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Archive for June, 2007

John Michael Talbot. He has quite a variety of musical styles, but many of them create an environment where it is easy to feel my sadness, while being filled up with the hope that God’s words bring. A lot of his songs are pretty close to quotes of various Psalms. I guess it is like his music is a place where the ache and longing meet the hope and promises of God without either reality being compromised or diminished by the other.

Michael Card, on his CD The Hidden Face of God. (Here is a review)  I commented on another post that when I listen to this CD, my 4-year-old daughter always asks for the song she calls “Falling Tears”, which talks about human tears being older than the rain. That song really got all of my kids thinking. I have prayed in ways I couldn’t with words alone, while listening to this CD, especially the first song which talks about worshiping with our wounds. Personally, the sentence on the CD that has best articulated my experience with lamenting lately is, “When our questions dissolve into the silence of God, the aching may remain, but the breaking does not.”

Jeremiah. The one in the Bible. In this example, I love how he laments, how he listens to God and then how he responds. He chooses obedience again and again, but never minimizing the suffering resulting from his choice to trust and obey.

Job. I love to go through that book in pieces–only reading the parts where Job is talking. And then at the end, to read the chapters where God responds to Job. Someplace recently I read a suggestion to read Job 38-42 over and over, day after day. One of the things I love about lamenting is the honest place it puts me in to hear God. The joy and knowing God that comes out of a place of suffering and sorrow is wonderful.  

Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes. Mourning what is NOT satisfactory and meaningful brings us closer to discovering what really is.

Habakkuk. His name, from what I hear, means “The one who clings.” Even if….even if….even if……  Don’t just read the last few verses. Read the whole book to get the context and impact of the message at the end. Habakkuk makes me want to fear God, mourn sin, tremble and yet trust and rejoice deeply and desperately.

Dan Allender in The Cry of the Soul.  I love this book, where he celebrates the ways that the emotions we call “negative” also reflect the image of God. Allender is really big on teaching that we should neither run from nor minimize the longings we have on this earth. Allender truly celebrates lament.

Ruth Bell Graham, in her poetry, models for me the beauty of lament as part of the pathway to hope and joy.

John Piper, though I’m not sure he, who teaches Delighting in God above all else, would be thrilled or honored to be nominated as one who has helped me as I embrace lamenting. Still, it has been through lamenting and facing my pain most deeply that I have come to receive most fully the joy that comes from my relationship to God. And John Piper has helped me along the way. He is serious, compassionate, and has a lighthearted spirit that can make me smile without feeling like my sorrowfulness makes me morally defective. Again, that seems a bit odd, since he is all about teaching us to delight in God.

Following are a few websites where I have experienced lamenting that puts words to my heart’s cries as well as encourages me in my journey. You know, when you see another person lamenting what doesn’t make sense, and still choosing to follow and trust God, it is encouraging in a way that “Rejoice always” pep talks are not (I’m not saying Paul’s words were “just”  a pep talk. But many sermons on Phil. 4 are that). Back to the websites that I think do a good job lamenting:

Pause, (Janelle Milazzo) Janelle works with people who have been through hopeless and traumatic situations, and whose lives, even now, don’t hold a lot of hope.  Two of my favorite posts: The giving of meaning and Cast All Your Votes for Dancing. Janelle asks good questions and keeps coming back to hope and trust.

And just tonight I discovered the blog, From the Pickle Jar. Lynne has a gift of putting her laments into poetry. I found out about her through a comment and poem she left on Internet Monk’s post on smiling. Scroll down to read her poem under comments.

Which brings me to my last Lament Mentor. The best (in my opinion), internet lamenter around: Internet Monk. Many people online rant and rave about things which I also think about. But I don’t particularly enjoy reading rants and raves about things which I think are wrong, because usually those things make my heart hurt, they don’t make me mad. And if I read angry rants, I start to get angry in a way that feeds bitterness, which doesn’t change anything (except making me more miserable).

Internet Monk is different. Sometimes he rants and raves, but usually I think what he is doing is lamenting–being excruciatingly honest about things that are wrong in this world.

