Whoever heard of a Christmas concert that encouraged lament? A few years ago, Michael Card came to our ancient meetinghouse to share Christmas music. But in the midst of all the joy-to-the-world celebratory songs, this amazing storyteller and musician did something totally unexpected. Card publicly acknowledged that the holidays are a difficult time for many people. He confessed he had been struggling with depression and encouraged us to recognize our griefs and losses at year’s end – sharing them in the body of Christ.
A clear reminder that if I’m not interested in what you are suffering, I am not truly interested in you.
After a poignant rendition of his song, “Come Lift Up Your Sorrows,” Card elaborated, “If you and I are to know one another in a deep way, we must also lament together before the God who hears and is moved by our tears. Only then does our sharing become truly redemptive in character. The degree to which I am willing to enter into the suffering of another person reveals the level of my commitment and love for them.”
What is your suffering today?
We are now living in a time of unprecedented loss, fear and uncertainty. With unbelievable speed our world has changed drastically and we hardly recognize this new normal (which also changes daily.) No wonder we experience some of those hard emotions — disbelief, anger, desperation, fear, and sorrow.
What do we do with all these losses?
How can we be the community of Christ, sharing both the joyous discoveries of God’s faithfulness as well as the true times of personal struggle?
I think we must first learn to lament – the ancient spiritual practice of crying out to God in our pain. Of acknowledging that all is not just fine right now, but also moving toward our goal of living in that place of faith and hope. King David did this often, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy… Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need… Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” (Psalm 142)
Here are three ways I’ve learned to both sit in sorrow and offer hope.
PRAY: This enforced season of self-isolation gives most of us plenty of time to pray for others. Not only for our own loved ones scattered far and wide, but those medical workers, first responders, and military on the front lines of this battle and government officials making critical decisions. In our church community we might reach out to those in groups, classes, and worship. We can even pray for strangers. In one day on Facebook I received the names of 50 medical/emergency workers who all asked for me to pray for them when I posted I would do so. But if we say we will pray for someone in need, then we must do it immediately, and also write down for further prayer; holding closely confidential requests unless we have permission to share.
Here’s a prayer by Jane Grayshorn I often pray: “Lord God, in Your compassion, come close to those who cry out in pain, to all who are sleepless with worry, and to any who are physically or mentally wounded. Convince us that what matters in healing is not a magic formula, or a special form of prayer, but simply the willingness to enlarge our trust in Your presence. May Your presence encourage those who nurse and tend the sick or wait and weep as loved ones cling to life. Amen.”
CONTACT: Now, more than ever, let’s reach out to others and see how they are doing. While we cannot visit in person, there are numerous ways to connect – phone calls, letters, email, facetime, online, or small care packages left at a neighbor’s door. Why not send a handwritten note that can be read over again? I just ordered some small packets of m and m’s to insert in cards, since chocolate helps everything! Do whatever reminds people (especially the elderly and alone) they are not forgotten and that you care about what they are going through. When we had to cancel our special-needs son Justin’s 45th birthday party this week, I knew he would feel so disappointed and alone in his apartment. But social media friends responded enthusiastically to my call-out for mailing him a birthday card. These surprises in his mailbox cheered him immensely.
REMIND: What do I say to the discouraged, grieving, or suffering – to those who are afraid? I share truth I have learned over a lifetime – reminders that God is faithful. I share stories – mine and others — that reveal growth through struggle, strengthening through sacrifice. Time and time again I have discovered that the comfort I received in my particular pain transforms into generalized compassion and knowledge that can be helpful to others in any pain. I gently remind them of God’s love and God’s presence—that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe knows their predicament and promises to accompany them throughout the journey. “For I hold you by the right hand – I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.’” Isaiah 41.13
Yes, this is a time of loss and sorrow. But it is also an opportunity for each of us to truly be the body of Christ. And it’s okay if we do so whilst weeping. Do not despise your own tears, for even Jesus wept. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He understands.
A wise woman once told me, “Don’t waste your pain.” I know now exactly what she meant. We can actually live in our pain and journey through it in such a way that we become transformed by the experience.
So, dear friends, as you lament the losses, please also look for the light. Pray, Contact, and Remind. When this current ordeal is finally over, will you have become bitter or better?
under the mercy, Lucinda
©2020 Lucinda Secrest McDowell (adapted from “Soul Strong”)
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