Pain is a Four-Letter Word


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 137; 147:1-11, Joel 2:12-19, Revelation 19:11-21, Luke 15:1-10

Psalm 137 is rough. Written by Israelites in Babylonian captivity, it expresses sorrow and rage. Because their captors demand to be entertained, the psalmist asks: “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” How demoralizing it would be to perform your songs of worship for the ironic entertainment for your oppressor.

Some mornings we feel like we have woken in an unfriendly foreign land. Oppression, real and perceived, weighs us down while the world demands perhaps not that we entertain it, but that we at least rise above our emotional and spiritual exile. Christians especially are taught and expected to be nice, as though tamping down our feelings for the comfort of others is some expression of love. Nice is not the same as good.

We need Psalm 137. We need the ugliest, most vile parts of it. When we read “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” we are rightly appalled, but then we probably haven’t watched our infants being slaughtered, as did the people of Israel. Who among us doesn’t have some instinct to hit back? We can do the actual hitting, or we can follow Christ and love our enemies … but the sorrow and anger don’t simply disappear. Psalm 137 was sung by a community needing to purge its pain. The words are offensive, but they are just words. Some people find offense in hip hop, in screamo, in lyrics using four-letter words decrying far worse injustices. We embrace songs about war and revenge as patriotic classics. These are the modern versions of Psalm 137. They give us release and expression of things we know we can never really do. Sometimes, to get to good, we need to abandon nice for a while.

God can withstand our anger and fear. There is catharsis in sharing and releasing it in faith with others who understand it. There is danger in not doing so, for pain guides us only to more pain. Wail when you need to. Purge with your words. Then heal with your deeds.

Comfort: Your pain is valid.

Challenge: When people use words that offend you, look behind them for a source of pain and opportunity for healing.

Prayer: God of justice, hear my cries. Amen.

Discussion: Are you comfortable expressing pain, sorrow, and/or anger? How do you do so?

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