Part of why I think what he does is lamenting and not complaining is that he keeps coming back to: Humility, Trust, Love, Forgiveness and Hope.  A lot of what he has said about the Evangelical Church rings true for me. But you know what, his post on going back to an SBC Church was one of the most amazing things I’ve read. It encouraged me as I’m currently lamenting while looking for a church and finding myself tempted to become cynical and hyper-critical. Instead, Michael Spencer makes me realize I can be sad about what is not happening in church, but out of the sadness, I can embrace what God is doing through imperfect people in imperfect settings. Even while I continue to mourn for what isn’t and long for what should be.

Two other posts on depression I read some time ago came back to me recently as I thought about wanting to nominate Michael for the #1 Spiritual Lamenter on the Internet. They are here: “What About Antidepressant Medication?” and “The Boat in the Backyard” (about his father’s struggle with depression and what it meant for Michael and his family).

Well, I was already celebrating how Michael helps me lament well, while keeping my face turned to God, and then tonight I read his amazing post on Smiling. Talk about a good example of lament. Thank you, Michael.

Here are a few quotes from that post. I hope you’ll read the whole thing:

“I’ve got some serious stuff going on in my world right now that simply isn’t at the grinning stage. I’ve never thought that it made much sense to take in all of life, then filter out whatever moves me to sorrow, leaving only a southern Gospel chorus about mama and heaven.”

“Jesus gives me joy. The life that cost Jesus his- my messed up life- doesn’t make me happy, but the Gospel makes me happy. Part of the happiness is the sorrow now.”

“If I have genuine joy, however, it won’t be a facade. It will be kind of joy that belongs to grieving people, dying people, people who are alone, people who’ve been turned away, and the last, the least, the lost and the little. This joy comes in the midst of the world that Jesus wept over. It is the world that sees Lazarus’ tomb as well as his rags on the floor of an empty tomb. “

Again, thanks, Michael. You make the weeping more real. And as a result, the place where I experience the joy of the Lord is more real and deep as well.

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Well, I got a soapbox button pushed tonight. Internet Monk has a very fun post about people who don’t even know him, but who feel the freedom to tell him he NEEDS to smile more. I found myself cheering as I read his post as well as the comments. One comment in particular stood out,

People are always telling me I need to smile more. The ironic thing is that I have had people tell me at work that I need to smile at a time when I was having one those joy-in-the-Spirit holy moments when God is really revealing something to me or I was coming to understand something. Some of us just don’t have a good connection between our spirit and our face. [That would be ME! Emphasis added]

It reminded me of another post I had read on Spectatrix, about the difficulty introverts sometimes having thinking and talking at the same time. And then you want us to add smiling on top of it?!?! Sometimes that’s too many things for this introverted, imploded little brain to handle at once! Oh yeah, don’t forget eye contact! Introverts often look away while they talk (although they tend to make good eye contact when they listen. For a good explanation of some of these dynamics, I recommend The Introvert Advantage).    So now, what I’ve worked so hard to try to express is lost in the fact that I must be unhappy and have poor self esteem because I’m not smiling and staring you straight in the eye while I say it.

Here’s the deal. When I’m really happy, I smile. Really big. Big enough and often enough that people comment about how smiley I am, how friendly I am, how my whole face, eyes and all, smiles. When I’m really sad, I look very sad and depressed. When I’m thinking, I look serious. Serious enough that people want to know what’s wrong with me. (The answer is NOTHING. Actually, I feel quite happy inside when I’m thinking seriously about something.) I don’t consciously think about any of those looks. If I do start thinking about how I look, who knows what I look like then? Probably self-conscious.

Sometimes, like the commenter above, I’m feeling or thinking something so profound (to me) and deep and internal, I really am oblivious to my outward expression. But if I start trying to remember to look happy or whatever (to “make my mood and affect congruent”, in med-speak), what I was feeling or thinking gets lost in the effort.

Mainly, I can’t help the expression or look on my face very much. I mean, I do try to work on it sometimes, but then I’m not really feeling whatever I was feeling. All I’m feeling is, “Keep looking pleasant.” And I can’t handle that kind of fakeness very long. So, I might not smile as much as some people want, but WYSIWYG. The look on my face is genuine me, even if it is a little confusing to you. (At the same time, I do appreciate the value of a pleasant facial expression out of consideration to others, as a sign of connection and a way of saying, “I’m glad to be in your presence.” It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t work that great when remembering to smile is my focus.)

