I was at a concert the other day, and the band stopped to dedicate a song to a fan. They said that this song was a favorite of a fan of theirs who was a young man with cancer. He had listened to the song during chemo, and they had had the chance to meet him, and he had had an effect on them as a band.
So far so good in terms of dedication. Then they told us this young man had passed away, but that his legacy lived on. “He never frowned or complained — He was always optimistic.” They told us this, and reminded us to be thankful, and reminded us again. “His parting legacy was optimism.”
I couldn’t help but feel like they sold that young man short. I believe he was more than just a smile, that he left more than a legacy of optimism. It also made me realize how few words we have when cut off from a language of faith. Was this a young man of joy? faith? hope? Those are words that mean something. That’s a legacy. And maybe they meant joy or hope, but they didn’t use those words. They said optimism. And I believe that their dedication was more harmful than helpful.
I want to dedicate a song to a person who battles cancer faithfully and as a human being. I want us to stand in front of thousands and praise the person who laments. Who looks at life in its fullness and is not afraid to tell God and others the truth. Why don’t we praise lament?
I remember being in the children’s hospital and talking to families who had heard too much of this optimism language and thought that smiling was their only faithful answer. They faked smiles for God and others, and then told me all the questions they were too afraid to ask God. So, I told them about the Psalms. I told them that David (Forgive me OT 501) expressed anger in one sentence and praise in the next and that if David could do it, did that not mean that they could too? We would discuss how the Psalms are freeing because we are given permission to still find joy and praise in one moment and ask God really hard questions in the next moment, and all within a place of faith.
So, if we find this in the Psalms, why don’t we find this attitude in churches as much? Someone has to balance out culture that praises optimism in the face of childhood cancer – because that’s insane. The young man died — to be optimistic was ultimately pointless — but to be people of hope and faith does not depend of circumstance, and it does not silence the lament of those who are suffering.
So, here’s to those who lament, who leave a legacy of both praise and anger, who engage the wholeness of God with their whole selves, and here’s to those who provide that space for wholeness for others.