Today I am pleased to have Nicole share some thoughts on her Lenten practice of "lament". I was intrigued by her choice and I am grateful she accepted my invitation to share her experience with us here.
For the past few weeks, I have been focusing on “lament” as part of my observance of lent. It was a decision with a long build up - “lament” kept coming up in my life for the past few years through things I was learning in seminary, people I heard speak, and other random moments in my life. Laments in the Bible are protests, doubt, despair, and anger. Often they summon God to action, demand a response to the evil being faced. I started this journey of “journaling lament” thinking I would be lamenting the magnitude of sorrows and pains in the world that others face. Goodness knows the world has enough of them I thought I would spend these weeks lamenting lack of clean water, lack of education, the violence that faces women, children, and men on a daily basis. I thought I would delve into understanding corrupt prison systems and the way entire ethnic groups are oppressed because of their DNA. And I did that for a short time, but slowly, somewhat seamlessly, the laments became about me. About the fears and traumas rooted in my heart that impact the way I interact with the world.
I began to wonder if that is what these weeks were about for me. Not one more venture into strengthening my Christian Social Justice viewpoints. Not one more venture into finding out what else I can do to make sure I’m not oppressing people with my food choices or clothing choices. Maybe God brought me to these weeks of lament so that I could, finally, mourn the injustice in my own life. So that I could cry out to God with the honesty of the Psalmists and others in the Bible who demands to know an answer from a God who allows suffering and pain and heartache.
It is hard. It is hard to cry out in agony or anger on my own behalf. It is much easier to get angry and to rally on behalf of someone else; I don’t have to face my own pain and bitterness and brokenness or bruised spots on my heart if I am demanding justice for someone else. I can remain, to some degree, outside of the deepest anger and despair of those laments. I can remain somewhat objective, and in control. To rail against the heavens and to express the bitterness of my pain and my unfulfilled dreams is intimate and very scary.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this is hard because I am some selfless saint. I am saying that various things in my life has taught me that my emotions create instability at best, and are dangerous at worst. And so my default mode is to tell myself to calm down, to think rationally, to look on the bright side, and - above all – to remain calm and in control. (This makes me an excellent person to have around in a crisis!) But there is nothing stable and calm about lament. There is nothing in “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that is designed to keep the status quo.
Shortly after I had this mini-revelation that I was supposed to lament my own pains, I shared as much with my community here. Later that night my friend told me, “I feel like you need to know that what you have to say to the world is important. That your story can help others, but that you have to be able to tell it from a place of peace. You have to be able to do it without bitterness.” She said that the thought had occurred to her days ago, but it wasn’t the right time to tell me until she had heard me share earlier that night.
There were a few days where I found myself inexplicably sad. I’d take the time to sit in silence or to go for a drive alone and try to identify the sadness. It was most often hopes deferred or the memory of injuries I’ve suffered at the hands of other people’s misdeeds. It was good to grieve those times. One afternoon, I ran across an old quotation that I had saved years before after a friend sent it to me: “And sometimes the God who can’t be found will wrap his arms around you. So, lay down sister, lay down.” That short line speaks the truth of lament to me – that when life demands that you acknowledge the weight of the pain, that God wraps arms around you.
In Psalm 126 the Israelites sing of how the farmer who goes out sowing seeds of sorrow will reap songs of joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (126: 5-6) The Israelites used their understanding of the real life hardships of watering the earth and waiting for a return to express their relationship with God. The tears of pain, anguish, longing, and hope are all vital to the process of reaping the harvest. In the end, the harvest is always a time for joy.
Many of my laments this season were about “hopes deferred.” For as long as I can remember, all I’ve really wanted to be in life is a mom. I often don’t feel free to speak up about how much of a disappointment it is that I’m 31 and childless – but the pain is real. And then when I start thinking about being single there is a deep-rooted shame inside of me – shame that I’m doing something wrong, that my body is wrong, that I am wrong. Most, if not all, of the men I’ve dated are married now – which makes my brain repeat, “So, see? It is you that’s not enough, or too much, or just wrong.” As much as I can logically identify these thoughts as lies, my heart needed this season to really lament the pain and loss that is wrapped up in these hopes deferred.
I am coming out of this season of lament with a renewed focus about my life. With a passion and a clarity to live into the person God created me to be, regardless of what I may have thought my future should like some months or years before. Part of who God created me to be is one who mothers, one who nurtures. In literally every place I have lived and worked in my adult life – people in my community around me have called me “motherly.” (Meaning it as praise almost always.) It is my deepest hope and prayer that someday that means that there are children who call me Mom and who find their stockings in my living room on Christmas and who think I make the best chocolate chip cookies around. I don’t know for sure that will happen, I feel like it will, but I don’t know for sure.
One result of this season of lament in my life is that I will stop apologizing for the things that make me, me. I will make those things the measuring stick for how I live my life. My question will be: will this move, job, home, etc. allow me to nurture those around me?
I know what my goal is and I have a passion for making that the priority in a way I never have before. I have a better understanding of which things are the hundred-and-four good ideas that might happen as the result of living into who I believe God made me to be. But those things aren’t the goals – those are the dreams. What I have for the first time in my life is a goal, a destination. The destination is not what I will do, but it is about who I am, who God made me to be.
This clarity about my future – about what it is I need to prioritize and focus on in my future – is my song of joy reaped from seeds of lamenting dashed dreams and broken hearts. I demanded an answer from God and then when I laid down he wrapped his arms around me and spoke with joy and delight about who He made me to be.