Certainly when I’m thinking deeply, I look very serious. But in  some of my happiest, most contented moments, I have also been awed into facial blankness.

Anyway, hooray, hooray for people letting it be known that there is more to life than facial expressions. Or that there is more behind the facial expressions than always meets the eye.  One other comment I read mentioned that it is important to remember not to judge a person who  naturally smiles a lot as “fake”. And I think that is important. They key, either way, I think, is to be in relationship with a person before you start judging them (and then, when you’re in relationship with them and start to know and understand them, it’s not so easy to judge anyway).

I’m glad for the perpetually happy people in my life who help me see the light when and where I don’t always see it. And I’m grateful for the people in my life who are very serious and who are okay lamenting with me, being sad and serious about the way things are that are not as they should be.

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One of the biggest differences I think between lamenting and complaining is that:

Lament implies an invitation to connect

while

Complaint builds a wall

That may be overly simplistic, so let me try to flesh it out a bit more. If I have had a rough day, and I am sharing all the details with you, I could have two reasons for doing so (there might be more, but these are the two I thought of right now):

(1) I want you to know how miserable I am. I want you to be mad with me at the people who have made me miserable. I want you to step in and fix some of the problems that are making me miserable. My complaint implies demands. Demands to join with me in railing at injustice. Demands to do something to make it better.

(2) I am hurting and I want you to understand and to share in my suffering. In some ways this looks like the same thing as “I want you to know how miserable I am.” But from experience, I know how those two messages can come from very different places inside of me.

In the one instance I want you to suffer because I’m suffering. In the other, I am seeing my own neediness, sorrow, loss or pain and inviting you to be there with me in that place.

With complaint, there is a problem. And it needs to be fixed (or if it can’t be fixed, I need to at least build my case and convince you to join me against the person or situation that is a problem. If you can’t fix it–and I certainly expect you to try, if I’m complaining to you about it–then at least be angry with me about it.)

With lament, there is a problem. And I’m not demanding it be fixed. But I’m also not minimizing how serious the problem is or what the painful effects are on me. I’m grieving the problem and feeling the pain that comes with it. And I’m asking you to sit with me in that place, to grieve with me, to not leave me alone, to be WITH me as I grieve. I’m not demanding that you join me in what I’m feeling, but I am inviting you to do so. To understand my pain and share it with me.

What do you think? Do you think lamenting would change how we deal with the big “griefs”? How about all the little things each day that “just aren’t right”? Can we lament those? Or is a litany of the day-to-day lesser struggles just an excuse to wallow in “how bad we have it”?

How would it change your response to someone’s complaints if she were “moaning” about her day, but the words were an expression of lament and not just complaining? Would you be able to tell the difference? Could you respond to one who really was complaining without giving in to her demands (for you to join her in her anger or fix the problem), but rather offering out the gift of joint lament in response to her woes?

As always, for all my strong opinions on a given topic, I have more questions than I do answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts and interactions on this topic.

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Recently a friend told me that he had read somewhere that what husbands hear as complaining from their wives is often actually lamenting.

That immediately resonated with me as being quite true. As I thought more about what lamenting is, the purposes and value of lamenting and what makes it different from complaining,  I remembered an article I had read some time ago. When I went back to it, I discovered that all the thoughts I was thinking on lamenting were not my own original thoughts. They had obviously come from that article and had simmered around inside my mind and heart until they made so much sense I thought they were my own.

The article was written by Chuck DeGroat. I would recommend reading the whole article, but here is the paragraph that expresses the heart of what I’ve been discovering as I ponder the gift of lamenting: 

Lament is ultimately hopeful. Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? The person sitting before you is weeping and wailing about his pain, and it is supposed to produce hope? There, of course, is a fine line between complaining and lamenting, but too often we dismiss the baby with the bath water. Dan Allender says that one who laments often looks like a grumbler or complainer, but that biblical lament is nothing of the sort. Instead, lament contains in itself the possibility of extraordinary hope, restored desire, a changed heart. Lament is, at its core, a search for God. It is not a search for answers. It is not an invitation to fix an ailment. Rather, lament enters the agony with the recognition that it might not go away for days, months, even years. And yet, the lament carries with it the hope that God will eventually show. Dan Allender puts it this way: “Lament is a search – a declaration of desire that will neither rest with a pious refusal to ache, nor an arrogant self-reliance that is a hardened refusal to search.”

