Lament or grieving comes from within. If we are to grieve, we must dare to look and feel within. There we will discover the loss that has led us to choose to believe that life is unfair. As long as we deny our suffering, as long as we avoid the pain of our loss, we do not take the inward journey. Yet spiritual healing requires that inward journey. For as long as we deny our loss and our suffering, we are pretending to be self-sufficient; we are isolating ourselves from reaching out for help; we are perhaps even fooling ourselves into believing that we need no one else, not even God.
Reaching out to make connection is innately human. We may choose to believe that we are self-sufficient, but even that will not lessen our need for connection. In 1999, Dr. Joseph Bruner operated on little Samuel Armus while he was still a fetus in his mother’s womb. A remarkable picture by Michael Clancy shows Samuel’s arm extending out of the surgical incision of the womb. The baby’s tiny hand appears to be instinctively holding on to one of Dr. Bruner’s fingers. While there has been debate as to Samuel’s intention, it is clear that from very early in our lives we have a need to reach out. That need is twofold: a need to reach out to offer help and a need to reach out to ask for help.
As we grow through later childhood, we are often encouraged to deny our need for help. Lamentation or grieving can help us re-discover our need to reach out for help.
Those who join the military service soon learn to deny their own needs in order to serve the greater good. They learn to “buck up,” to “keep their chin up,” and to “tough it out.” Over the course of time, when we are given such encouragement not to look inward, not to attend to our own needs, we can begin to believe that reaching out for help is a personal weakness and is a sign of a character flaw. Further, when promotions are based on showing a high degree of self-reliance, and revealing emotional or spiritual need is a liability in one’s career, the belief in self-sufficiency is greatly reinforced.
B.J., as his buddies called him, was such a Marine. He was tough. He was respected by his peers as someone who always gave 110 percent, who never quit, and who never complained. He seemed headed for major promotions and a distinguished full-time military career.
But then the unthinkable happened. He contracted a disease that left him paralyzed. It blind-sided him. He knew the risks of battle. He thought he had prepared himself for the possibility of losing a leg or an arm from a roadside explosion, or even a major injury from a sniper. But the indignity of being paralyzed from some disease had never crossed his mind. His years of training to fight an insurgent enemy did not prepare him for the invasion of a microscopic organism and paralysis.
When B.J. was flown back to the States to recover, he felt he was letting his buddies down. More than anything, he wanted to be back in the thick of the fight. He had grown to love those with whom he served. He had never felt so close to any other human beings. Now he was in a specialty care hospital for the paralyzed, among strangers.
B.J. was angry, bitter and resentful. He changed from someone who could be counted on in a tough situation to someone who could be counted on to give everyone around him a tough time. In the hospital ward, he would often pull the sheets up over his head and tell people to go away. He would yell and swear at those who came to help him. Life had treated him unfairly and he took his anger out on anyone who tried to get close to him.
He resented anyone who was able to walk, anyone who could have a normal bowel movement and clean themselves, and anyone who could make love. His wife had traveled from their home to be with him in the hospital. He even treated her unkindly as she reached out to care for him. He told himself that she was pitying him and that she couldn’t possibly be there out of love. He reasoned that no one could love him as he was, a paralyzed mass who could no longer consider himself to be a real man. He felt contempt for himself and expected that everyone else did as well. Therefore, he rejected everyone who tried to help him because he feared they would reject him.
After a month of trying to get through to him, B.J.’s wife confronted him. “B.J., I’m going home. I am seriously thinking of divorcing you. You are throwing a pity party and you are the only guest. I resent your turning away from me. You are selfishly thinking only of yourself and your career. “Well, what happened to you happened to all of us. It has been no picnic for me either. Dealing with your paralysis would be bad enough, though we could manage that together, but I am not willing to deal with your refusal to help yourself and accept the help of so many good people around you, including me. I’m going home.
“As far as I can see, you’ve got a choice. You can continue to nurse your hurt pride. You can continue to blame life and God and everybody around you for a bad situation and feel sorry for yourself for the rest of what will be your miserable life. You can keep those covers over your head and try to shut the world out. Or you can get off your pity pot, ask for the help you definitely need, and get on with building your life in new ways. If you are willing to do that, I want to do that with you. If you don’t, I’m not wasting my life because you have decided to waste yours. Let me know if you are willing to ask for help by this time tomorrow, or I’m out of here.”
B.J. is not alone in facing difficult choices. Throughout history, people have had to face the unfairness of life. Some have turned bitter and turned their backs on the world; others have turned to ask for help. The Scripture passages in this chapter offer examples of those who decided to reach out, who dared to experience their grief, who dared to hope that, with the help of others and God, their lives could be renewed.