Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent People: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Dan Allender, author of The Cry of the Soul (one of several of his books which has made a profound impact on my life), has written a poignant article about the role of lament in the Christian's life.  As we navigate this life, waiting for Christ to come and to make all things new, we often find ourselves in a place of mourning.  Allender powerfully suggests that applying a positive attitude and glossing over the struggle are neither fully human or fully Christian responses.  

Below are some highlights from a rather lengthy article of his titled, The Hidden Hope in Lament.  I commend to you the full version, and hope to merely whet your appetite by providing these excerpts.

A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God.

The cry of pain is our deepest acknowledgment - we are not home. We are divided from our own body; our own deepest desires; our dearest relationships. We are separated and long for utter restoration. It is the cry of pain that initiates the search to ask God, What are you doing? The cry of pain also reveals our heart of anger.

This kind of anger is not merely a brash assault - an adolescent swagger that enjoys taking on the big guy. It is far more serious. It is a cry that ease, even relief, is not enough - far more, it is the cry of the soul that says: "I must have a new perspective, or I will die. I would rather face your wrath than exist in this agony with no more perspective than I have now." Anger in lament reveals the utter seriousness of the cry. Not all anger at God is good, but an anger that moves the heart to confusion, to feeling trapped between our belief in him and our movement away from him, opens the heart to redemption.

Confusion experienced in the middle of asking tough questions opens the door to a new perspective. And the perspective is glimpsed in recalling God's way of redemption.

If one wants redemption, it will not be in comfort, nor ease - it will be in the darkest moments of disaster. He does not offer redemption to those who are well or to those who live in light. Redemption comes when nothing else will do.

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.

The language of lament is oddly the shadow side of faith. To whom do you vocalize the most intense, irrational-meaning inchoate, inarticulate anger? Would you do so with someone who could fire you or cast you out of a cherished position or relationship? Not likely. You don't trust them - you don't believe they would endure the depths of your disappointment, confusion. And so the lament is never sung together, nor the anger ever addressed for fear that consequences would occur that are more devastating than the potential joy of reconciliation.

The person who hears your lament and bears your lament against them, paradoxically, is someone you deeply, wildly trust. It is the paradox that opens the heart to unfathomable rest.  Lament cuts through insincerity, strips pretense, and reveals the raw nerve of trust that angrily approaches the throne of grace and then kneels in awed, robust wonder.

Allender then argues eloquently and at-length for the public, corporate expression of lament.  He concludes:

Why is it so important that lament be a rich part of the worship of the people of God? I suspect there are two primary reasons: universality and accountability.

Pain separates. To have a terrible headache is to experience one's body as an enemy. To suffer the loss of a spouse is to feel separated from a world of couples. Pain, anger, and confusion deepen our loneliness. If 200 people in a congregation sing - "Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?" (Psalm 77:7), only a minority will enter those words in the present, but the majority will know that pain from the past and anticipate it in the future. To sing in sorrow is to befriend one another and to authenticate we are not ultimately alone, even if no one can fully comprehend our pain now. The awareness we are not alone increases our courage to honestly look at the pain and to struggle to know God. It gives us less excuse to withdraw from fellowship assuming either no one understands me, or everyone else has his or her life in order. Those assumptions destroy the integrity of true Christian community.

Second, to sing sorrow in congregation opens the door to accountability. Pain not only separates, but it also numbs the heart. Nothing is more common than for a person who has been deeply hurt, disappointed to make an internal oath: "I will not be hurt again." The oath leaves the heart calloused and blind to the heartache of others and the passion of God.

After years of therapeutic endeavor, I would claim it is one of the prime strategies of Satan. If the heart is shut-down to desire and disappointment, then something profoundly human is lost and repentance at best will be mere behavioral change, and at worst, a pious charade.

But to sing together - to allow your sorrow and joy to be mine, and mine to be yours, requires me to stay alive to sorrow and to the struggle of my pain, anger, and confusion with God. And this will be the case even if I am currently fairing well.

If I am alive to God, then I am more apt to note your deadness and more gentle and courageous in calling forth the lament in you. To sing a lament together will enable me to more readily ask the question: How are you? What are you doing with God in the midst of your "presumed" and not unusual song of sorrow?

It seems inconceivable, but to lament together is to hold one another accountable to continue the pursuit of truth until joy dawns. It will.

Lament is not an end in itself. There should be no question that God does not want us to sing lament as the staple of our worship, nor should it be our internal hymn of choice. But lament opens the heart to wrestle with a God who knows that sorrow leads to comfort and lament moves to praise as sure as the crucifixion gave way to resurrection.

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