Within That Hope, We Lament

Yesterday I stood next to my mama’s casket and met person after person who came to pay respects.

It was beautiful and awful all at the same time.

It was precious to hear the many ways Mama had brightened other people’s lives, extended hospitality, shared experiences and encouraged hearts.

It was awful to know she wouldn’t be doing that anymore. Her voice is silent, her smile is forever fixed into a not-really-like-her expression and her eyes closed.

I have been so busy that I really haven’t had time to mourn her yet. It’s coming.

Oh, how I know it’s coming.

But one thing I know now that I didn’t know when Dominic ran ahead to Heaven is this: Hope in Christ creates a safe space for all my questions, sadness and crying out.

God collects my tears. He does not disdain my sadness. He leans in and listens to my lament.

To have healthy fellowship with God we must be honest and realistic about our circumstances and our reactions to them.  To have a healthy emotional, spiritual, and mental life, we must be honest with ourselves.  One truth about our lives is that we are broken; we inevitably encounter our own suffering and that of others, and eventually we die.  How does our Lord teach us to respond to this?  He teaches us hope, and within that hope we use lament to speak to God of the painful delay of peace.  All laments ultimately go to God, with whom we wrestle and rest.

Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope

Peace is coming but it’s not here yet.

And it is perfectly OK to admit that, to mourn that, to take notice of the gap between the promise and the present.

Why Faking Fine is Unhelpful

For so much of my life, I thought sucking it up and faking away the pain showed true strength. But real strength is identifying a wound and asking God to enter it. We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together. In fact, we lose an entire vocabulary from our prayers when we silence the reality of our pain. If questions and cries and laments are not cleaned up throughout Scripture, then why are we cleaning them up or removing them completely from our language?
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Social media is replete with memes, stories and “pass this on and Jesus will bless you” messages that imply if only our faith is strong enough or our hope steadfast enough things will be alright.  

But sometimes they aren’t!

So when I see posts about a survival story and another family spared the awful journey my family must make, I am truly thankful but my heart cries out, “Why him and not MY son?”

It was a long, long time before my first reaction to someone surviving an awful car accident or motorcycle accident (my son died on his motorcycle-instantly) was joy for the family of the one that survived.

I would have a moment of relief for them (that they didn’t have to suffer this pain) but then my mind went to the place I wish I didn’t-why them and not us?

One of the hardest tasks in this journey has been to lay aside the questions I know won’t be answered before Heaven and to learn to live in the now with them tucked away.

I’m better at rejoicing  but I still can’t tolerate talk of “miracles” (even if it really IS a miracle) or “answered prayers” or “prayer works” or someone trying to justify why one person dies and another lives in the same circumstances.

I can tolerate mystery but not men’s attempts to explain away God’s working in the world. 

So I have learned to let it out in the privacy of my own prayer closet or journal and beg God to pour more mercy and grace into my broken heart. Pretending it’s OK doesn’t help me or anyone else.  Lament allows me to exhale my doubts, questions and disappointment and make room to inhale the truth that the Lord is faithful and that He loves me.

I know my Redeemer lives and that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.  

I hang onto that truth, even when my heart begs for more.  

lamenting is a painful process

 

Refuse to Hide: Lament As Worship

We usually think of worship as songs of joy and happiness extolling the virtues of God and Christ.  

While that is most certainly a form of worship, it is absolutely not the only one.  

Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
― Cindee Snider Re

Worship is also the broken whimper of a scared and wounded child, crawling into the lap of her Abba Father.  

There is no less adoration in this ultimate act of confident trust than in the most eloquent declaration of theological truth in word or song.  

Lament is worship.  

Christian lament is not simply complaint. Yes, it stares clear-eyed at awfulness and even wonders if God has gone…Yet at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.”
― Josh Larsen

Bringing my brokenness to God as an offering, trusting Him to receive it, to keep it and to begin to weave even this into the tapestry of my life is perhaps the ultimate act of worship.  

you keep track of all my tears

When I refuse to pretend, refuse to hide, refuse to run away and look for an answer somewhere else, I affirm that He is my God, and there is no other beside Him.  

