Why Do We Hide Our Suffering?

Admit it: that 4th of July selfie you posted took 15 tries, and though your smiling faces shone bright as the fireworks, you were actually hot, grumpy, and bracing yourself to fight the 100,000 other people making a b-line to their cars after the last snap-crackle-pop. Here’s mine:

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But why do we hide our suffering? Is it shame? Fear of rejection? Etiquette?

Last Sunday at Binkley Baptist Church, I explored the juxtaposition of Psalm 22 and Mark 15:33-39. Each pericope contains a line you may be familiar with—even if you don’t hail from the Abrahamic traditions:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This primal cry of human suffering is echoed in both texts, first as the Suffering Psalmist’s individual prayer of lament, and later in the Gospels as Jesus cries in agony from the cross.

While we may know about this syntax of forsakeness—these Biblical texts stand in sharp contrast to our present-day efforts to put our best face forward in life, at work, in groups, and on social media.

Perfectionism Anyone?

Christians are especially quick to throw away dreary texts because they don’t fit the modern, Jesus-will-take-care-of-all-your-needs paradigm. After all, how would we attract new church members if we admitted that sometimes we feel abandoned by God? So, instead, we say, “let’s talk about something more pleasant—baptism, anyone?”

Theologian Walter Brueggeman explains: “It’s no wonder the Church has intuitively avoided these Psalms. They lead us into the dangerous acknowledgment of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil.” (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary)

It doesn’t help that our contemporary culture clings to the adage that enough education, hard work, money, power, and self-help books will tame our suffering. But our honest experience attests to the resilience of suffering, in spite of all we do to smash it.

Oh yeah life goes on
Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone
–John Mellancamp, “Jack and Diane”

Since diving into these “forsaken” Biblical texts, I have more questions than I have answers: why do I work so hard to hide my suffering? What would it mean to practice living the Psalms—actually praying and telling how life is, rather than how we portray it to be?

I’m going to find out.

Food for the Suffering Soul 

Beginning Sunday, the Upper Room will host its annual SOULfeast conference,  a spiritual retreat held at Lake Junaluksa, the shining jewel of the NC Mountains.

I’m honored to have been asked to preach at this year’s SOULFeast, whose theme is Living Psalms. Our worship and workshops will help us explore what it means to “feast” on these ancient texts–and how much we can use them in our fast-paced, suffering lives.

Stay tuned for the full text of my sermon later next week.

In the meantime, here’s your homework:

Make a literal or figurative “suffering selfie”–one that says, “Things aren’t perfect right now. But I’m showing you and God my true self, because I know you know what it feels like to be human.”

Report back: you may be surprised at what happens.

Next Week on the Blog:

Monday: “An Interfaith Conversion” from guest blogger Rev. Elizabeth Hagan. Read and share, friends!

Headed to SOULFeast this year? Let me know!


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