Mourning and Morning

Apr24
During this recent season of Lent we did a series on lament at church. Fittingly, we looked at the book of Lamentations as part of our study.

The first thing that struck me was that, out of five mournful chapters, the most familiar verses to me were the few hopeful ones in chapter three. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!”

This tells me that as a church, as a culture, we are incredibly uncomfortable with sorrow, true lament, and transparent grief. The rest of the book of Lamentations is a beautiful expression of human brokenness. As I listened to it being read, tears often came to my eyes because it spoke aloud the silent sorrows hidden in my own heart.

The truth is that we live in a fallen, broken place full of fallen, broken people. There is much wrong with the world, beginning with our own sin-inclined souls. If we saw reality with God’s eyes, we would find much to grieve about—from the pain and suffering all around us, to the evil that so mars our best human efforts and robs us of relationship with Him.

What do we do with all this heaviness and sighing? At first I thought that the only hope was to look far forward to the end of the story when God sets all things right. To the day when sin and death are abolished and we are made new, complete, and perfect.

But then what of the present? Do we simply muddle through? Grit our teeth, bear it the best we can, and wish it away as we dream of our glorious future? If so, what’s the point?

Again Lamentations provided the answer. In the midst of that long litany of tears and terrors, it is as if the author—for one very brief moment—shifted his focus. Instead of drowning in despair, he struggled to the surface to suck in a few gasps of hope, before diving down again.

But where and how did he find hope? What in his circumstances caused him to speak of God’s love and faithfulness? Things seemed to get worse day after day, with doom and destruction a certainty—where in the world was he finding a fresh supply of mercy every morning?

And then I wondered: what if the mercy is the morning? Just the simple fact that the sun came up. In truth, it didn’t have to. In truth, it is God who pulled it off. And the fact that it happens every day should make it no less miraculous. How faithful He is!

I began to think of other things that didn’t have to be. Why do we see color? We could be perfectly functional in a world of grays. And what about taste buds? Hunger would drive us to find food. Eating didn’t have to be a delightfully pleasurable experience full of flavor and variety. But it is.

How lavishly extravagant of God! How good He is to us! Once you stop to think of it, the list of completely unnecessary blessings is seemingly endless. Flowers, music, silk, chocolate…

So, yes. Grieve, mourn, weep. There are so many reasons—in our own lives, the lives of those around us, and in the world as a whole. Allow yourself to feel them deeply, because in truth, God’s heart is moved with each and every one.

But as you get up each morning, sip your coffee, and take in the gentle hues of yet another sunrise, don’t forget to treasure the many, frivolous gifts that God pours out on us daily. Savor each one. Let tears of sorrow and joy mingle with each other. Because sweetness is all the more distinct when contrasted with bitterness.

Question: What is one of your favorite frivolous blessings?

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Busyness: the Pursuit of Happiness

Nov7

The final lie that I believe keeps us running at a frantic pace is the notion that happiness is our highest purpose. And by happiness we mean an absence of pain, anger, or sorrow. And so, instead of stopping to deal with the inevitable wounds, disappointments, and failures of life, we run. We numb ourselves with activity and distractions. We skip like a stone along the surface of life, knowing that if we slow down we will sink into the murky depths below.

Because at heart most of us are filled with fear. We are haunted by ghosts of the past and the monsters lurking in our own souls. We are too afraid of the voices in our own heads to be alone and quiet with ourselves. We dread the darkness too much to accept it as a normal part of life.

Our Christian heritage, unfortunately, reinforces these lies. Spouting verses such as “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials…” and “In everything give thanks…” we mask our inner turmoil with brave smiles and fever-bright eyes. There are certain emotions that mature Christians are not supposed to feel—be it anger, fear, doubt, despair—and so we do our best deny their existence. We look askance at those who aren’t living in “victory.”

The tragedy of this deception is two-fold.

First of all, we rob ourselves of the very thing we want: true, lasting, deep happiness. It is as if, instead of facing the pain of pulling out a splinter, we choose to leave it in. And so the offending sliver continues to fester, prick, irritate, infect.

This gives me new insight on the beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What a strange “blessing.” Nobody wants to feel the gut-wrenching pain of grief. But the point is that grief will come, and unless we allow ourselves to mourn truly, deeply, authentically, we will never experience genuine comfort.

One man who was struck with huge tragedy reflected later that, “…the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise.” (Gerald Sittser, quoted in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero) Unfortunately, many choose the dim haze of twilight over the black darkness of night, and thus never get to see the dawn.

Secondly, by denying certain parts of ourselves and our existence, we actually rob ourselves of a deep relationship with God. Throughout the ages theologians have asserted that a true knowledge of God is dependent on a true knowledge of self, and vice versa. In The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner explains that “…people who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God.”

God is truth, and requires that we be authentic with others, with ourselves, and most of all with Him. He wants us to, as C. S. Lewis writes, “…lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.” He wants us to give ourselves to Him fully. Fully. That means even the ugliest, nastiest, most wounded bits of us. This requires time, and honesty, and courage. But imagine the joy when we open our darkest corners to His light and find ourselves fully loved. Fully. Without performance or pretense.  Our truest happiness is obtained; we need run no further. And we are one step closer to really knowing God.