I wrote last week how this year I couldn’t mourn the cross. Then I found myself in the Maundy Thursday service, reaching for one Kleenex after another. I wasn’t mourning Jesus’ sufferings. Wasn’t even mourning my own sin. I was weeping tears of relief at the invitation to come broken.
I had walked my way there struggling against the frustration of living in this body where every attempt to improve the situation seems to make it worse. More, I was frustrated by my frustration. Here I was on my way to remember my Beloved’s sufferings, his forever vows to me, and I couldn’t get my thoughts off myself.
Between segments of Psalm 31, I half-sobbed the sung words which gave space for my brokenness:
“In my trials, Lord, walk with me;
In my trials, Lord, walk with me;
When my heart is almost breaking,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
I wept over the welcome offered, tears of relief over Love that makes space for all of me. Wept, too, at the whispered reassurance that sometimes when we feel like we’re missing the mystery, we’re living it most deeply.
There are days we see clearly and days we hold on through the fog. And the good news of Good Friday is that we’re held just as close on the days we struggle as on the days we celebrate. We live now in the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, the covenant that declares that we don’t have to get it all together in order to come – or stay – with God. For unlike the previous covenants which were all broken because people did not trust the Giver, “this covenant cannot be broken. All the other covenants were between God and human beings, but this covenant is between God and God.” (Darrell Johnson)
That’s how much God desired us: He became human so he could keep our part of the covenant as well as His own.
So go ahead. Stop trying to hold it together and let yourself weep. You are welcome in this space where you don’t have to have it together to be His. Weep when you need to; just don’t weep alone. Weep – and lean hard into this One who does for you what you cannot do for yourself. Weep – and through the tears give thanks. You are so loved!
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 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)
I discover the openly hidden grace at the end of a sleepless week, in the midst of a day when I can hardly stay upright.
I think again of surrender, of learning to give control into wiser, kinder hands. Why do I still resist arms proved true again and again?
A friend struggles with why we are given deep desires which are not fulfilled. The pain is deep and tears near the surface. But as she voices the honest questions, she quietly speaks for us both the choice which rests on deeper truth. Though the questions aren’t answered, though we lose our health and careers and are not blessed with husbands and children, we will still trust Him.
Soon after, I find it, the openly hidden grace.
“For his lovingkindness is great towards us.” Ps 117:2
This tame language of ours can’t shout the truth loudly enough.
I first learn the Hebrew root as a noun. A warrior. A hero. As an adjective, it means mighty or valiant. Here, in its verb form, it retains the sense of a warrior’s strength and ability to triumph.
What girl doesn’t dream of a love so deep it will pursue her through flood and fire, fight for her heart though it must fight hell itself, wait for her, woo her, though she hesitates to trust?
When I first think it, it feels startling. In a week when illness lies heavy, why do I feel this way? But the truth rises and will not be suppressed. These years of disability have been the best years of my life, this illness one of God’s greatest gifts.
And suddenly I see why. It’s because in these years I see Him fight for my heart.
That which keeps me from seeing His love most often lies within me. And so the warrior-surgeon cuts deep, but just deep enough to remove the poison arrows which threaten my life. He himself bears the deepest war-wounds.
And I realize it afresh. No matter the cost, this is the love that I want to know, the unfailing passion of this Lover who will fight to the death for my heart.
And all of a sudden, the cost feels very small.
More of the thousands of grace-gifts in this illness:
His love with skin on
Time to listen
Joy that rises to fill spaces opened by suffering
Grace that settles in when I’m out of self-help options
Presence in sleepless nights
Learning to let go
Discovering that the toys I clutched are replaced with the real thing
Flowers and clouds and his love writ large outside my window
Friends who run errands and bring pizza and don’t mind tears
I felt like a frustrated two year old held by her father, wailing and beating my little fists against his ribs. “Where were you, God? I got up early, showed up for the retreat day and didn’t find you there. At the end of the day everyone else had their stories of how you had met them, cozy feelings of being loved. I had nothing. At least before I had the anticipation of meeting with you. Now I have just disappointment. Aloneness. Why didn’t you meet me?” Bang, bang, bang, my fists against the chest of God. Squirming and wriggling and crying out, “This is not okay, God. I can’t manage life without you. Where are you?”
And then I worried. I know God wants us to be honest with him, but maybe this is too honest. Is it okay to have a temper tantrum with God? I mean, He’s God. The Ruler of the universe. The All-Powerful One who deserves total respect. He has every right not to show up. If it wasn’t for Him saying that he loves me, showing that he wants me near, it would be ridiculous to dream that He might ever condescend to meet with little ol’ me, let alone show up according to my schedule.
Is it okay to have a temper tantrum with God? I don’t know.
But I do know this. Over and over, God says “Come.” Come hungry. Thirsty. Broken. Come tired and at the end of your rope. Just come.
Many of us enjoy other people’s children when they’re happy and fed, and prefer to hand them back to their parents when they’re tired and hungry and don’t know what to do with themselves. God calls us to come “as children.” And he calls us to come hungry and tired and sick. Not to try to fix things first. Not to swallow hard and cover up our longings. Just to come. Come as a child who doesn’t stop to think about how to come. Needy. Honest. Even wailing and flailing.
And I know this. God is Truth. He doesn’t deal in half-truths and hiddenness. He brings it all out in the open where He can heal it. A two-year-old’s tantrum may not be a mark of intimacy in our communication with God. But that kind of honesty is. And we’re not alone in crying out in this way (eg Job, Psalm 73:21-23, Psalm 13). The first step in healing is always being honest about the situation. Often we can’t hear God’s heartbeat until we realize how desperately we need to.
This I know too. God understands longing for intimacy. He understands the pain of rejection, the piercing disappointment of showing up to find the other party not there.
“I’ve made myself available
to those who haven’t bothered to ask.
I’m here, ready to be found
by those who haven’t bothered to look.
I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’
to a nation that ignored me.
I reached out day after day
to a people who turned their backs on me . . .
(Isaiah 65:1-2 The Message)
Maybe God doesn’t mind my fists against his chest. Maybe his Father-heart, calling “come, come, come,” feels only compassion, not the condemnation I fear. Maybe he even hears my longing for his presence as a tiny echo of his God-sized passion for all to be united with him. His arms are safe, a strong and steady place to feel the painful longing for oneness and let the tears come.
One thing more I know. God would rather have me beating on his chest than turning away and crying alone. His patient heart and strong arms gently wait, letting me exhaust myself against him, ready to quiet me until I can rest again in his love.
Who knows? Maybe, more often than we suspect, childlike fists beating on the breast of God are a way deeper into the heart of God.
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
“I know there is poor and hideous suffering and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. But I have lived pain and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of peonies in June and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.
How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is Joy Who saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does.
The brave who focus on all things good and all things beauty and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to the all the world.”
And so today I give thanks. I still feel the pain of yesterday’s sidewalk-dwelling fellow image-bearers. But it doesn’t stop me from praising. It makes it all the more essential that I do.
Today I celebrate the God of the impossible. The God who is able to do more than we ask or imagine. The One who stepped into the pain and felt it himself so he could exchange despair for hope.
This is the Extravagant Giver who does not stop at essentials but pours out blessing upon blessing, a whole sky-full of one lavish canvas after another, the show changing every moment for more than an hour.
And I sing because he is not oblivious to the state of the world. He weeps with the poor. But he knows that evil will not have the last word. Love will. And so he paints beauty and declares hope and shouts his love and I must too.
So I sing to this Lavish Lover who calls us to give and then gives it all back and tells us to use it to host a party with him and the poor at the center.
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27)
I sing because nothing is too hard for him, and one day all that is wrong will be set right and there will be no more tears or sorrow or homelessness.
More of the endless gifts:
Never ending Love-paintings in the sky
Faithfulness new every morning
Hope in the darkest of places
Hearts that can hurt and heal and beat with His heartbeat