When I started this blog nearly two years ago, my goal was to write a post every week. It quickly became apparent that aiming for at least once a fortnight was a more realistic goal. But this is my first post in almost two months – the longest break I have had.
There are a few reasons. I have been really busy and so finding time to write is a challenge. But if I’m honest with myself (and now you) there’s probably been some other reasons as well. I haven’t been sure if I have anything to say. Or maybe even more, I haven’t been sure if what I have to say is worth hearing. As someone who is often the teacher or the pastor or the leader or even somehow the “expert” … what I feel like I have most at the moment is lots of questions, irritations, hurts and fears. In a number of areas I feel like I haven’t been seeing much in black and white, but am almost overwhelmed by how much grey there is. And I’m never sure how much to let the rest of the world see my tears.
I think one of the dangers – or at least temptations – with blogging is something we all can experience on social media: feeling like we need to present our “best selves” for others to see. That we need to be “up” or “on”, that we need to look good and sound good and contribute something good for others. And so then we fall into the trap of comparing what we see from others with what is really going on for us and we always fall short.
So here’s the truth for me. The last six weeks or so have been really tough and not much fun. There’s been the usual busyness, coupled with things like the day to day frustrations of tasks that should be simple but end up taking way more time and energy that you anticipated, or people who say things that you hope they don’t really mean but you still feel really hurt by. I’ve had a number of performance and presentation events for my PhD, which have taken a fair chunk of my intellectual and emotional energy. I’ve also been struggling with really enjoying the new church family I am a part of while also realising that I still feel new and dis-connected and that it is really hard and takes time to make good friends and to feel part of a new community. Most significantly, I have had both a family member and a close friend pass away, and while there have been moments of grace within each of those situations, overall it has felt incredibly sad, massively unfair, emotionally exhausting, and just downright awful.
Yet I can say with confidence that I have a faith that is strong despite how I am feeling. I totally trust that God is good, even though it doesn’t feel like it every day in every situation. For me, part of my faith is being honest enough to say that I don’t have all the answers, I don’t understand, sometimes I question God and am angry with Him, and yet I continue to follow Jesus and look to Him to lead me through because I believe He is my hope and my salvation.
How can this all be true at the same time? Hope in the midst of darkness, joy through despair? For me, that’s what lament is all about.
In the middle of the last few weeks, I gave a presentation to a group of hospital chaplains on lament. I felt completely inadequate speaking to them – I might have lots of study and head knowledge to bring, but these are people who are sitting in the trenches, walking alongside death and despair, and I know that I couldn’t do what they do every day. Our time together ended up being an amazing day where I learned from them even as they learned from me. And together we looked at the psalmists and the prophets of the Old Testament and how they teach us to lament. To be honest about our questions and doubts and hurts and fears. To speak them aloud to God and to one another and to wait upon Him. (I’m really glad the authors of the Bible didn’t feel the only thing they could share with the world was their “highlight reels”!!)
The book of Lamentations (literally the “lament of laments”) recounts the darkest chapter in Israel’s history. It is not a book for the fainthearted. There are horrific stories and desperate cries and unanswerable questions. And if you read it from beginning to end looking for a conclusion that ties it all up with a neat bow, you will be sorely disappointed. But what amazes me is that at the very centre of this book of pain and despair, lie some of the most profound words of hope and faith that you will ever find. Words that have been spoken and sung by generations of people of faith all across the world, and words that I am continuing to sing today:
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
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.”
(Lamentations 3: 19-24)