In future posts, I want to explore further the topic of lamenting. Some questions I am asking myself are:

What IS lamenting? Here I am, with all these opinions on the topic, and I don’t even have a “real” definition of it. Is it an emotion, something we feel? Or an action, something we do?

How does lamenting change the way we grieve?

Can lament happen in isolation, or is being heard and lamented with an essential part of the definition?

How does lamenting affect forgiveness?

How does lament fit with joy, hope and peace, when lamenting seems anything but joyful, hopeful and peaceful?

I’m also wondering what cultural factors play into lamenting–what are the values that make lamenting acceptable or something we run from as fast as we can?  

I am also mentally compiling a list of people who have demonstrated lamenting in a way that makes me want to (1) receive the gift of lamenting for myself more often and (2) allow other people to lament, even when it makes me feel uncomfortable. I have found examples in Scripture, in the lives of people I know and in stories. One of the best modern day examples is a blogger whose writing I enjoy reading. Thinking about lament has helped me understand why some of his posts have really touched me so deeply.

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In my original “Cheer Up” post, I said,

“Going into my anguish, not running away from it, is where God gave me peace. I found joy, not chasing after it desperately, but while meditating on sad poems and realizing that is the desperate context in which I choose to trust God.”

This morning I was thinking more about that. And while I do not disagree with what I said, I realized there is another specific element I should have clarified. I think it sounded like my two choices were 1. Go into my anguish or 2. Chase desperately after joy, because I’m supposed to be rejoicing in all things.

The choice I have made is that I will not desperately pursue, run after or demand Joy. What I will do is acknowledge and feel deeply the pain of my situation, the overwhelmingness that I feel, even the anxiety and the panic.

But I will do that–I will think on those realities–with my face turned directly toward God. With my heart seeking after Him and crying out desperately to Him. With my hands open to Him even as the tears pour down my face in worry and despair and fear.

When I speak of “meditating” on my sadness, it is not thinking about my sad situation to exclude God. It is an intimate conversation, really, with God about all that is overwhelming me. The direction of my “meditation on sadness” makes all the difference. Because as I sink into the heavy realities of my life, I am surrounded by and embraced and held by Almighty God.

My main point was that I don’t experience Joy by pasting a smile on and spouting off spiritual words. The joy I experience is a gift of grace that comes to me when I am facing with total honesty how overwhelming certain circumstances are to me right now. 

In the honest, heartwrenching pain, I cannot force Joy or Peace to happen. I cannot even demand them from God. And I cannot demand that when He gives them to me, as gifts of His grace, that the Peace and Joy will erase the fears and doubts and uncertainties and discouragement. Sometimes the fear goes away with the gift of peace. Sometimes it doesn’t.  Either way it does not change the way He meets me and holds me as I cling to Him in my darkest times.

On a lighter note (or maybe to convince you how strange I really am!) I thoroughly enjoyed reading a sermon on depression by Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter. I’m not a huge fan of Puritan theology (don’t stone me, please!), but this was a pretty fun read for three reasons: (1) hearing the things that are the same today as they were then (2) the good perspective and advice he gave and (3) the hilarious and totally politically incorrect advice he gave.

All in all, while I allowed myself to feel the weight of my sadness yesterday, God brought me hope and peace through the depressing poems (in my original post), through this sermon on depression from the 1600s, and through a very helpful worship service at a tiny Lutheran church I visited. This morning He encouraged me again through a letter from friends who are praying and challenging me.

Today I went up. And I went down. And up and down and so on.  My life is still very hard. There are situations where any decision I make feels like it will only make things worse.  For me and for people I love dearly.

But God.
Is.
Very Good.

