Prayers For the Path: The Prayer of Lament

Things are not as they should be. That’s more than just how those of us who are trying to follow Jesus understand the world.

It’s something most of us see and experience every day.

That’s unfortunately obvious again this morning as we try to make sense of the senseless violence in Syria. Friends who have been to South Sudan are heartbroken over the events in that country as well. Our own city is still reeling over another shooting in a part of town that’s already suffered too much.

Each morning, it seems, brings another burst of darkness, another event that overwhelms our senses. We can’t go a day without wondering how the gap between the ways things are and the way they should be will ever shrink.

It isn’t just the news and it isn’t just on TV. We’ve felt the pain in the deterioration of relationships that leaves us asking what happened. We’ve felt stuck in our work and buried in the darkness of depression. We’ve walked under a burden that is so heavy and been filled with so much pain that we would give anything to find a load that is easy and a burden that is light.

It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself flipping through the Bible I read in college. It was then when I started actually reading the Bible seriously, if not always intelligently. This particular Bible is beaten up, its corners are rounded, and it is falling apart. It has seen better days.

One of the sections that is the most marked up in that Bible is a small book, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel – the book of Lamentations.

I’m not exactly sure how I found it, but in the midst of hurt and struggles I was dealing with at the time I found in those pages what I desperately needed.

It was there I discovered I wasn’t the first one to feel like things were falling apart. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to experience how plans could be foiled. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to get knocked down without much of an idea of how to get back up. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to convince myself I was all alone facing a world that wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

As I opened my Bible I read the prayers of people who were angry with God. I paid attention to people trying to hold it all together while everything else was trying to pull them apart. I listened to the suffering of families in a world that was a long way from Eden. Mostly, I studied the prayers of people who were hoping and willing God to act.

At the heart of Lamentations is the belief that even in the dark places God is still there. The people crying out to God put their hope in the promise that even in their suffering God still remembered them. They still prayed because they still trusted in a God who would act on their behalf.

The language is jarring and the images stretch us. And yet, Lamentations 3 reveals the heart of the Gospel and the core of faith and trust:

 “So I say, God is my glory and all that I had hoped for from the Lord…But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end.”

We have a hard time praying prayers of lament. We don’t want to bother God with our problems. We feel guilty complaining to God that things aren’t perfect when we are all too aware of our own imperfections. We would rather sing with joy than deal with our pain.

But what Lamentations teaches us about prayer, and really about God, is that just because things aren’t the way they should be doesn’t mean they’ll always be that way. They, and we, become different when we remember that even in the midst of darkness and heartbreak God hasn’t abandoned us. We offer to God our pain that comes from the way the world is and our dreams for how the world might one day be because we have come to believe that the most powerful force in the world isn’t a nation with an army or a corporation that’s too big to fail but the God who has promised to never abandon us regardless of the cost.

We remember that especially this week. As we get ready to walk the lonesome road with Jesus, we know we are on the path to night and betrayal, long days of darkness where you will have to strain to glimpse even a shadow of light.

It is true that the world isn’t how it should be. What keeps us walking is that we know it won’t always be this way.

 

 

Note: This is the third post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

The Prayer of Gratitude

 

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The One Thing You Need: On How To Survive The Feelings

I was in that familiar place the other night.  A long day at work filled with the stress and anxiety that can come this time of year in my chosen vocation had taken its toll. As I sat on the couch, staring at the television in order to get sucked into another story so I could escape mine for at least a few minutes, my wife asked the question – “How are you doing?” I responded with all that I could muster, despite the fact that all that I could muster had been reduced to a broken sentence. “The Feelings, lots and lots of The Feelings”.

The Feelings – whether you call them that or not, you know them.  We all do. Any of us who have graduated past the age of five have known them and the situations that create them, cause them and bring them into the center of our lives.  All it takes is having the experience of being knocked around by life a little and knowing all too well the struggle of trying to hold the work stuff and the faith stuff and the family stuff together while trying to live a life of meaning and purpose.

photo-1422284763110-6d0edd657b13

We definitely know The Feelings in my family.  We’ve met them and despite our wishes, they keep coming back to visit even though we’d rather they not. They are messy, they tear things up and they break every rule my mother taught me about being a good houseguest.

That’s why we have a saying around here – boring is underrated. It’s not that we prefer the boring life.  It’s just that over the last few years we’ve dealt with some stuff, serious stuff, stuff that will knock you back, stuff that will make you cry, and stuff that will really put you on your knees – because you want, no you need to know where God is in all of it and you also know that grace from something more powerful than you is the only way you are going to get through it.

And what I had to remind myself after I formed that sterling example of 21st Century American Literature the other night is this – it is the grace that will get me through.

When I look back on the hard times in my life, I remember and am thankful for my community of saints. When I have felt weary, and when the stress seemed like a mountainous wave just waiting to crash over me and my house, it has been my friends who have lifted me up out of despair over and over again by reminding me of what I know is true. When the struggles won’t stop, the spiritual practices – the habits and the patterns that God has developed in me over time that keep me rooted and grounded in love – have also done their part to rescue me.

