Bobby was taking his new kite outside to fly it for the first time. He was thrilled with his father’s gift. He flung the screen door open just as the ball of string dropped from his hand. As he reached to retrieve the string, the screen door bounced back snapping the kite’s fragile wooden strut. Bobby was shocked. He couldn’t believe it. His new kite was broken. The broken wood had also pierced the thin paper of the kite. In a flash, Bobby felt ashamed, dejected, embarrassed, and angry. Why had this happened? How could it have happened? What could he do about it? All these questions raced through his mind. And almost as quickly, he found an answer. “I know. I’ll take it to my father. I know he won’t be happy, but at least he can fix it, and then I can fly my brand new kite!”
Bobby found his father sitting at the dining room table. Bobby couldn’t believe it when his father said the kite couldn’t be fixed. “Why not?” protested Bobby. His father explained that he could not think of any way to repair the wood. Bobby said, “Well what about tape or glue?” His father explained that this would not work. Bobby insisted, “Why not?” By that time his father’s patience was growing thin and his anger rose to the surface. “Bobby, if you hadn’t been so careless, this would not have happened. I told you to be careful!”
Now Bobby had a worse problem. His father was often angry with him for days when something like this happened. Bobby could just imagine getting the silent treatment from his dad. Finally, Bobby mustered his courage and said, “I know, but I don’t understand why you can’t fix it.”
Fortunately for Bobby, his father relented and explained how fragile the wood was and how tape or glue would not be strong enough to withstand the force of the wind. Bobby protested again, “Why not?” Restraining himself one more time, though with an irritated tone, his father responded, “I’m sorry, Bobby; I know how disappointed and angry you are, but I can’t think of a way to fix it.”
How difficult it is to accept that life is at times unfair. Bobby certainly did not want to accept the fact that his father was unable to repair his kite, so he continued to protest, he continued to ask “Why?” If we can identify with Bobby’s excitement and disappointment, we may find ourselves saying, “Well, his father should have bought another kite.”
We, too, do not want to accept loss, and grieve for those unfair aspects of our lives. We do not want to accept that times come when we cannot go back to the way things used to be. These moments in our lives become critical “choice points.” We can avoid dealing with these losses by denying that they have happened, or by questioning why they have happened, which may be the first steps in our path of spiritual healing. The danger at the beginning of spiritual healing is that, like the child who continues to grasp hold of a toy, we continue to focus only on our denial and questioning “Why?” Because we wish to avoid feeling grief and accepting loss, we can remain stuck in our denial and questioning stage.
As we seek to let go of our denial and avoidance, we may begin to experience grief. Another word for grief is “lament.” A lamentation may be a song or poem about grief, regret, or mourning. Many religions and much of the world’s great literature use lamentations to express the grief that comes when life seems unfair.
Thus, when we are not able to find an answer to the question of why we suffer, and we can feel the sadness of our loss, we enter into a period of lamentation, a period of grieving. Like Bobby, we would rather there were a way to “fix it.” Like Bobby we may experience many different feelings. Sadness and grief are uncomfortable feelings, and most of us would like to avoid them. In fact, men especially have been taught that to allow themselves to feel sadness or grief is a sign of weakness.
The truth is that it takes a great deal of emotional strength and courage to let grief into our hearts, to express our sadness in words, or tears, or writing, or anger, or some other activity. It is the grace of God and courage that can move us into lamentation.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain the book of Lamentations, a profound cry of suffering of the Jewish people. In 586 B.C., Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jewish people, was overrun by the Babylonian armies. This was the third time the city had been attacked in a generation. Many Jews were exiled to Babylonia, separated from their families and from their Temple, which was destroyed. Only those who have known the ravages of war can begin to appreciate the suffering endured by the people – men, women, and children.
The book of Lamentations is also an attempt to understand why such calamity fell upon them. In these verses, one reads of the destruction of a city, the deportation of a population, the anguish of a people, the struggle to understand where God is in their suffering, and the determination to hope in God and appeal for mercy.
The book of Lamentations provides a helpful example for us when we feel life is unfair. How will we respond? What is the path for spiritual healing? The path begins with grieving. First we acknowledging that we have been avoiding and denying our loss and then opening ourselves to the heartache that occurs when loss comes to us. Lamentations calls us to express our grief in word, song or whatever expression seems right for us.
Expressing our sorrow in the face of life’s unfairness is difficult spiritual work. When we are faced with major loss, it is sometimes helpful to understand the expression of grief as work. Grieving, lamentation, while not chosen, becomes our spiritual task. The promise and the hope is that in allowing ourselves to grieve, we will be renewed and renew our relationship to God. This is not a promise that we will return to the way things were, but that, through grief, God will do a new work in us.
You are encouraged to engage the Scriptures in this chapter. Allow yourself to experience the grief experienced by so many of the people in the Bible. Allow yourself to know that you are not alone in having to deal with the unfairness of life. Allow yourself to hope that there is life through grief.