“Thy promise is my only plea - with this I venture nigh. Thou callest burdened souls to Thee, and such, O Lord, am I.”
- John Newton
Twenty years. All of us old enough to remember surely know exactly what we were doing twenty years ago this day. I remember wondering, as a twenty-one-year-old engaged to marry the man I loved, if life would ever feel the same again, if the life we dreamed of sharing was somehow shattered.
Amazing how one day, one short moment can change everything.
This week our family is on vacation. It’s a beautiful, idyllic setting, gorgeous weather. I did marry that man I loved, and earlier this week he and our fifteen-year-old were out “messing about in boats,” having a ball on jet-skis on this beautiful lake. I sat at the rocky shore with our four year old, reading as she collected rocks and shells. Suddenly, a sickening crunch filled the air. I looked up and couldn’t see my husband. And then when I did, I saw blood - and a lot of it.
I’ll spare you the details. After hours in the ER, I was deeply grateful to walk out by his side- he was a bit battered and stitched and bruised, but walking. As we later reconstructed the accident from various viewpoints, we became more and more convinced that God had mercifully spared him and our daughter from very serious injury- or worse. I am so, so grateful for His undeserved kindness to us. It’s easy to praise Him and rest in His goodness when we aren’t facing the worst-case scenario. These are the times when trust comes easy, when declarations of His goodness feel natural.
But trust is a lot harder when the worst case does happen- He never changes and He is good- all the time, He is good- but truly believing it is a whole different challenge when the bottom drops out.
Today, on September 11, as we find ourselves in a world ripped apart by partisan politics and a pandemic and natural disasters and conspiracy and scandal and social media and Afghanistan and… what do we do with all this? What do we do with this grief over what ought not be? Ignore it? Look on the bright side? Get angry? Clamp down on everything we can control?
This year I have soaked slowly and deeply in the book of Psalms. As I’ve read and studied and pondered, one of the things that has struck me so deeply is that, as an American culture, we don’t lament well. We love a victory narrative, an overcomer story, we root for the underdog. And when we struggle to find the bright side or the victory or what could possibly be good, our unfamiliarity with lament shows in our lack of Biblical response.
Laments are prayers of both honest complaint and faith. They are cries from troubled, broken people wrestling with confusion and injustice and suffering, honest prayers of people struggling to make sense of it all in light of the good God who they know has been faithful in the past. Lament feels unfamiliar to us, but it is common in the Scripture- lament Psalms make up roughly one-third of the book, and laments occur frequently through the Old Testament prophetic books.
In his excellent book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop points out that lament is how we live in the tension between the brokenness of the world and the goodness of God. It is a language of faith that brings deep grief and confusion to Him out of belief that He is good. Lament is active trust through our grief; it is not accusing Him in anger, nor is it shallowly “looking at the bright side,” minimizing pain by looking for the silver lining, or blind optimism that it will all work out fine eventually.
When we do not come to God with honest grief and confusion and wrestling, it can land us in dangerous places. Frantic grasping for control. Pain bubbling up in deep anger and bitterness. Or we can go silent with Him, disillusioned with how a good God could allow bad things, or disillusioned with the people who told us He loves us. Sound familiar?
God is so gracious to us to invite our deep lament. He is big enough to handle our grief. His shoulders are broad enough to bear our questions. We may never have answers this side of Heaven, and He doesn’t owe us any. But He does bend down to hear the hurting prayers of His people. He is close to the broken-hearted.
Let us joyfully praise Him for His goodness- our family is full of gratitude for His mercy today. But when the worst case does happen, may we come honestly, come limping, come grieving to the throne of grace. Keep talking to Him. Keep trusting Him. Read the lament Psalms aloud when you don’t know what to say. Psalm 42 and Psalm 77 are personal favorites if you want to start with one of mine.
The world is beautiful and badly broken. And yes, He is good. So good. Even when we can’t see it.
“…He will enter your shadow. It cannot taint Him. He has done it before. His holiness is not fragile. It burns like a father to the sun. Touch His skin, put your hand in His side. He has kept His scars when He did not have to. Give Him your pain and watch it overwhelmed, burned away by the joy He takes in loving. In stooping. In the end, when your life is of a different sort, your first flesh will be dust, and of your grief, not one grain of ash will remain.”
— N.D. Wilson, Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl