Seven years ago, I moved to England from America, full of passion for God, the gospel and the British people. It was the fulfilment of a lifelong calling, and I felt that after years of waiting, finally my ‘real’ life would begin. I was on top of the world. Little did I know that I’d entered a local church situation that would ultimately dismantle my hope, my faith, and my sense of self. Three years after my first joyous Sunday, I staggered out the door with my last ounce of strength and entered the wilderness.
Over the last four years, during my long and agonising recovery, Hosea 6:1-3 has become very precious to me:
Come, let us return to the Lord
He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us;
he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.
Hosea doesn’t describe here a quick recovery. Each part of the process takes time: the binding of wounds, being brought back to life, restoring us to his presence, calling us to actively acknowledge him and to persevere, the sun finally rising again and the slow return of refreshing rains that restore us to a place of flourishing. The recovery Hosea describes is slow and painful. But it is not solitary. A loving and infinitely patient Father is there at every turn, nurturing us moment by moment.
During the early phases of my recovery, because I felt rebellious toward God and the church, I decided to be real, no matter who was looking on. If I was sad, I cried. If I was angry, I shouted. If I was afraid, I trembled. I dared God to meet me there, in my raw and unrefined state. But he didn’t have to meet me. He was already there. And he loved me for my honesty, even if my manners left something to be desired.
Not only did I discover that God was already there, but I also discovered that other people were there – both Christian and not – watching my journey, from having been torn to pieces back to a place of flourishing. I discovered that my long and noisy lament actually left a path for others to follow in their own search for the God Who Heals.
Dr David Smith has just published a book called Stumbling toward Zion. In it, he uses his own experience of grief and lament to address the biblical tradition of lament that is slowly disappearing from the church. He reasons that the church is so concerned with appearing triumphant, of gaining victory, that it has neglected true, biblical lament and is losing touch with God’s heart for a suffering world. Not only that, but he notes that: “This imbalance threatens to undermine the credibility of faith for a watching world, alienating those experiencing hardship and oppression; those wrestling with doubt, uncertainty, and loss.”
I wouldn’t categorise my own wilderness wanderings as “biblical lament”, but God was able to turn my self-focused angst into good, as he so often does. And it got me thinking…
God’s people, on both on the international mission field and the domestic, neighbourhood-based mission field, are in contact every day with people who are experiencing hardship, oppression, doubt, uncertainty, and loss. Many of them lack the hope that we have in Christ.
As those who are called to display the love of Christ in all its many facets, wouldn’t it be a little bit irresponsible for us to keep Jesus’ intimate presence in our times of struggle a secret? Wouldn’t it be more loving – and ultimately more attractive – to show people who don’t know him that he walks with us, even in the dark places?
These are uncertain times. We don’t know what the next few weeks and months will hold, but it’s possible that some of us may have hardship, even grief, ahead. It is possible, even biblical, that how we choose to pass our times of hardship and grief will have a huge impact on God’s reputation both here in the UK and around the world. Let us learn to lament in a way that shows those who follow in our path that our God is good and kind, that He is faithful no matter what, and that above all His love can heal all wounds.
Photo by Valentin Muller.