There are many terrible things about the global pandemic in which we so unexpectedly find ourselves at the moment. The loss of life, where loved ones are separated during a final illness and where their life cannot be fully honoured due both to restricted numbers and a term I understand the need for but have come to hate – social distancing. There are many people fearful for their future financially with job losses looming. We have become aware in new ways of the vulnerability of age. It has caused me enormous pain to have to stand two metres away from my beloved grandchildren and leave baking treats for them as a tangible reminder of my love for them. All I want to do is hold them. In my desire not to distress them I cannot even tell them that.
But today it is not those things, tragic as they are, which are breaking my heart. Yesterday I saw a picture from Europe of young children sat in the playground in their chalk boxes, two metres apart from their friends numerically but surely a million miles emotionally. There is talk of children being taught to hug themselves instead of friends or trusted adults, but any psychologist will tell you that for that to be meaningful a child has first to have been held, physically and emotionally. How can children at nursery and those who have just started school possibly understand this cruel change to their world?
Whether it is safe in terms of the virus for children to return to school we will discover in time. But the lessons they are learning in this catastrophe will surely reach further down the years. And today it is breaking my heart.
There has been much written by Christians responding to this new, unwelcome world into which we have been catapulted. Some are searching to discover what God is saying and doing, and some feel they know. I don’t have a clue and to be honest I am not trying to work it out. The only thing I can say for sure is that I don’t see it as a judgement on us. The God I love is full of mercy and I can only imagine that he is weeping with us.
The Bible has within its pages many laments – prayers prayed from a place of deep pain and yes, sometimes with the anger which is so often the companion of our distress. About a third of the psalms are laments – either individual or corporate. There is a great deal of lament in both Job and the prophets, sometimes personal, sometimes looking outwards. There are several moments in Jesus’ life where wracking sobs are his only language. The painful, gasped lament from the desolation of the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” - echoes the prayer of many over the centuries. It is a moment which haunts us – God’s Son, the incarnation of love, experiencing such utter desolation – yet it is also a reminder that he is not absent from our suffering but identifies with it and is right at its centre.
Some may want to remind me of the hope for believers, that God is always at work, that resurrection follows death, or other comforting truths. It can be difficult to look into the abyss of pain surrounding us and so we can resist it with superficial answers or immersing ourselves in activity. But look we must if we are really to travel with others.
And so today, I will lament for the children.