Well this has been quite a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? The Coronavirus has hit and it feels like life has changed pretty much overnight.
Last Thursday was my birthday. I was greeted in the morning by my 5 year old singing happy birthday to me on my bed. As she did so, she mimed washing her hands. It you’re reading this at the moment, you will understand that children have been taught to sing happy birthday whilst hand washing in order to make sure they wash them for long enough. If you’re reading this in a few years time for some odd reason, you will have no concept of the grin mixed with tears that I had on my face as she did so!
It wasn’t the happiest of days. 3 children in my house had found out the night before that school was closing on the Friday and that all exams have been cancelled. 1 was ok with that. The other 2 lost the plot having worked so hard for the last few years to achieve the highest possible grade and now can’t even prove to themselves that they could get it. Instead, they will be given a grade based on teachers’ assessments, mocks etc. They will still both do well but it’s not what they wanted I spent a long time sitting and cuddling sobbing girls.
Fast forward to Mothers’ Day on Sunday. I would usually have been leading the service but had booked holiday for a week and it was supposed to be the beginning of a week off to read books in peace with all the kids still at school. Instead, I was delivering hand written cards and a standard letter with teaching and encouragement to all of my congregation along with with a bunch of daffs for much of the day.
I’m not taking my holiday. Instead, I’m trying to get the younger kids to learn something whilst keeping in regular contact with my congregation by phone and letter (as long as post is still allowed) and giving out food bank parcels from the church as carefully pre-arranged times to ensure they get them, the kids don’t kill each other at home and I’m not put at risk from lone working!
This does, in some ways, feel far more like a time of tantrum than one of trust. I’m finding myself questioning the sovereignty of a God who would let thousands of people die from a virus that he could stop in he a second if wanted too. I’m struggling to hold on to the fact that he is a God of love for the same reason. I’m telling people to do just that. “Just hold on to the fact that he is God, he is Good and he is completely faithful!” has come out of my mouth on a number of occasions now and there are times when it just tastes bad.
Except it’s true. I choose to believe that it’s true. I do believe that it’s true. And if you look back in history at people like Corrie Ten Boom or those from countries where life is not just crappy for a few weeks because we are being told to stay in our houses to stop the spread of a virus but crappy from the moment they are born to the moment they die, prematurely because of hunger or war or disease and yet they trust completely, I know I’m not alone. Churches grow when times are tough. People find their need for a Saviour becomes the most important thing when they haven’t got a life filled with so much ‘stuff’ that they can ignore it. People look for something and aren’t disappointed. God IS real. God IS good and God is utterly faithful.
So is it okay for me to question and doubt? Is it ok to ask God where he is, when he is going to show up and change things? Is it okay to get angry at him? I think so.
This is the letter I wrote to my congregation this week.
I write Coronacom number 2 hoping and praying that this finds you all well, symptom free and following carefully the guidance given by the Government at this time for all our sakes. I also write knowing that any kind of guidance included in this letter will probably be out of date by the time you receive it so I will try and keep that to a minimum!
How are you all doing? I’m guessing that you are missing each other as much as I am missing all of you. Please keep on keeping in touch with each other. Chat together. Pray together. Lament together.
That’s what I want to talk about today. Lamenting.
On Friday as I took R to school, a blast from the past song started playing. It was sung by J C (some of you may remember them of old). It was one I listened to a lot in my early 20s whilst trying to work out who God was and who I was and whether he was worth my life over and above my desires. I suddenly found myself sobbing. Poor R! Obviously we had a cuddle and I explained that Mummy’s feeling a bit sad with all the odd things happening at the moment and I pulled myself together. I mentioned it to someone, though, who commented that lamenting is not only natural but important. I guess it must be as the bible has a whole book dedicated to it.
We pretty much all came into this world with a cry. All of us will have spent considerable hours throughout our lives crying. Life can be tough, as we are all experiencing right now, and there are times when we can’t hold back our tears. And that’s ok. Crying can be good for you. It allows you to let out all the pent up pain and emotion you are feeling and can help to relieve your stress.
Lament is more than just crying, though. Lament isn’t just about letting out our feelings. Lament is directing those feelings towards God who listens, who understands (Remember that High Priest we talked about recently who is able to sympathise with us because he’s been there too!), who can and does change things.
As I was thinking about this letter, I found four elements of lament that would be useful for us to consider. Let’s have a look at Psalm 13 as we think about them:
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.
Firstly, lamenting turns us towards God. Instead of just pouring out our frustration to anyone who will listen, we choose to pour it out to God. We turn to him. Look at verse 1. We choose to talk to him about what we are feeling and facing.
Secondly, we bring to him our pain, our fears, our anger, our questions. Look at verse 2. We come before him honestly. We open our hearts to him and allow him to see us. We stop trying to hide. We stop trying to keep a stiff upper lip as we Brits are so encouraged to do. We stop pretending that we are fine, that everything is ok. We become vulnerable.
Thirdly, we ask for help. Verses 3 and 4. We recognise that if anyone can help us, it is him. We choose to consider his promises and his faithfulness in the past and risk asking him to do it again.
And lastly, we choose to trust him. The last two verses. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” It moves us to choose to trust in God even in the middle of the most horrendous of circumstances.
So, at this time when life is not like any of us have every experienced before and when we are being warned all the time that things are going to get much worse before they get better, come before God and lament. If you struggle to find the words, look through the Psalms and the book of Lamentations. Look to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
If you are struggling and you want me to pray for you or with you, just give me a ring or a text and I will be so privileged to do so.
There’s a song in the song book written by Albert Osborn who was a General in the Salvation Army and it is a beautiful song of lament so I thought I’d share it with you. Some of you will know it, I’m sure.
When shall I come unto the healing waters? Lifting my heart I cry to thee my prayer.
Spirit of peace, my comforter and healer, in who my springs are found, let my soul meet thee there.
Wash from my hands the dust of earthly striving; Take from my mind the stress of secret fear;
Cleanse thou the wounds from all but thee far hidden, And when the waters flow let my healing appear.
Light, life and love are in that healing fountain, all I require to cleanse me and restore;
Flow through my soul, redeem its desert places and make a garden there for the Lord I adore.
From a hill I know, healing water’s flow. O rise, Immanuel’s tide, and my soul overflow.
God bless you and be with you all.