Louis C.K.’s rant on texting and sadness made the rounds on the internet a couple of months ago. He says the reason people pick up their phones to text is because they begin to feel the “forever empty” underlying our lives and we interrupt the path to experiencing true sadness with our gadgets. “Sadness is poetic, we’re lucky to feel sad,” he says. This youtube clip got more than 5 million views and was reported by major media outlets such as USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. Sadness resonates with people because it is such a universal human experience.
I’m not sure if Louis C.K. is religious or not, but he has incisively touched upon a profound truth – if we do not allow ourselves to go to the deep, dark place, we deny ourselves the fullness of life and survive with superficial satisfaction. If church is to be a place where we invite people to meet with God, we must provide a space to plunge past the urges to placate those initial nagging thoughts of sad, and immerse ourselves in full-blown lament. This is often not the case in church communities. The Church is filled with resurrection Sunday people and not many Good Friday folks. Any hints of negativity or complaint is quickly shut down with a call to thanksgiving. We sing songs like, “When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will bless your name!” The taboo attached to swear words within Christian culture is a terrible barrier to true lament, because “gosh darn it, my wife just got diagnosed with cancer”, doesn’t do justice to the depth of sorrow. When our God given compassionate hearts encounter stories of abused children, it warrants a “F*&k it” in expression of our righteous rage. Like the kitschy Kincade paintings, the church masks over authentic suffering of the soul with pithy sayings and pat answers until all that glows is an artificial light, while true fire dies out.
Walter Brueggeman, an Old Testament biblical scholar and modern prophet, accuses the church of broadly ignoring one third of the Psalms and calls the church to recover the language of biblical lament. If Christians are not given the permission to rail against God, we are invited into either great guilt (for feeling angry with God) or great denial. Solidifying a place of lament allows a community to address that which is not right and demand change. The character of brutal honesty must mark a true covenantal relationship between us and God.
Let’s be clear: biblical lament is not First World Whining or pretentious accusations of false persecution. It looks more like the genuine cry of a bereaved widow; the desperate pleas for rights long denied; the collective sighs of marginalized peoples. Lament liberates the depressed to express their pain, and bring to surface the pain of those who think they are well. Peter Rollins says, “I’m not trying to get people depressed. I’m telling them they already are.”
It’s not comfortable to be sad. We have figured out ways to avoid it with our stuff, our feel-good testimonies, and our Scripture quips. The greatest irony lies in this: the frantic rush to redemption stirs up a flurry of dust which buries our sadness deeper, until all that’s left is a bunch of church people trying to make people feel good, and the truly sad people are pushed further and further out.
Let’s put away our phones. Let’s live into the tension of longing for hope in the midst of pain. Let’s embrace the inevitable suckiness of life and as Louis C.K. says, “be grateful to feel sad.”