Do I have permission to lament?

This month, I have asked my wife, Rite, to write on the topic of lament.  During our Europe/Africa meetings, Jonny Clark spoke about lamenting and in our current global pandemic, it is an important subject.

During my Lent readings, I was meditating on John 11:33-35 from the passion translation: “When Jesus looked at Mary and saw her weeping at His feet, and all her friends who were grieving, He shuddered with emotion and was deeply moved with tenderness and compassion. He said to them, ‘Where did you bury Him?’ ‘Lord come with us and we’ll show you,’ they replied. Then tears streamed down Jesus face…then Jesus, with intense emotions, came to the tomb.”

This was surely one of those events in life that was unfixable – the death of a loved one. Jesus gives us permission to allow ourselves to lament when our soul is sad. We have a need of doing something with the pain, grief, disappointment or loss, either at a personal or global level. Some of us don’t find that easy but Jesus gives us an appropriate model.           

I remember reading an article talking about the enneagram and as I looked a little closer at my own profile I realised that I resonated with the description of often taking flight from pain and discomfort, both mine and others. Type Seven on the Enneagram has ‘the need to avoid pain.’ They typically avoid retreat because they prefer to be surrounded by fun and laughter, pleasure and positive thinking.            

Jesus shows us an example of connecting with his feelings as his heart was being influenced by the suffering of his friends and joining in with the lamenting of the mourners. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3, ’There is a time for everything, a time to weep and a time to laugh.’

While in lockdown here in Spain we decided to catch up on the Netflix series The Crown. In this series we watched the historical Welsh tragic mining disaster of Aberfan in 1966 with the loss of so many children as a school was engulfed in mud. Queen Elizabeth was encouraged to visit, to give hope and share the villagers’ pain.
Finally, when she did decide to make an appearance, she realised she could not shed a tear despite walking by the graves, seeing all the families who were missing loved ones and even having conversations about their losses. Keeping your composure does not comfort the broken and suffering. Jesus did not show composure as ‘the tears streamed down His face.’          Romans 12:15 encourages us to “Celebrate with those who celebrate, and weep with those who grieve”. Like Jesus we have the privilege of identifying with the suffering of humanity and we can lament with individuals and nations.

Stephe and I were leading a b2b course with a great team at the YWAM base in Madrid for 10 days. We always consider it a privilege to work with young leaders and these were an exceptional group. An Ignatian practice is “finding God in all things”, so I was looking forward to watching what He would do in our midst in this community of precious leaders.         

Our times together were so encouraging and fruitful but as the week progressed more of the students and staff were becoming ill. We continued and completed the b2b though some were watching from another room with video. Of course, in retrospect, we realised this was the start of the Coronavirus in the Madrid area and two days after we returned to Malaga we were in lockdown. We just made it home in time, because after 2 days we were both suffering from the virus as well. We have never been sick for that length of time or with such intensity. We were so grateful we didn’t have to be hospitalised.

This was an occasion for lamenting being sad for an unfixable situation. I had to surrender and struggle through dark weeks holding on to my Lent promise from Psalm 32:8 ”I will stay close to you..’  I rehearsed these following three truths and lit three candles to remind myself throughout the day of:

  • the promise of His ​presence​, Jesus will never leave me or forsake me.
  • the promise of His ​peace​, Jesus will keep me in perfect peace as I fix my thoughts on him.
  • the promise of His ​provision​, Jesus will supply all my needs with His abundant grace for each day despite the challenging circumstances in health, pain, fear, finances, and absence of community.

Some of my lamenting just flowed when I couldn’t see the finish of this never ending sickness. And just when you thought you were turning a corner, a huge bus hit you with the onslaught of some new symptoms! I couldn’t stop Stephe’s excruciating headaches, mine were minor in comparison but continued to anoint his hands with oil and pray for healing as James 5 encourages us to do. As the whole world was reeling under the pressure of COVID19 so my tears flowed for every family having to walk through losses— loved ones taken so quickly or suffering with the virus for weeks as family stood by so helpless, financial uncertainty, uncontrollable fears and anxiety about the future, loss of celebrations as people had to cancel weddings, birthdays and graduations.  Even funerals were delayed as we couldn’t gather in groups to remember and honour our relatives and friends.      

Tragedy has a cruel way of removing our masks of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction. It shouts on the ‘Camino of life’ that ‘No! Everything is not A-okay!’
It disrupts our airtight theologies about God having everything under control. It invites us to become real and to grapple with the big questions of life. The Camino de Santiago that Stephe and I had walked for ten days in the Autumn had clear signposts to guide our every step. In our real life journeys, the signposts are not always so obvious and we must adjust and accept that it takes a lifetime of wisdom to even begin to fathom and discern His purposes.   

One of the deeply comforting aspects of this time of sickness was the light that embraced us, as family and friends from literally around the world expressed their words, prayers and concerns through calls, texts and emails. We may have felt alone in our struggle, but people empathised with us, just as Jesus did at Lazarus’s funeral, and we felt a support even from a distance.         

I asked the Lord for a couple of metaphors to help my soul express what I have experienced, and two images came to mind:       
1. The transitional tunnel is entered into with only light coming from behind. Then as we reach the middle of the tunnel, suddenly there is nothing but total blackness. It can be endless days, sometimes weeks in the darkness with this virus before you finally stumble on a tiny ray of light to assure you there is an end and an opening to lead you out.

2. The other metaphor is a labyrinth. Initially I was thinking of a maze with an entry point and a different exit. The maze journey is long and twisting and full of tangents and just when you think you have reached the exit it’s yet another dead end! This is not the Jesus I know, as he does not purposely block our way to bring confusion.   

A Labyrinth on the other hand can be quite a long slow journey but you enter by the same way you leave. The path is windy and moves in and out towards the centre, the place of surrender. But as long as you walk faithfully and keep moving you will reach that centre the place of communion and keep walking to find your exit.

The labyrinth is a journey with Jesus, where you allow him to change you and shape you, as you respond to his invitations. It’s a place of confession, cleansing, forgiving yourself and others, redefining your assignments, allowing the pruning that is necessary, and perhaps lamenting for your losses and sorrows. You return back to the place you started from and with each step you take there is a growing confidence that you’ll be re-entering the world with this newfound source of strength. Praise and gratitude well up as you come out from the labyrinth and those attitudes need to be one of the characteristics you partner with during the lamenting process to help lighten the load.       

As we lament in one breath, with the next we express our gratitude to Jesus for so many kindnesses shown us through family, friends and our community.
In an online retreat, Ruth Hayley Barton shares the following words from Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Rings’ and it resonates with us all:

‘“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So, let’s not be afraid to lament.  Let’s allow our souls to cry out and mourn our personal and global losses.  Then in the next breath may our gratitude well up knowing our Father God and His beloved son Jesus and the Divine comforter the Holy Spirit are our dearest companions, who travel with us in the darkest of times as well as the glorious times of illumination and light. May our triune God enable us to use even this time that has been given to us for His purposes and glory.  Rite

Until next month


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