Two Sundays ago I sat in the quiet house, taking in the silence. Nathan was on nursery duty at church and would be gone for both services leaving me a large chunk of time alone. (In a previous post --The Break-- I described my need for a break from the church in order to process the pain of two miscarriages and to work my way back to the Lord.)
For the first time in months, I was looking forward to spending time in my Bible. As I sat down with a cup of coffee and my Bible, I decided to start by flipping through Psalms. I was already familiar with some Psalms that express sorrow, Psalm 13 being one of my favorites:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, 'I have overcome him,'
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.
What I'm beginning to realize is that many --most?-- Psalms end on that note of hopeful resolve. I often get the impression that the writer is speaking to himself, reminding himself of the mercies of the Lord and making a choice to praise. Other times, the writer claims victory over his opponents and describes their downfall. A part of me wants that resolve but a part of me just isn't ready for it.
My close friend who is grieving a miscarriage told me something her husband said. To paraphrase, there are two biblical and legitimate responses to pain and grief. The first is to dwell on scriptures of hope and promise and resolve to praise the Lord in the midst of your pain. The second is to be in the depths of the pit and to know that the Lord is with you. I tend to fall into the latter category. I'm in the pit... and I'm just now beginning to feel the presence of the Lord with me.
From my observations and my friends' observations, people who are Christians tend to fall into one category or the other and we tend to have a hard time relating to people who are in the opposite category. I might say that Psalms tends to be in the former category, acknowledging the pain but claiming hope. For most people who are not grieving it is easier to enter into the grief of someone who is full of hope and praise-- they can understand it and engage with it. But it is much, much harder to come alongside of someone who is in the pit. Mostly we just need people who will be there for us. We don't need words of encouragement or victory--they just don't ring true.
Honestly, in retrospect, one thing that might have been really helpful, and might still be helpful, would be to hear people pray for me (but again, not in a "claim the victory" sort of way). To hear someone else express the Lord's heart for me and his presence with me, would have been so helpful.
Going back to my Sunday time in scripture, I wound up looking up the word "dancing" in my concordance because I wanted to find the verse that says "You turned my mourning into dancing." It's a concept I've been thinking about frequently. It's from a verse in Psalms. But another use of the word "dancing" in the Old Testament came from Lamentations chapter 5 and it says, "You turned my dancing into mourning." That caught my eye.
I spent the morning reading through Lamentations and for the first time in a long, long time, Scripture felt true to my experience. It's like "crap crap crap crap crap--a little glimmer of hope-- crap crap crap crap-- the Lord did not abandon you-- crap crap crap crap". That could be our story from last year. It's the latter category, the response to suffering that is in the pit but with the presence of the Lord.
Here are some of the passages that struck me (taken from Lamentations chapter 3):
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.'
For men are not cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to the children of men.
You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
you have slain without pity.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that that no prayer can get through.
You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes
because my people are destroyed.
My eyes flow unceasingly,
until the Lord looks down
from heaven and sees.
What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.
I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: 'Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.;
You came near when I called you,
and you said, 'Do not fear.'
I know that was rather long, but honestly, that passage contained almost all of the hopeful language from the whole book. This is a book that captures my grief. And it also reminds me that there is cause for hope in the midst of the pain. The Lord is with me in the depths of the pit and says, "Do not fear."
This past Sunday wasn't quite so warm and fuzzy. I basically spent the time I had by myself to pray... but "pray" might be a loose definition of what I did. I talked to the Lord. Yelled at him, really. When I write down my prayers I wind up filtering them and I don't always express what's in my heart. So I expressed my heart to him. I asked the questions that have been burning inside me. I told him that I don't understand. And just before Nathan returned I looked up a verse from the end of Lamentations in the commentary we have. Lamentations 5:21 says, "Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old."
The commentator explains that the writer was making a distinction here. "Their prayer is not, 'Turn thou to us,' but 'Turn us to thee,' which implies an acknowledgement that the cause of the distance was in themselves. God never leaves any till they first leave him, nor stands afar off from any longer than while they stand afar off from him; if therefore he turn them to him in a way of duty, no doubt but he will quickly return to them in a way of mercy... This implies a further acknowledgment of their own weakness and inability to turn themselves. There is in our nature a proneness to backslide from God, but no disposition to return to him till his grace works in us both to will and to do. So necessary is that grace that we may truly say, 'Turn us or we shall not be turned,' but shall wander endlessly; and so powerful and effectual is that grace that we may as truly say, 'Turn us, and we shall be turned;' for it is a day of power, almighty power, in which God's people are made a willing people." (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible)
To paraphrase: I can't turn my own heart back to God. But if he will turn my heart back to him, I know that he will also come close to me. And that's how I left it with him, "Lord, I need you to do this work in my heart because I can't do it." And now I'm waiting. I'm trying to walk the delicate balance, maintaining a heart that is receptive to the Lord's molding and waits on him, without falling to either side--one that says, "I'm waiting on the Lord which means I have look for ways to change my own heart," essentially taking over to do it myself and the other that says, "Well I'm waiting on the Lord so he's gonna have to come through with a big miracle or sign," closing my heart to the possibility of change.
"The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him."