still live with the huge wracking sobs that come after a truly devastating loss?