“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” — Nehemiah (1.4)
We are too often left to suffer alone. Our culture is immensely individualistic and communal mourning stopped shortly after the first immigrants arrived in the new land. Our pride further complicates things—suffering is, by nature, inglorious—sharing our pain risks loss of relationship, status, or worse.
Suffering alone deepens isolation. We become disconnected from our community and distanced in our relationship with God—we struggle to feel the love of others, even if we have an intellectual grasp of its presence. In her TED Talk on vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says this:
There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.
Before you dismiss it as self-help tripe, the reason Brown discovered this was true has a deep meaning for people of faith. In looking at those who had a strong sense of love and belonging, Brown says:
What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language—it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning “heart”—and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.These folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.
Nehemiah weeping is reminiscent of David’s Psalms of Lament—there was a courage to confront the veracity of the pain. More than that, as we see in the Psalms, there was a progression: a cry out to God, followed by a request for his intervention, then a praise for his love.
We cannot forget that when Jesus was confronted with the pain of this world he wept. God incarnate, weeping at loss. When we hurt, God weeps with us. But he does not stop there. For it is only through his power we, like Lazarus, can be called out of the depths of our pain.