Julia Butler is a retired GP who has been part of the church family here at Fulwood for 17 years, although she was originally converted here as a teenager! You may well know her as wife to Alan Butler, church warden. Over the past five years, encouraged by Sonia Crossley, Julia has done the Biblical Counselling Training Certificate through BCUK and will become an intern with them in September 2020. As she begins to engage with this key ministry in the life of the church and works out her role, we asked her to write something to help us think through the relatively under mentioned issue of “lament” as a normal part of the Christian life. This is the second blog of her 3 part series.
In the first blog we concentrated on bringing our pain to God and complaining. I’m writing this second blog with my daughter who has been able to visit for the first time in five months. She has been working in palliative care during the pandemic. We have both been reflecting on lament in our different situations and what we are learning. We aim to start you on a journey learning to lament in your pain.
We need to move from complaining to trusting. Some of our thinking has been shaped by the book Dark Clouds and Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop. “All humans cry, only Christians lament. Lament stands in the gap between pain and promise.”
To make it easier to remember we will use 4 Rs.
RETURN– Often our response to pain is to bury it or run from it. Lament tells us to stop pretending, stop running and stop hiding and turn back to God, maybe even revisiting past pain. It’s time to have a conversation. You may find it helpful to write it down. If you can’t think of words to start with try and use a Psalm.
REACT HONESTLY– Be specific about the pain you’re thinking and feeling. This is the time to pour out your complaints in a 3-dimensional way. The writer of the psalms says, “where are you Lord?”, “How long Lord? ““Why is this happening Lord?”. That pain can be personal; “Why is this happening to me?” “Why am I alone?” “Why can’t we have a baby?” “Why did all those people have to die?” As a church family we can lament the present pandemic and all it brings, and the deep-seated racism in this country.
REMEMBER WHO GOD IS– Let God’s word shape our lament; it reminds us of truth even when we can’t feel it. His faithfulness can be seen throughout the Bible, but above all in the sending of his Son. God invites us to turn from our pain to our Redeemer. Lament turns us to God remembering, he is sovereign, mighty and all-knowing, perfectly good, perfectly holy and perfectly just, but gentle, merciful and compassionate too. We can pour out our hearts to such a Lord, who understands our complaints and grieves for the brokenness of our world. Then ask him to act in accordance with his character as in the Psalms. We might pray: “Lord I’m so weary and anxious, please give me your strength.” Or “Lord you feel really far away but you say that you’re close to the broken-hearted. Please come close.” Or “Lord you say that all things work together for the good of those who love you, but it doesn’t feel like it, please comfort me.”
As we gaze on the holiness of God, we are reminded that he is Creator and we are not, and he is perfect, and we are not. In his light, we will be able to see that our thoughts, words, behaviour and actions are not always God-honouring and we need to deeply and specifically repent of these before our loving God and receive his beautiful grace.
REST- Remembering who God is and what he has done for us reminds us that we can trust him and rest on his promises. We process the grief crying out in sustained prayer. God encourages us and permits us to express and unburden everything we feel, but eventually we need to trust as Jesus did, deeply lamenting to the Father he loved and trusted from eternity, in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We may never understand the “Why,” but we have to keep turning to the “Who”. Trusting God is a choice however we feel. Sometimes that trusting has to be a daily effort of will and active patience, one that is repeated and helped by church family around us.
The Lord is our sure and steadfast anchor, the Rock on whom we can stand. Amidst the pain, as in the lament of Psalm 13:4-5 there is a “but” that we must hold onto: My enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.
God sits on the throne; it is not finished yet. The final word has not been spoken and his redemption plan reminds us that even now he is worthy of praise. We long for the new Creation and as Revelation 21:4 says: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Lament is a prayer of pain born out of trust in our faithful God.
As we return to God, react honestly to our circumstances, and remember who God is, he will teach us to rest and know his peace in the pain and suffering. Then we can pray with Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:
“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.”
This is a process and we need each other to keep learning and pointing back to God’s promises. In the next blog Beth B will write about how lament has been part of her life over the last few tumultuous months.