Lament in the Never-Ending Now

Added about 2 years ago by Sarah Parkinson

GUEST BLOG: As part of our January focus on Lament Sarah Parkinson, author of Searching for a Silent God, shares her own experiences of lament.

Author PhotoLament is at the heart of many stories and poems in the Bible, the heart’s cry of those who feel forsaken, bereft, abandoned, alone. A terrible event has occurred, bringing grief, sorrow, perhaps even fear, to someone who believes they know God, and can trust God when they fall into difficult circumstances. But God no longer feels as close as they think he ought to, sometimes even seeming absent altogether. The ultimate expression of this, of course, is found in Jesus, crying out the devastating loss he feels when, dying on the cross, he experiences what it means to feel abandoned by God in his hour of extreme vulnerability and pain.

These lament stories don’t end in that dark space, however. Job loses everything – family, wealth, health – and yet at the end of it all God reveals himself to Job in a much deeper way. David takes all his sense of abandonment and forsakenness into God’s presence in prayer, and he discovers the grace by which God draws him closer through his suffering. Jesus takes his lament across the boundary between life and death, opening up a path to every single one of us through which we can discover God-in-us in an ever more meaningful way.

We all have our own stories of lament. How could we not? No matter what blessings we have in life, sorrow and pain will find us, in any number of ways. It was grief at the loss of a much-loved family member that sent me into that space of feeling abandoned, as though God had withdrawn from me, and – perhaps a little like Job – had begun to remove the certainty of all the things I relied on to help me connect to God. I lived within that spiritual nadir for several years, an experience that left me bewildered, confused, and eventually angry and resentful. Yet I suppose, a little like Job again, I wouldn’t let go. I would angrily trudge round in metaphorical circles, shouting at a God who I was certain wasn’t there. It was a kind of reluctant, resentful faithfulness that kept me returning daily to the painful place of abandonment, never able to stop asking why, somehow hoping in the face of all evidence that God would show up in the end – though it never really felt like hope.

That was a vulnerable time. Then I began to learn something about grief that doesn’t run its course, the never-ending now of watching as two of my children steadily developed symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression through their struggles with attending school. It was the grief of a helpless mother who fights with everything she has to get someone to listen so that her child doesn’t have to suffer the loss of their education. Both children ended up going through long term absences from school, over a period of several years, so the never-ending now stretched on for a dark age. How well I could empathise with the writer of Psalm 88, a rare expression of lament in which no turning point is reached, no hope found before it ends.

It’s hard to put into words the difference between grief over the loss of a person you love and grief over a circumstance that is causing ongoing damage to a person you love. No grief ever ‘runs its course’: if we are well-supported in it, we learn to live with it, and over time its power over us grows less. But having to watch as a loved one suffers at the hands of what can at times feel like an incompetent and uncaring institution – there is a wound that remains open, that cannot close and heal because the pain continues to be inflicted.

I have told the story of how I began to climb out of spiritual despair in Searching for a Silent God. It would not have been possible without God’s hand stretched towards me, pulling me out of my own inability to see the reality of God-with-me. I learned to lament: to look my pain and grief squarely in the face and ask what it might have to teach me. The courage to do so could only have come from God and, with a new-found understanding of what God was asking of me, I found myself able to begin building up a relationship of trust with God once again, one that continues to evolve in ways I could never have imagined.

Stories are complex, ever-evolving and unfolding. There is an overlap between the time my spiritual lament began to reach its turning point and the time that circumstances began to turn around for my children. Those wounds of maternal grief no longer feel as though the knife continues to be dragged through them, but the pain is still intense when I offer it space to breathe. All I can hope is that what God has taught me about turning into my pain and asking what it might have to teach me will help me within this maternal grief. Pain can be endured, but true lament will enable me to welcome the full measure of God’s grace and love into this suffering, giving me strength to help my children and bringing me ever deeper into God’s presence.

Sarah Parkinson is a writer and freelance editor who lives in the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband, who is a priest, and her three children. Her book Searching for a Silent God is being featured as part of our January #ThemeOfTheMonth: Lament – you can get your copy here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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