“Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.”
So opens the famous poem “Solitude,” by the late 19th century American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I’ve thought of those words often, and the unfortunate truth they embody, while I’ve been working on our lament series and contemplating the various reasons why we avoid public lament in our worship and our small group gatherings.
It shouldn’t be that way, but I think it’s fair to say that it is. God does not desire or intend that we only lament alone. His will, and his implicit command, is that we lament together as an act of worship. Many of the laments in the book of Psalms are written as corporate laments, i.e., using words like “we” and “us” calling us to lament together as the people of God who are suffering and struggling together. But even the individual laments (which use the “I” and “my” pronouns) have a public and corporate dynamic. After all, the Hebrew title of the book of Psalms is, the “Book of Public Praises.”
This Sunday, and next week in our Daily Worship Devotions, we engage with the corporate lament of Psalm 44. I encourage you to take some time to read and meditate on it before Sunday morning. But before you delve into Psalm 44, I encourage you to take some time with Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem and reflect on why it is that you and we avoid lamenting together. How did that happen culturally and in our Christian traditions? What drives this avoidance? What have been the implications? What is the cost of our loss of lamenting together?
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
Yours in Christ’s love,