A few weeks ago I wrote about the comic butt-kicking that has encouraged me to begin full-time writing. I thought I’d get a lot of
e-mail scolding me about my un-chaplain-like language, but my mom was the only one to call.
“Mom,” I reasoned, “at least it isn’t like some of the language I’ve been hearing in the hospital this past week.”
The “language” had started with the mother of a patient in our hospital who had made regular visits to pray and weep loudly for her son’s unlikely recovery.
When he died this week, the staff called me. Upon hearing my introduction, the woman let off a string of words I normally hear in, uh . . . well, I don’t suppose I normally hear these words anywhere.
“Be careful,” the woman’s sister advised. “He’s the preacher.”
Drawing again from her limited vocabulary, she fired another volley of words aimed at convincing us she didn’t care whether I was the pope. Her only son was dead, and she planned to let us know how horrific that felt in the depths of her soul.
Earlier, on another floor, a nurse sent me to the room of an alcoholic, advising me “he might need some counseling or something.” His chart suggested he was consuming multiple six-packs each day. “Yup or ‘something,’ ” I muttered, repeating the nurse’s euphemism.
When I entered the room, I met a man who was writhing in the pain of detoxification. From what little I know, this is a process that makes water boarding look tame.
His response made it clear he wasn’t worried whom his language might offend. “Get me some *&%@’n drugs!” he yelled. I relayed his message to the nurse.
“Did you tell him that language is inappropriate?” the nurse asked.
My reply seemed to shock her nearly as much as the patient’s language.
“No. I think his language represents a kind of prayer.”
“Prayer?” she exclaimed in a way that made me think she wanted me drug tested me on the spot.
The cries of agony, loss or pain are expressed in many different ways. They are expressed in a wordless whimper, and God hears them. They are expressed in bloodcurdling screams, and God hears them. They are even expressed in a way that would offend the offhand listener. No matter how they are said, God knows how to interpret them, and God hears them.
The problem is we often close our hearts and our ears to the kind of language expressed in that level of pain. We do so because we think pain ought not be offensive. “Pain should be neat and controlled,” we reason.
That’s not the way the Psalmist saw it when he wrote, I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. — Psalm 142:1-2
And it certainly wasn’t the way Job saw it when his entire family was taken away. Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. — Job 7:11
I’m not saying this is the kind of language we encourage in everyday talk. I’m not saying it is appropriate.
I am saying God hears even the most excruciating levels of pain. He doesn’t turn his ears away from it. Why should we?
I like what Susan Lenzkes says about beating upon the chest of God with her anger. In her book, “When Life Takes What Matters,” she says, “We beat on His chest from within the circle of His arms.”