Why can’t anyone just sit with me and be sad? Why is it that Christians don’t give each other permission to actually feel what they feel?
The words to my husband came out more forcefully than I had intended. Everything that had been simmering inside for days was boiling over and he was the unfortunate recipient. He had watched me cry for two days straight as we wordlessly carried the knowledge that someone we loved was hanging onto life moment by moment in an intensive care unit 8000 miles away. He stayed silent because he knew I couldn’t handle anymore well-meaning “let’s just trust God” comments by people smiling and saying it was all going to be okay.
The weight of personal anxiety and family tragedies on top of local and global suffering I was carrying was bearing down on me. I can only pretend living in close proximity to suffering doesn’t weigh on me for so long.
I can try to stuff down the stories of my friend who can’t escape her husband’s anger in a society where women have little voice or power. The eyes of the Rohingya woman who told me about escaping her burning village and trekking ten days to the refugee camp where we sat together burn in my mind. The hatred spewed in my social media feeds. The divisions in our world. More and more, my heart was dying to know how to carry the weight of these things to God. Rote answers and brushing it off wasn’t working anymore.
I held my breath when I started reading Aubrey Sampson’s The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament. I held onto a prayer that the timing of these words would be a balm to my heart and a lifeline I could hold out to others I knew who were searching for ways to express what they didn’t have the language to yet.
“Not all suffering is the clear result of something. Not all suffering is reasonable,” I read. “In our deepest grief, we don’t lament to find answers. We lament to stop searching for them. We lament to be still in the unanswerable.” I exhaled, a groan too deep for words that I know Jesus received as a prayer. Finally, I found the words of someone not rushing in to fix or explain it all.
Lament is not an expression today’s Christians know. It’s not something we have learned in our churches or feel we have permission to do. But it is written into the fiber of our Scriptures and God knew we needed a language to lead us to healing. That’s exactly what Sampson explores in her book that chronicles not only personal accounts of walking through grief but how God’s word brings us to the place where we see “God sings a louder song than suffering ever could, a song or renewal and restoration.”
“To lament is to speak to the reality of our formless, chaotic suffering and to ask God to fill it with his very good,” explains Sampson. She mixes stories from her own life and others with Scriptural basis for the prayer form of lament, helping us find our way through suffering to restoration.
If you’re like me, you never lingered too much on the parts of Scripture that focus on suffering. We all want to rush on to the good stuff, the victory. But then when we find ourselves in the midst of suffering (of our own or others) we fumble through the words to express the pain without dismissing the reality of it. We need someone to tell us God can handle our doubts, that not rushing on is okay, and that yes—hope will come, but not without walking through the place we find ourselves first.
One aspect of the book I loved and needed to hear was the focus on lamenting with others. We can do so much damage when we see others in pain and do not know how to walk with them through it. Sampson gives us tools to come alongside others in a way that will ultimately allow God’s healing for us all:
“No matter where you live or where you come from, it is within your power to love your neighbor. As you lament, you reveal the compassionate hope of Jesus to a world in need. Don’t rush to fix. Just listen. Learn. Be present. Bear witness. Humbly acknowledge any biases and privilege you might have. Above all, love others as you lament with them and for them.”
Not sure what lament really means? Check out this post by the author, "What Does Lament Mean?"
Have you struggled with how to express find God in the midst of suffering? How have you found your way to hope in those times? Where can you see a need for lament in your life or in our world?
If you have had an experience with this expression of prayer, can you share how lament has helped you on the way to healing?
I see them every day on the streets—the hungry. They stretch out trembling hands and plead for something to sustain them. A handout is not enough though. It may fill them for the day but they are back at the same bus stop the next morning, empty-handed and asking for more.
I’ve been that person for many days. I come to God with open hands and I ask for more of who He is, some feeling of His presence to carry me. I can’t count the number of books on prayer and contemplation I have read in the past few years. I begin reading with a hopeful heart. This is the one that will jumpstart my prayers,I think, that will tell me where my heart has gone astray in its connection to the giver of life. But I close the book in sadness. I don’t see any changes in myself.
The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning has been in my kindle queue for a while and I opened it on a whim last month. When I finished reading it I felt more like that pleading pauper than ever. I saw so much of myself in the flawed character of this alcoholic ex-priest, this man both attracted to and repelled by God. I knew his heart in the way he was never settled, always searching. But he had something in all his wandering that I didn’t—this ability to accepted God’s love fully and not get bogged down in his own failures and attempts to earn the love of the Father.
I wept with longing as I read: “Is your own personal prayer life characterized by the simplicity, childlike candor, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in a Daddy’s lap? An assured knowing that Daddy doesn’t care if the child falls asleep, starts playing with toys, or even starts chatting with little friends, because the daddy knows the child has essentially chosen to be with him for that moment?”
I yearn for this kind of trust in God’s affection for me. I want to believe that my attempts towards Him are enough, that in all my lack He is still infinitely pleased with me. I kept coming back to Manning’s words, devouring his autobiography in a few days and then launching into Dear Abba. I didn’t yet see any kind of shift in my prayers but I was so taken with this ragamuffin that I kept reading.
