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Learning to Lament

Note: this is a previously unpublished post written December 2018.

The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for Him.

Lamentations 3:24

This verse caught my eye as I scrolled through my Instagram feed.  My portion?  It was an odd turn of phrase, yet kind of a comforting verse at the same time.  Did I know what it meant?

I pulled out my Bible and turned to Lamentations, struck that it’s a book I haven’t spent much time in.  It’s cliche, perhaps, but in times of depression I often find myself empathizing with the writers of Ecclesiastes, Lamentation or Jeremiah.  I haven’t gone to any of those books in this past season, despite my difficulties.

I read through chapter 3, looking for some context or clues to what “my portion” was referring to.

Instead, I was struck by how I wanted to caution and correct the dangerous sentiments I was reading in Lamentation:

[God] has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship (v. 5)

No, I want to tell him, be careful about bitterness.  It is never from God, and it will only ruin you.  Bitterness is like eating a poison, hoping it will harm someone else, when the only person it harms is you.

He has made me dwell in darkness. (v 6)

Not true.  “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5. Don’t attribute to God what is clearly not from Him.

And on it went.

Until it struck me.  I’m trying to edit Scripture.  I’m trying to talk God’s word out of being God’s word.  I’m correcting the Bible!

I’m trying to edit Scripture.

It stopped me in my tracks.

Was I wrong, that bitterness was to be avoided?  Could the Light of the World really send darkness?  What was I missing?

You are missing permission to be angry.  To grieve.  To mourn your losses, and express your hurt.  You are missing my grace to allow you to feel.

I paused.

I re-read the chapter.

The author of Lamentations doesn’t go off the deep end – after and throughout his messy, hurting, blaming, questioning, depression and bitterness he does remind himself of who God is.  He does return to what He knows to be truth.  He does put his trust in God.  But it’s not without angst, and there’s no talking himself into being grateful or thankfulness for what hasn’t been destroyed.  

A Time for Everything

I pondered this, and even as I wrestled with the words on the page, I felt God’s speaking over me: it’s your turn.  There will be a time for counting your blessings.  There will be a time for repentance.  There will be a time for trusting in my goodness, even when you can’t see it.  But right now, I am giving you – along with the author of Lamentations – freedom to tell me everything that hurts or makes you angry.  I am giving you permission to grieve your losses and even blame me for removing my blessing.  I am giving you permission to get ugly with me.  No justifying, just raw emotions.

I don’t even know how to do this.  I’ve been learning the meaning of holy grief – that it’s okay to be sad about the things that break God’s heart.  I’ve been learning the meaning of honesty with God, and wrestling with His truth when it doesn’t feel true today.

But this kind of honesty?  When I know what I feel isn’t what is true?  I’ve always tried to talk myself out of those sentiments.  Here, I was being given permission – could it be even the mandate? – to bring them to God without censor or justification.

What about when what I feel isn’t what is true?

I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.  So I say “my splendor is gone and all that I had hoped for from the Lord. (Lamentations 3:17)

All that I had hoped for from the Lord is gone.  I wrote it out: fruitful ministry.  Good health.  Financial peace.  And on.  And on.  And on.  All I had hoped for from You is gone.  Why?  I wasn’t greedy.  I wanted good things.

I made my list.  Even as I did it, my mind struggled with allowing me this freedom.  I felt the need to cross off my mourning-list and replace it with my thankful-for list.  Not everything is gone, I hear myself respond.  And God’s voice in the silence, gently telling me Not yet.  We’ll get to the thankfulness, but not yet.  First, let it all out.  Mourn.  Grieve.  Be angry.  Trust me with your pain, not just your praise.

Trust God with your pain, not just your praise.

So I go on.  It gets ugly.  It gets personal.  The death of dreams.  The loss of hope.  The future that once excited me, now seems long and tedious.  

And then, once I’m exhausted.  Once my list is on paper and tears are shed and hearts are bare.  Then.

There may yet be hope

There may yet be hope.  (Lamentations 3:29)

Not a strong statement of faith.  Just a faint glimmer.  But a glimmer nonetheless.

For he does not willingly bring affliction and grief to the children of men. ((Lamentations 3:33).

He’s sitting with me in this place.  He does not delight in my suffering.  He does not even allow it without cause.  We’re in this together.

You came near when I called you, and you said “Do not fear,” ((Lamentations 3:57).

The presence of God.  What a gift.  One I can claim in the here and now.  God came near.

O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life. (Lamentations 3:58)

The story is not over.  We’re not done.  There’s a resurrection story coming up.  He’s paid the price – he’s bought me back.  

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. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

We can do this every day.  I can grieve because of His love.  I can be angry and trust his compassion.  I can fall at His feet because of his mercy.  And every morning is a new beginning.   I can’t exhaust God’s grace.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” (Lamentations 3:24)

In this season, in this passage, where there are no wages to be earned, no crops to harvest, no moneys due, no savings to fall on.  

God is enough.

The Wait.

I can wait.

God is more valuable than overflowing bank accounts.

I will wait.

God’s dreams are far bigger than my dead dreams ever were.

I will wait.

God’s idea of fruitfulness exceeds my paltry hopes.

I will wait.

The future I had in mind is nothing compared to the future God has in store for me.

I will wait.

Whom have I in heaven but you?  Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26)

I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is you who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
I cry to you, Lord;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.
(Psalm 142:1-5)

God is enough.

The Lord is my portion.  I will wait.

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