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The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is offering a commemorative gift of the book by Ruth Bell Graham, Sitting by the Laughing Fire. Here is the link:

http://www.bgea.org/RBG_MemorialGifts.asp  

uth’s love for the written word and her devotion to family and God often flowed together. Of this collection of her poems, Ruth Bell Graham wrote, “I have always loved poetry. … [These poems] span nearly half a century of living, beginning with a thirteen-year-old’s impression of the ever-present graves in China, through high school in Korea, college in America, early love poems, marriage and motherhood, and on up.”We are pleased to offer—at no charge—this classic volume of her poetry, chosen and assembled by Ruth herself. It is our prayer that you will encounter all of Ruth’s passion for words, friends, family, and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ within its pages.

[above quote from the memorial website]

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My life situation is very discouraging. And I am very often discouraged.

Which does not always make life with Jesus look very attractive, I think, to someone looking on. It raises questions (to myself and others) of whether or not Christians are any different. What about the Joy of the Lord? What about rising above our circumstances? 

I don’t have a lot of answers to those questions. I haven’t been very good at figuring out a theology of depression (although I have certainly tried!). But this is what I do  know, Jesus is with me in my darkest moments. I know peace on a deep level, even when I am panicking.

It confuses other people sometimes (it even confuses me at times). How can you be trusting Jesus and knowing His peace and STILL be panicking? How can you be complaining and still rejoicing (as a quasi-linguist, I get around that by playing with words: what I am doing is not complaining. It is lamenting. And in my wordview–i.e., a linguistic/semantic worldview–you can lament and rejoice at the same time.)

So, I know it doesn’t always make sense. But I’m too insanely (or inanely) honest to force a smile on my face and squelch the emotion even if it is negative–sadness, discouragement, anxiety and panic.  I can’t deny that Scripture commands us to rejoice.  For me, rejoicing can’t be pretending I’m joyful no matter what. The rejoicing comes in feeling the depths of my despair and being able to still say, “But God.”

For me, I find it is more that Jesus is IN the dumps with me there, transforming me there, bringing healing and peace, but without obliterating the depression, anxiety or panic with one blow. I know He could do that. And I sometimes wish He would. Why doesn’t He? Is it that He has plans for His glory and my good to accomplish in my desperate situation, or is my sin keeping me so discouraged and frightened, or is it just the reality of a fallen world that leaves me in such a mess?

Whatever the reason, my currently reality is often depressing. By thinking about my discouraging situation, I’m not denying God’s power.  In a sense, when I’m “meditating” on the sadness of my situation, I’m joing with all of Creaton in groaning.  That groaning  is often a prayer,  with the hope and anticipation that the Holy Spirit is translating my groans to the Father. 

What a language to be translated: Groaning!  A language full of despair, but also full of hope, knowing I’m taking my groans and anguish to the only one Who can do anything about them. And knowing that, painful as it may be, that He will bring purpose and meaning and glory in ways I can’t even begin to imagine out of my misery. But maybe not for a long time. And that is still hard, overwhelming and sad for me, even while I trust Him. And keep waiting.

On days like I’ve had this weekend, I didn’t focus on cheering up. I focused, almost meditated, on how heavy and sad life is right now. I cried. I ached. I read sad poems. I felt overwhelmed. And there, in the honest anguish of my heart, I knew I still chose God and His ways. I knew I still chose to trust Him. And wait on Him.  No matter what.

Going into my anguish, not running away from it, is where God gave me peace. I found joy, not chasing after it desperately, but while meditating on sad poems and realizing that is the desperate context in which I choose to trust God.  My despair is where I realize how desperately I trust.  Overwhelming discouragement is the context in which I experience the meaning of, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

Here are two of the poems that brought me hope yesterday as I wallowed in my despair:

The hills on which I need to gaze
are wrapped in clouds again.
I lift up streaming eyes in vain
and feel upon my upturned face
the streaming rain.
(from Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems, p. 152)

and

Lord, you have already torn from me what I loved the most.
Listen again, my God, to my heart’s cry.
Your will was done, Lord, against mine.
Lord, now we are alone, my heart and the sea.

(Antonio Machado, translated by  Lingamish  )

So, today I have “cheered up” while doing the opposite of what most people mean when they encourage me to “cheer up” and “rejoice in God” or “think about Him, not your troubles.” I really do think about Him, but it is in the context of seeing the despair of my troubles that His greatness and all-sufficiency becomes most real to me.

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