Recently, my family has started watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood together. Inspired by the 2019 movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, my wife and I decided to introduce our kids to the original show, and it was love at first sight. The adults have been reminded of something we deeply loved as children, and a new generation of kids has fallen in love with this remarkable man. Our choice has proven timely. As the hundreds of thousands lie sick, either at home or in hospitals, and as people grieve the deaths of their friends and loved ones, many of whom died in isolation, and as economies fall through the floor, we need the message Mr. Rogers gently teaches. His voice has been important for me because he so gently reminds me of the importance of honesty about our current experience.

It doesn’t take long scrolling news sites or social media feeds before we find ourselves overwhelmed with fear—about what has already happened, about what currently is, and about what eventually may come to pass. We go to the grocery store wearing masks and see empty shelves, and our fellow mask-wearing citizens keep their distance from us as we try to do the same. We hear news of shortages in medical supplies. We are bound to our homes. The cost of this present moment is immense. The toll it takes on us is vast. Sometimes we are tempted to keep our feelings to ourselves. Don’t complain; others have it worse than us, we might tell ourselves.

In our current world of social distancing, when in-person relational connections are few and far between, it becomes even more important to be honest. Mr. Rogers reminds us that when we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.

So what are you feeling? What is your current experience? Are you afraid? Sad? Do you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or weighed down by depression? Do you feel safe or unsafe in your isolation? Are you an essential worker, afraid of what you are being exposed to? Are you grieving the death of a family member or friend, and grieving your inability to gather for a funeral? These feelings are powerful, and they are real, and it’s healthy and holy to acknowledge them.

But let’s go further. What do we do about God and God’s place in the midst of these times of suffering? There’s a temptation, both spiritually and emotionally, to ignore our present reality. We might be tempted to believe that, in order to be considered holy, we must only experience positive emotions and that doubt, fear, failure, despair, or anxiety are signs of an anemic spiritual life. In these moments of darkness, it can feel as though God is far from us, and that can frighten us because we might fear that our feelings—specifically the ones that cause conflict and pain within us—separate us from God.

The journey of Lent has been especially relevant this year as churches and believers around the world have joined Jesus on the road to the cross. This road is far from clean and simple; rather, it demands everything from those making the journey. When we place ourselves in the passion narrative, it becomes obvious how the pain, suffering, isolation, and grief experienced by Jesus must have haunted him. As he is on trial, he remembers Judas’s betrayal. As he’s being flogged, he knows Peter has denied him. On the cross, in his darkest hour, when he needs God most, Jesus experiences isolation to a degree we may never fully understand, and in this moment, Jesus offers no answers—only questions.

“Where are you, God?” In asking this question, Jesus enters into a long and distinguished tradition of lament. In Psalm 22, which Jesus is believed to be quoting from the cross, we see: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (v. 1).

Psalm 13 laments along the same lines: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (vv. 1–2a).

In Lamentations we read: “See, Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed. . . . People have heard my groaning, but there is no one to comfort me” (vv. 20a, 21a).

These are the prayers of the people of God, and of the Son of God. They are people like us, who are experiencing the deeply broken world around us. They are people who suffer and die in isolation. They often experienced tragedies with few answers while facing things too terrible to bear.

So what are we to do? In a brilliant essay titled “Christianity Offers No Answers about the Coronavirus,” theologian N. T. Wright says, “The point of lament, woven into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet of our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles of this world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.” Wright goes on to say, “It’s part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”

Today, as well as in the many weeks yet to come, it’s important to remember that it’s very holy to ask questions. To lament. To struggle. And to be honest—with ourselves and before God—about our current situation and all the pain it stirs up within us. 

With this pandemic staring us in the face, it will be difficult to face the onslaught of sickness, death, and grief. These moments are painful, they are real, and they exact a terrible toll. So together, we remember again the words of our friend and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers: “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” In this frightening world, may we remember lament as a Christian practice. May we remember, as Mr. Rogers reminds us, to acknowledge these emotions and to name them. And may we live like Jesus, vocalizing our deepest and most frightening questions and fears.

Today, as well as in the many weeks yet to come, it’s important to remember that it’s very holy to ask questions. To lament. To struggle. And to be honest—with ourselves and before God—about our current situation and all the pain it stirs up within us.