Advent Meditation: Wrong Theology and Dealing with Pain

By: Fr. Sean Templeton

I am generally a happy guy. It is true that I and often dissatisfied and frustrated, but I think "good-natured" is a descriptor few would argue with. For some reason I have been more troubled this Advent than in year past. Perhaps there is more suffering around me in the parish this year? Perhaps I am just more aware. I want to share a meditation from the Scripture Union which is a site that I use from time-to-time in my prayer life. As an Advent discipline, I want to interact with these meditations on this blog with the hope it is also helpful to you.
This reflection is on Psalm 88 which begins:

I       cry out day and night before you.
2     Let my prayer come before you;
       incline your ear to my cry!
3     For my soul is full of troubles (Psalm 88)


Scripture Union Meditation

"Christians can interpret despair and hopelessness as a lack of faith, but if we expect people to be positive all of the time then their grief cannot be processed. Suppressing anguish only drives unresolved pain deeper. If Israel used this psalm in liturgy, we can also learn that crying and sitting in pain with a sufferer has a place in the worship of God. Instead of a taboo there is openness; instead of stigma, acceptance.
The psalmist’s despair is not simply self-pity. Although he accuses God of causing his suffering, he paradoxically knows him as the one who saves (1). His questions (10–12) suggest that he has not forgotten God’s character. He is the God of “wonders,” a word associated with his powerful acts of salvation in the Exodus (Exod. 15:11). He is the God of “[covenant] love” and “faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6,7; Deut. 32:4). The psalmist does not experience these things, yet he holds on to a knowledge of God attested by God’s people. He is left in darkness, yet he has not given up talking to him." (Scripture Union Meditation)

My Reflection

I have to say that I have had a lot of experience with people who think that grief should be suppressed. If I am honest, I can be one of the people who participates in this. In my experience part of this is due to the false idea that the meditation cites viz. that Christians should not be negative. But if I am honest, I find myself limited by my own inability to deal with lament or grief emotionally. I want to fix it things. I find others' grief overpowering and sometimes paralyzing. But I know as a Christian and - certainly as a priest - I have to mourn with those who mourn. How can I better do this?

I think the above meditation holds and answer. Bringing grief before God, I can use the Psalms to cry out to him on my own behalf and on behalf of others. I can realize that these things are over-powering and yet the burden is Jesus' not my own. And if I am routinely crying out to him and emptying my soul, perhaps I can be of better use to those around me. This Advent we all look to Jesus' return. How can we better help each other be honest in the pain we carry? Is it as simple as crying out to a God who cares? "Come Lord Jesus."