A lament is an act of worship, a faith statement of trust, in the face of difficulty. It’s a wonderfully honest way to acknowledge our trouble to God as we also acknowledge our hope is in him.
― Linda Evans Shepherd

lamenting is a painful process

 

God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. … It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it meant that no one could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor. … Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.
― Nicholas Wolterstorff

Heritage of Sorrow

I am convinced that one of the main reasons we detest tears, sorrow and lament is because we’ve adopted a cardboard copy of the true gospel message.

When Christ came, He was (in part) missed by many because they were looking for a King who would save them from their physical misery and oppression under Rome. When He offered them the keys to a Kingdom not of this world, a Kingdom that would fill their hearts and souls but not necessarily their bellies, many turned away.

Our tears remind folks that while many in North America (especially) live a life that is relatively peaceful, abundant and overflowing with material blessings, bad things happen.

As a matter of fact, bad things happen with no explanation, no earthly remedy and no way through but through.

Who wants to be reminded of that if your life is so lovely you don’t have to be?

It’s an odd thing. Jesus wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept. They did it openly. Their weeping became a matter of public record. Their weeping sanctioned by inclusion in our Holy Scriptures, a continuing and reliable witness that weeping has an honored place in the life of faith.

But just try it yourself. Even, maybe especially, in church where these tear-soaked Scriptures are provided to shape our souls and form our behavior. Before you know it a half-dozen men and women surround you with handkerchiefs, murmuring reassurances, telling you that it is going to be alright, intent on helping you to ‘get over it.’

Why are Christians, of all people, embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, unpracticed in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly ‘acquainted with grief.’ And our Savior was, as everyone knows, ‘a Man of Sorrows.’

~Eugene Patterson

 

The Power of Lament to Make Room for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.

I loved everything about it:  the color scheme, the food (I love, love, love to cook-it was never a burden), family and friends gathered around the table, and the wonderful slowness of the day as it lingered into nightfall.

It was more flexible than Christmas for including all sorts of folks who otherwise didn’t have someplace to go. Living near colleges meant that  we welcomed students from around the world-we might have two or three dozen laughing faces milling about.

happy-thanksgiving

 

It was wonderful.

And I loved going around the circle, tummies bursting, to share what people were thankful for and why.

When Dominic left us everything  changed.

Oh, I was (and still am) so very thankful for so very many things-my family, daily physical provision, ongoing care and love of friends, the enduring faithful mercy of God.

photo (20)

But there’s something else too:  there is deep sorrow at the unavoidable FACT that when God COULD have stepped in and changed an outcome, He DIDN’T.

pain-behind-every-tear

And I’m having to learn to open my heart to thankfulness while also bearing witness to this pain.

Praise and lament in the same breath.

I have plenty of company.

be broken brennan manningThe world we live in is full of pain and suffering.  Injustice reigns.  We make our way through thorns and by the sweat of our brow.

It is just plain hard.

The psalmist acknowledges that.  He doesn’t rush past the pain.  He doesn’t gloss over the broken places.

He empties his heart of the feeling that God has forgotten.  But he doesn’t stop there-he chooses to bring the emptiness back to the only One Who can fill it up again.

Like the psalmist, I’m learning  that I must exhale before I can inhale.

I must admit the burden of hopelessness to make room for the blessing of hope.

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD: with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.”

I ADMIT I FEEL ABANDONED:

In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.

AND YET I WILL CHOOSE TO TRUST:

I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”

IN THE HOPE THAT GOD HEARS:

Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!

SO THAT MY TESTIMONY MAY BE ONE OF PRAISE:

Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!

Psalm 142, selected

As I sit at the table, cherishing the companionship of those I love and missing the one I can no longer see, I will embrace thanksgiving and lament.

I will exhale and inhale.

I will beg for grace and mercy because I can no longer beg to be spared from sorrow.

I will ask for eyes to see and a faithful heart while I wait.

worn snow