But more than anything it has been the grace that has gotten me through. When the anxiety builds and the worry piles on and the fear shouts its condemnation, it can be easy to lose my way. And as a recovering perfectionist when I lose my way – whether it is allowing sin to lead me to anger, making a foolish mistake, snapping at a friend or simply allowing defeat to set in – it doesn’t take long for the condemnations to come again.

Maybe this is why my favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations.  It is tucked in the Old Testament between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  It’s power comes as the writer draws you into the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness the people feel after the destruction of the temple and the Exile that followed. But the tenor of the book changes in chapter 3 from despair to hope: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

photo-1421091242698-34f6ad7fc088These are the words that get me through. Because it’s when all you have is the broken sentence that faith makes a difference.  It’s when you feel defeated that you remember the words of hope – that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s when you feel like you have met your match that you remember the words of Exodus – that God heard their cries.  It’s when you feel like you can’t take one more punch that you remember the words of grace that God speaks again and again – that sin is real and so are its scars, but that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to heal and to restore and to renew.

Despite my wishes, I know The Feelings won’t leave us alone.  They will be back because sometimes life is hard and control is an illusion. They will be back because Christian faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening to you, but instead points to the power that will help you survive them when they do.  But when they come, this I can call to mind and have hope – God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.

Grace – no matter what you are dealing with, it is enough to get you through.

Thank You So Much For Sharing...

The One Thing You Need: On How To Survive The Feelings

I was in that familiar place the other night.  A long day at work filled with the stress and anxiety that can come this time of year in my chosen vocation had taken its toll. As I sat on the couch, staring at the television in order to get sucked into another story so I could escape mine for at least a few minutes, my wife asked the question – “How are you doing?” I responded with all that I could muster, despite the fact that all that I could muster had been reduced to a broken sentence. “The Feelings, lots and lots of The Feelings”.

The Feelings – whether you call them that or not, you know them.  We all do. Any of us who have graduated past the age of five have known them and the situations that create them, cause them and bring them into the center of our lives.  All it takes is having the experience of being knocked around by life a little and knowing all too well the struggle of trying to hold the work stuff and the faith stuff and the family stuff together while trying to live a life of meaning and purpose.

photo-1422284763110-6d0edd657b13

We definitely know The Feelings in my family.  We’ve met them and despite our wishes, they keep coming back to visit even though we’d rather they not. They are messy, they tear things up and they break every rule my mother taught me about being a good houseguest.

That’s why we have a saying around here – boring is underrated. It’s not that we prefer the boring life.  It’s just that over the last few years we’ve dealt with some stuff, serious stuff, stuff that will knock you back, stuff that will make you cry, and stuff that will really put you on your knees – because you want, no you need to know where God is in all of it and you also know that grace from something more powerful than you is the only way you are going to get through it.

And what I had to remind myself after I formed that sterling example of 21st Century American Literature the other night is this – it is the grace that will get me through.

When I look back on the hard times in my life, I remember and am thankful for my community of saints. When I have felt weary, and when the stress seemed like a mountainous wave just waiting to crash over me and my house, it has been my friends who have lifted me up out of despair over and over again by reminding me of what I know is true. When the struggles won’t stop, the spiritual practices – the habits and the patterns that God has developed in me over time that keep me rooted and grounded in love – have also done their part to rescue me.

But more than anything it has been the grace that has gotten me through. When the anxiety builds and the worry piles on and the fear shouts its condemnation, it can be easy to lose my way. And as a recovering perfectionist when I lose my way – whether it is allowing sin to lead me to anger, making a foolish mistake, snapping at a friend or simply allowing defeat to set in – it doesn’t take long for the condemnations to come again.

Maybe this is why my favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations.  It is tucked in the Old Testament between Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  It’s power comes as the writer draws you into the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness the people feel after the destruction of the temple and the Exile that followed. But the tenor of the book changes in chapter 3 from despair to hope: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

photo-1421091242698-34f6ad7fc088These are the words that get me through. Because it’s when all you have is the broken sentence that faith makes a difference.  It’s when you feel defeated that you remember the words of hope – that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. It’s when you feel like you have met your match that you remember the words of Exodus – that God heard their cries.  It’s when you feel like you can’t take one more punch that you remember the words of grace that God speaks again and again – that sin is real and so are its scars, but that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to heal and to restore and to renew.

Despite my wishes, I know The Feelings won’t leave us alone.  They will be back because sometimes life is hard and control is an illusion. They will be back because Christian faith doesn’t prevent bad things from happening to you, but instead points to the power that will help you survive them when they do.  But when they come, this I can call to mind and have hope – God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.

Grace – no matter what you are dealing with, it is enough to get you through.

Thank You So Much For Sharing...