I was reminded last week as I was beating myself up. “Why can’t I live in the truth when I’ve been given so many gifts of grace? What’s wrong with me that my faith keeps failing and the joy disappearing?”
How is that, every time I hit a hard patch, I struggle to return to the last time I felt God holding me close in his love? When I feel His presence, I’m all there. Rejoicing. At peace. As soon as fears creep in, something happens. I switch over. I forget the truth. Or maybe it’s not even that I forget it, I just can’t live in it. Can’t settle my heart into it.
Jeremiah understood. “My soul is excluded from peace.” (Lamentations 3:17)
He shows me the way back in. Not self-condemnation. Not even thanksgiving through gritted teeth. Lament. He gives me permission to be honest about my struggles and cry out to the One who waits to help. For here, in Lamentations 3:5, the “hardship” of which he complains means “that which produces weariness.” Don’t we all have a bit of that?
It’s not only Jeremiah, but God, who teaches me to lament. He reminds me again that lament and complaint are worlds apart. That lament honors him.
“Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has his ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father’s heart.” (Ann Voskamp, “One Thousand Gifts,” p. 175)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we mope and gripe all day. I am saying that there’s always space for honest lament – space enough to hold all of our struggles. Arms always open to receive us and hold us and carefully collect each tear.
God understands. His own heart fills with pain. Jesus himself struggled “with loud cries and tears,” being “made perfect through suffering” so that He could help us in our own suffering. In the end, struggle is often the place where we meet God most closely.
God doesn’t merely give permission to lament. He gives us words (more than 40% of the Psalms!) to help us cry out our pain when we have no words of our own.
Why? Why is God so eager that we learn to lament? Lament brings our weariness and weakness, our forgetfulness and short-sightedness into direct encounter with the steady love of God. Our honest declaration of the way we’re perceiving reality opens us up to the One who can show us the deeper truth.
This is what happened to Jeremiah. He cried and cried, exhausting the deep pain of devastation and homelessness, destruction and weariness. And slowly, slowly, he began again to feel the arms that were holding him tight. He began to glimpse beneath the painful realities of this world, the eternal reality of the Love that holds all. “This I cause to return to my heart, and so I wait expectantly.” (Lamentations 3:21) He doesn’t just call it to mind and let it pass on by. He returns it to his heart, soaks in it until it settles in.
“The LORD’s lovingkindnesses are certainly not exhausted.
His compassions are certainly not brought to completion.” (Lamentations 3:22)
The Hebrew wakens me to the sense of movement, the promise that even the best that I’ve experienced of God is a mere taste of what is yet to come. In the dark times, I’d settle for being brought back to where I’ve been before. But no. What I have tasted of God’s love has been only the beginning. The process of bringing me deep into Love is certainly not exhausted (by my weakness) or ended for any other reason. It is just the beginning.
“[Your mercies] are fresh every morning. Your steadiness is abundant.” (Lamentations 3:23)
His strong, loving parent’s steady arms firmly hold His wailing child. When all around me and within me is uncertain, shaking, God’s abundant steadiness holds me secure.
So dear friends, cause this to return to your heart. “The LORD’s lovingkindnesses are certainly not exhausted. His compassions are certainly not brought to completion.” We are held, always held by strong and steady arms. And there is so much more ahead!
“[God] picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7 The Message)