I was invited to a two-day retreat with a few other expat ladies in the South Asian city I’ve called home for nearly half a year. I longed for connection to someone in a place where loneliness is my daily companion. I came again with trembling and empty hands, not sure if there would be anything to fill them...
Light filtered in the bay window, glinted on the freshly painted walls. I stood in the dining room of our first home, still in awe that it actually belonged to us. Five months pregnant with our second baby, I set out to clean every surface and set up each room just perfectly for our new arrival.
But the dining room table that had belonged to my mother-in-law didn’t fit in this shiny, new space. Thirty years of life had made deep scars in the surface of the table. The once beautiful dark wood now had deep gouges and dings, marring the whole look of the room.
I was thrilled when my dad offered to resurface the table, putting a new coat of paint over markings left by three children and the grandchildren that followed. My dining room would look perfect.
In our do-it-yourself culture, where those who pull themselves up by their bootstraps are celebrated, we don’t talk about it. Maybe there are whispers in a bedroom or across the table. But in our sanctuaries, in our living rooms, in our families?
Certainly it’s taboo to talk about in public, lest we be accused of judging others. Lest we appear as less than the shiny, perfect people we want others to see. We don’t name it sin. We don’t air it in front of others.
We hide the blemishes, gloss over them with another coat of paint. Those dings and gouges in our souls don’t fit into the glossy appearance we are supposed to keep...
Come to my dining room today. Sit a while and let's talk about the condition of our souls. Do you need restoration? Read on.
I stared into the tiny flame that danced in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. Everyone else had gone back to the bus, ready to move onto the next site in our pilgrimage through the Holy Land, but I stayed behind. I knew there wasn’t anything more holy about this place, that I wasn’t any closer to God’s presence on this mountain than anywhere else on earth. But I stayed anyway.
It was on this very mountain that Elijah called down fire from heaven. On Mt. Carmel God showed up in the fire, consuming everything. The Lord’s power was so visible for a moment, proving God was real and cared about the prayers of the people. Now a monastery stands in the place of that fire, a little chapel that serves to remind people of the God who answers prayer.
There was a heavy burden on my heart that day. Someone I loved back home was hurting and I felt compelled in that place to kneel before the little altar and light a candle—calling out light in the darkness. It was just a tiny reflection of the fire all those years ago but it was a visible representation to me that God hears when we call.
So I lit a little flame in the darkness and I cried, believing that the God of Elijah could still rain down fire and show up in mighty ways.
In the quiet of the morning before my family awakens, downstairs in my living room, my mind wanders to my to-do lists for the day. I try to focus on a word to center me, bring me back to what I am trying to find—the Presence of God that I felt on that mountain. I grasp for it like a parched traveler in the desert. I can see it up ahead. Like a mirage in that scorching desert, it remains just out of my grasp.
I can remember the way an aching need called me to prayer, the way I found God there. I try to muster concentration, grasping for stillness in my mind to match the silence of the house before all the noise begins. It’s like a flame I try to light with no matches, trying to will it into existence. I can’t find the spark, and my attempts at waiting quietly before the Lord sputter out. I sigh and get up to start the day.
There are moments I have grasped the holiness of God, felt the Presence so strongly. It was like a fire in my soul burning orange and hot, and my prayers the incense that rose from the flames. I remember those moments with longing.
More often than not these days, prayer is work...
Do you ever feel like you can't find the presence of God, like sometimes prayer is work? I am over at SheLoves Magazine today sharing what God is teaching me about contemplation and prayer, even when the presence of God feels elusive.
Join me there.
The lock clicks as it slides open, a loud pop announcing the beginning of the day. I had already been waiting a few minutes outside the door for the restaurant to open, rubbing my tired eyes and stretching my muscles that weren’t yet aware they were supposed to be working this early.
Every Friday that we can work it out, we meet at the same table. I don’t wait for her to order anymore because I know just what she will want and even which side of the booth she will choose. We always say we will be done talking at eight but never are. We know that we’ll be late to the rest of the day waiting for us, but that’s okay. It’s these early morning breakfasts with my friend — the prayers said in this place — that sustain the rest of my week.
There is this aching need to sit with someone who understands that this moment is more important than the next appointment.
This friend and I met eight years ago through a small group in our church. She showed up at my house with a meal each time my babies were born. Her story of living overseas and coming back earlier than expected mirrors my own international journey. I wept with her when her dreams were literally crumbling around her, as earthquake after earthquake shook the fabric of her family’s home.
There are things we understand about the pain each of us carries that allows us to pray for each other in a way others just can’t. There are things we say in this space that we wouldn’t dream of repeating to others, but it is the words we don’t have to say that bind us together. We understand the loss and the hope behind our words without having to speak them into existence.
In a world of superficial connections, I can’t go long without hearing these prayers. Spoken out loud, passionate and raw — not polished and perfected. It’s these words that carry me to the Father when others just ring of hollow spirituality. It’s these early mornings that fuel my life….
Today I am over at the Mudroom sharing about the places in my life–the fringe hours–where I make room for the connections that fuel me and sustain me. Join me there?
I spent so many years wishing to go back.
