All Wrapped Up...
I received the most tender little red package on Friday morning. It was so carefully wrapped, so intricately detailed...I almost didn't want to open it, rather I was tempted to hold it in my hand and stare at it in wonder. I knew who the sender was, the mother of one of my dear patients who passed away this year. I knew what lay beneath that wrapping paper was a heartfelt treasure sure to move me to tears. And it was. An ornament for my tree with a beautiful picture of my little angel baby. I wept.
In a fast paced world with more and more encroachment on our quiet spaces once held sacred, there is little time for weeping. No time for reflection of what has been lost, what has been hard, what has altered our very essence. Instead, there is a call to keep going, keep choking down anti-anxiety meds and self care manuals as we surrender to threatening deadlines in all places of life as layoffs, staffing shortages and shutdowns loom large.
The temptation to push back our feelings has never been more pervasive. How did living through a global pandemic not afford people the space to truly grieve the accompanying losses? Losses that will ripple for years. We have been compelled, not only to internalize all the hard, but also to wrap it all up with a big red bow.
Not a very uplifting beginning of a blog post during Advent, I realize. Advent is a time of hopeful anticipation in the Christian faith of the celebration of the long awaited Messiah's birth. It's a time of lights, laughter, cookie baking, candle lighting, family gatherings, worshipful music and lots of pretty red bows.
But what about the very real lamenting during this season for so many - those who have lost loved ones, jobs, dreams, health...
I sat through a beautiful worship service and sermon yesterday, wrapped in my own pretty red jacket, surrounded by symbols of hope, familiar smiles and beauty. I was reminded of David, the shepherd turned King, the one described as having a heart after God. David, also the one who suffered, the one who was unafraid to hide his heartfelt emotion of lament and thus penned many Psalms in the bible. I recalled the beautiful book I had recently been gifted with only the Psalms and accompanying photographic representations of the publisher's interpretation of each one.
I went home and did something I really never do. I just opened that beautiful book of Psalms and decided to read whichever Psalm it landed on. In my own place of deep lament, I didn't want to put any effort in...I only wanted God to be near. I shuffled the book, the pages, my body's position and glanced over to my right, noting first, the image - a sea at dusk with the light of the moon creating a path on the water. Many trees off in the distance, one stood alone and I felt a comradeship. The only colors in the photograph were black, tan and a lighter brighter tan where the moonlight touched the water. I looked up to the ink then...
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Oh, how deeply these words pierced me. They truly were (are) the words of my soul. I choked back emotion and then I didn't. I wept.
The Psalm was very similar to that sweet little red package I received in the mail. The beauty of the book and the page where it resided beckoned me to open my heart to it. I knew doing so might undo me, because although God has seemed far, I have long known His faithfulness. By even opening up the Psalm book, I had subconsciously decided to allow myself to be vulnerable. Just like I knew that sweet little package's sender, I knew the sender of the Psalm. I knew stripping both of their outer casings would lead me to emotion and an unearthing of pain from my depths.
Living in this day with its sufferings has been particularly hard for me this year. And even more so as one who has deep compassion and empathy. Circumstances have left me feeling alone, questioning many things and people I once trusted. I have witnessed first hand, the repetitive victory of my enemies - and I truly have very few people I would assign that title. I have felt persecution for my faith, rejection by this world, humbled into almost nothing recognizable when compared to the "old me".
"How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?"
I felt the words of this Psalm ever so tenderly. I did not want to feel them. I felt the urge to push them away as much as an empath can muster. I have put on my own red bow for most people as I have learned that the space for grieving, weeping, lamenting is not a safe place with most humans. But God. God knew I needed a release, an opening to the pressure valve of my soul to exhale for at least a few short moments. He led me to untie the red bow of my very soul, to unfold the pretty paper at its creases as I slowly peeled the tape away and prepared to see the image of suffering - that would turn joy.
And just in case I was not certain that God called me to reflect on Psalm 13, I was invited to listen to a certain podcast by a dear sister. I set out for my run and pushed play on what I thought was the episode, "When Everything Falls Apart" but somehow it played the previous episode and I didn't even notice. Guess what scripture that episode referenced - Psalm 13. I really could not believe it. God gently reminded me that even amidst my brokenness, my very lackluster approach to the studying of His Psalms...He can still penetrate my heart, mind and soul. And that. Brings me deep joy.
Maybe you can think of someone in your life who has had "a year". Maybe you have witnessed a friend endure grief and loss like never before, yet they always show up with a smile. Do you feel rushed to think, "Wow, they are so positive through this journey! I need not bring up their circumstances." How do you know whose soul is aching for the deeper ask? Have you ever wondered what might lie beneath that pretty red smile bow? Have you allowed space for that friend to grieve, to lament, to exhale? Have you inconvenienced yourself for the potential healing release of someone you hold dear?
What would it look like to invite sacred soul space back into our life patterns? Allowing our brothers and sisters a space to lament *and to stay there for a time if needed* is, in my opinion, the epitome of the love of God. Our world, our country, our city, our homes - are so very busy that there is little time for true silence - the kind of silence that is pregnant with possibility and hope after its breaking, processing and ultimate healing. Too many of us walk around with pretty red bows wrapping us so tightly for fear that even a lifting of our carefully exacted tape line will expose us for who and where our souls really are.
Maybe it's time for some exposure of our souls. Maybe it's time for some breaking of our silent sufferings. Maybe it's time to allow God to work through our very undoings. Won't you give someone dear the gift of lamenting this week? Let this definition of biblical lament ignite a fire in you to change this narrative, especially in our churches: "a lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, pain, or confusion. Lament should be the chief way Christians process grief in God's presence. Because many Christians have grown up in churches which always look on the bright side, lament can be jarring."
Yes, lament can be jarring. Do you feel that? More than that, it can be so very healing, bring the joy only found with the Lord. Let us go into this week, keeping our anticipation of the celebration of Christ's birth as a reminder to also practice His way of experiencing suffering - enduring it, living it, telling about it and allowing it to penetrate hearts for ultimate healing in the JOY that is salvation.