As we send over $17,000 to help meet physical and spiritual needs in Haiti, it seems like a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming needs. My daughter recently brought me $50 cash and asked me to send it to Compassion as they also seek to meet needs. This morning I was moved by this World Mag article. Loved the balance. God is sovereign and in control. He is accomplishing things we cannot see or now know. And yet we grieve. We ought to grieve. Let us pour out our hearts like water before the Lord. . . .
An indecent grief
First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz
Just off a transatlantic flight from covering the 1999 Izmit earthquake in Turkey—which killed over 17,000—I ordered coffee at Starbucks. I was dust-covered, unkempt, exhausted. I had come straight from the quake zone, watching all-night rescue efforts lit by generator-driven spotlights end in grief.
The barista set before me one of those really tall coffee concoctions, and I couldn't pick it up. The cartonboard cup with its creamy white cleanness assaulted my senses. It was an affront to the dust-laden, broken-up, shaken-down cityscape I'd inhabited the past week. Coming out of it—back to where rebar held to concrete, where buildings stood with glass intact, where china and stuffed animals stayed on their shelves and children slept in their own beds—felt like a betrayal. I stood frozen at the Starbucks counter and wept.
We Westerners excel at getting on with it, at binding up wounds and fixing what's broken, or paying others to do it for us. We do less well with pausing to grieve, feeling the pain long enough, letting the pain be pain and do its work.
"Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to Him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street," lamented Jeremiah (Lamentations 2:19).
The list of Haiti's needs, while brutally long, can be named and numbered. So can and should its lamentations. A death toll from an island the size of Massachusetts to rival a tsunami that spanned an ocean and 14 nations. Ten thousand quake victims per day dumped without name or record into mass graves. Thousands beneath the rubble awaiting a rescue that did not come. Each is an individual sorrow and together an unfathomable calamity.
"Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" (Jeremiah 9:1).
Jeremiah knew a "pain unceasing, an incurable wound, refusing to be healed." The prophet himself lived a life full of indecent grief, a persistent heartbreak the men of Judah found obscene, excessive. They derided him as the "weeping prophet," God forbade him to marry, and he died a captive in Egypt. Yet he wrote not from base self-pity but because he understood the risk: If we fail to see the depths of pain inflicted by disaster, we will fail to bind up the wounds properly. At the same time, the pain is a powerful reminder of our limits. We must not fail to see like Jeremiah that ultimately the wound is incurable and the pain unceasing. In this life all binding and curing is temporary.
So beware the man with quick answers: Pat Robertson dismissing the calamity as part of "a pact to the devil"; Rush Limbaugh declaring that we gave already. Beware the man with wrong answers: Max Beauvoir, Haiti's high priest of voodoo, telling Haitians that the quake's unexpected deaths only disrupted the normally peaceful transition from one life to the next. "We believe that everyone lives 16 times—eight times we live as men, and eight times as women. And the purpose of life is to gather all kinds of experiences," said Beauvoir. Or the team of Scientologists, who went from makeshift shelter to makeshift shelter claiming to heal through touch. "When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we reestablish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch," said one volunteer.
Comfort that treats the bereaved as pets or as losers is no comfort. Comfort designed less to empower than to ease is short-lived. The old English defined comfort as "strengthening, encouraging, inciting, aiding" while the Americans refined it to "soothe in a time of distress" (see Oxford English vs. American Heritage dictionaries). Haitians, made in the image of God and like His Son sorrowful even to death, need strengthening comfort, the kind that fathoms both the depth of the loss and the length of the work ahead.Haitians amid the rubble have a better sense of this. "Dye pi fo," some sang out from the shelters. "God is stronger."