The years between college and the real world were marked by a struggle to find my place, a kind of limbo. I was truly on my own for the first time, a stranger in a city not my own. I was stuck in a place between the dreams God had called me to and actually live them out.
As I was looking for myself, I found something else.
When I think about that time, I can still feel the sticky heat coming off the bayou. I can feel the breeze blowing through the live oaks that hung down like arms reaching out to embrace you. With my feet dangling into the murky waters off Gulf Coast docks, I spent hours discovering a God who was gently whispering His love for me.
God’s voice was as real to me as the jazz music that invaded every corner of the Quarter. In those early years of my adulthood I felt like I had arrived at a new realization of who God was.
I left that place behind and violent storms have since changed the landscape where I discovered God anew. They changed me, too. I married, lived abroad, returned home. I became something new again—this time mother, twice over.
Somehow, in all the landscape changes over the years, that tangible feeling of God’s Presence got swept away like the apartment I lived in next to the beach, crushed under the raging winds of Hurricane Katrina.
I kept trying to recreate those moments when I had heard God so clearly. I longed for my seminary days when I could spend hours debating theology or discussing faith stories. I struggled to hear God in the same way, but the winds shifted and I couldn’t hear it anymore...
Community can be an elusive goal, a moving target. Really living in community with others doesn’t come as naturally as proximity and it certainly comes with loss, heartache, and a lot of work.
For years, I thought of community as something that was built into the church. I mean, we are called the Body of Christ. We are all supposed to be part of the same living, breathing organism. That comes naturally, right?
I glimpsed real moments of community in a small group that lived our lives all tangles up with each other. All these young married couples were clueless as we navigated births and deaths, faith and lack thereof. Life was a mess of baby showers (one every other month the year we added about seven babies into the midst), birthdays, and snatches of prayer caught in the moments the little ones were playing.
Then the anchor of our little group moved away and we fell into disarray, tumbling out of community and groping in the dark for something that looked like what we had known before.
I knew there was a hunger in me for someone to really see me, a loneliness I couldn’t put my finger on. I didn’t realize how deeply it ran or how universal this longing really is until last week.
When I stepped into the home of a friend I’d only known online for the past year, a relationship grew deeper but I also realized that the foundation was already there. We met through a collaborative blog she founded and we have chatted over email and facebook, texts and through the words of our lives we put out there online for all to read.
I fell right into her life - picking up her daughter from school, meeting those she lives life with, and sharing our hearts over dinner. Hearing her words straight from her, instead of on a screen, and hugging her neck made the friendship so much sweeter. But I realized that community already existed there. She already knew me.
I expected an awkwardness in online relationships becoming real at the Festival of Faith and Writing when I met dozens of people that have only been bio pictures on a screen to me before. I found community instead, people longing to know and be known just like I was.
Maybe it is something about writers – how we can’t do small talk because we lay our lives bare in our words for all to read anyway. But we moved right into spiritual conversations and sharing our struggles, our hopes, and fears. There were tears and laughter over late nights because we just didn’t want it to end.
In several panels I heard writers talk about their blogs as their homes – places they build community. Leslie Leyland Fields talked about her blog being a place where she can invite people into her home, saying because of it she lives “in a bigger house with open windows.”
I realized these places I visit online are people’s homes, that social media (flawed as it is with false selves and picking fights) has built a global Body of Christ that I couldn’t truly see until it became flesh for me.
Back at home this week, I dove back into writing for my home – my own little corner of the internet. Comments came in and I realized I have a little community right here. Voices of my friends waited for me on Voxer and their words flowed in text messages, across facebook and twitter, emails and on blogs.
I also sat across several tables this week with members of my little group, scattered and gathered back together in different ways. We don’t look the same as we used to but our lives are still tangled up together.
I made space by getting up at 5 am, a long breakfast with an old friend before work. We shamelessly prayed in the middle of all the people bustling around us, grabbing their breakfast before heading off into their day.
I looked at her and said, “This is the church. Right here, we are it right here and now.” Continue Reading
It wasn’t a revelatory moment when the heavens opened up. It was pieces of moments, scattered throughout my life like breadcrumbs leading me down the right path.
Pieces of moments – that book I wrote in third grade and a journal entry saying I wanted to be a writer, all those poems that were the language of the heartbreak of my teenage years. There are stacks of journals piled high over the years, most I would be afraid to venture back into with the things I now know.
Then, I put away the pen to live my life.
In my thirties, there came an aching in my soul, an emptiness I couldn’t explain. I had flashes in my memory - the pain in the eyes of a beggar, the slums and the forgotten ones, those without voices. There were stories on my heart that God had let me bear witness to, an obligation to share with those who hadn’t seen.
In the last few years there were those tell-tale breadcrumbs. Janice Elsheimer’s Creative Call convicted me that God had created in me a gift that I wasn’t using. Other writers encouraged me to share my art with the world. Then there was a journaling retreat at monastery that inspired me to start filling up the pages of my leather notebook with all the words that flowed in my heart.
I just didn’t feel I had anything worthy to give. What could my words create that didn’t already exist? What could I say that would matter?...
This month SheLoves Magazine is asking, "Is there a question that compels you, stirs you, inspires you?"