I have been asking some big questions of the Lord recently. Mostly one: “Why don’t you do what you are capable of doing?” We can ask this question in regards to a lot of things. Like when someone is sick and in need of healing; “Jesus, you healed and healed and healed. God, you call yourself our healer. So why don’t you heal?” Or when something feels unfair; “God you say you are a righteous judge – why don’t you bring justice?” Recently I have been asking this question in regards to transformation. “God, you are more than capable of changing us. You are more than able to transform us into your likeness. Why, then, does it feel like you aren’t doing anything? Why does it feel like you let terrible people continue being terrible people? Why don’t you step in? Why don’t you DO ANYTHING. DO SOMETHING.”
Even as I write it I realize how much I sound like a two year old who doesn’t understand why they cannot drink their parent’s coffee. UGH YOU ARE SO MEAN. I KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.
In the end it is, like so many other things, a practice in trusting Him and His plan. A practice of believing that He does, in fact, know better than I do. But I am just so sure sometimes that I have better ideas! I know how it SHOULD go. Jesus, why don’t you listen and obey me?!
Recently I have been engaging a bit more in the practice of lament. It is a discipline, especially for someone who wants so badly to believe in the good and seek beauty and JOY and other happy words. To acknowledge our own pain and disappointment is hard, but so wildly important. To give ourselves permission to engage in this practice is absolutely necessary. And realizing that God does not only allow us to practice lament but encourages it, is life changing.
We do not usually practice this, however. We don’t teach it, we don’t model it, and we don’t see it hardly anywhere (unless we start paying attention to what is actually happening in the Psalms). We are Christians! We are the people with so much hope! Yes! – AND – we should feel the weight of the sin of the world. We should be burdened for brokenness and people living in the darkness. There can be both. We cannot live only in lament or in hope, we have to walk with both. There is always (because of eternity) something to hope for/in, and always (until eternity) something to lament.
As a staff we walked through a practice of writing a lament. It involves two parts: first, asking the Lord, “How long?” or sharing what we are brokenhearted or confused or discouraged by. Second, we remind ourselves of God’s character. We don’t wrap things up in a pretty bow, we don’t try to explain it away or slap a Bible verse on it to make it alright. We don’t try to reason through all the good things that might come from this tragedy. We just remind ourselves of the truth of WHO God is. He is faithful. He is good. He is in control. He is powerful. So lament is this: “How long Lord…But I know you, Lord…”
It doesn’t explain anything away. It doesn’t give me an answer to my original question. It doesn’t help me know why people don’t change or get healed or why sin seems to win so often. But it reorients my heart towards the Lord, it brings me face to face with Him and reminds me that He is good, that He loves me, that He is paying attention. That He loves and cares for our world and laments and grieves over our sins more than we do. We get to kick and scream and say, “Your hands aren’t tied, Lord! Why don’t you protect us? Why don’t you step in? Why don’t you defeat sin?” And then we rest, knowing that He is sovereign over all and He does love us and we can release the desire to control all the things. We just don’t have that much control in the end anyways.
This really is what Lent is all about – it is a Lament of the way things should be. It is an intentional season of releasing control, of acknowledging our addictions, of recognizing the ways we try to be in charge and fill our souls and be okay. Lent is weeks of remembering the sadness of what had to happen in order for us to be saved. We need to come face to face with our brokenness, it is good for us. And we have to be led into hope, because that is what will save us.
We love Lamentations 3:22-24, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” But what we ignore is all that comes in the first twenty one verses. Phrases like, “I am the man who has seen affliction…” and “he has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.” It is called Lamentations, after all, and that is what it is. We cannot ignore the lament piece of the process. Skipping that only provides us cheap hope. God invites us to lament with Him, to bring those feelings and frustrations to Him and lay them down. He will exchange our lament for hope. He will restore the things that are broken. We can trust in His character even when our circumstances are different than what we wanted. Even when life is hard and people are disappointing and hope seems very, very far away, we know that He is good, and that can sustain us.