Friday, February 21, 2020

On Lament

Yesterday my friend Katie Billheimer shared these words:

Lamenting. Something our culture doesn’t really know how to do. Grief makes us uncomfortable. When someone is going through something and they have questions we can’t answer, we try and fix things, force a positive spin on it, tell people not to be sad or angry as if it’s a switch to turn on and off. In the book of Psalms, 70% are songs of lament where the writer cries out to God out of fear, sorrow, and frustration. It’s not wrong to feel this, even if it is scary. We were made to feel. Made to question. Made to yearn for something better. We’re not going to have the answers for all the struggles in this world—if we did we would be God. But this lack of knowledge is nothing to be ashamed of. We should never make people feel less for being low or like there’s something wrong with them. Just be there. Listen. Hold their hand and don’t say anything. Your presence and the knowledge that you won’t run away or ignore them is enough.
Her words are wise. Timely. I have spent the past few months taking as much time as I can nab to be alone and sit and ponder and acknowledge the loss and the brokenness and cry out to God and ask him lots of questions and then let go of longings and dreams and unmet needs. It is been very good.

In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop says this of lament,
The space between brokenness and God's mercy is where this song is sung. Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise. It is the path from heartbreak to hope. 
 He goes on to describe the key elements of lament:
 1.) an address to God, 2.) a complaint, 3) a request, and 4.) an expression of trust and/or praise....turn, complain, ask, and trust....the heart is turned to God in prayer. Complaint clearly and bluntly lays out the reasons behind the sorrow...the lamenter usually makes a request for God to act--to do something...nearly every lament ends with renewed trust and praise.
What struck me about this is how little lamenting we do. Maybe lament doesn't look good. I would imagine some might think it a bad witness, a wallowing, so to speak in your pain. We are so often told, taught, chided, commanded, exhorted to trust God in our pain, leapfrogging from turn to trust and skipping entirely the complaining and asking part that is absolutely crucial and the very heart and soul to lament.

Why are we afraid to lament?

Perhaps so much of it is our Christian culture. We are encouraged to do, do, do, do, do. To be studying our Bibles and praying and evangelizing and discipling and raising up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and so often are told exactly what that all should look like. And, of course, we should at all times and in all places have that "attitude of gratitude" (insert sing song-y voice and syrupy smile here.) Stop gazing at your navel and get on with the show.

Perhaps so much of it is our theology. We have a theology of sin, but not of suffering. We think the whole of the Christian life, the whole of it, is about sin and repentance. So any suffering requires not complaint, but confession. Any suffering is your own damn fault.

Perhaps it is because we think if we hurt enough to need lament, we are doing it wrong. We have been fed a lie that if we come to Jesus he will clean up our house and tidy up our rooms a la Marie Kondo and pain and suffering and brokenness and the terrible messiness of life here on this earth will touch us no more. Or if it does, we will be so filled with the "peace that passes understanding" that we can just float above the fray in our Happy Jesus Balloon.

But the older I get and the more messy I see life truly is. The more broken I feel. The more pain and suffering I see in the world and in the lives of people I hold so dear. The fewer answers I have. And I find that all I can do is lament. And it is good for my soul.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Drinking the Kool-Aid

I remember the day they drank the Kool-Aid. It was November, 1978. I was in 9th grade and I watched, along with the rest of the country, as the nightly news played on our monstrous console televisions images of hundreds of people...adults, children, entire families...laid out on the ground, seemingly asleep. But dead. Dead from drinking a lethal concoction of cyanide and Flavor Aid. Brand names being what they are, the phrase was born: they drank the Kool-Aid.

The members of Jim Jones's People's Temple followed him and his ideology to their deaths. Well, some followed. Some were forced. Many wanted to leave and flee the abuse but were unable to. In the end there was no choice. Drink the Kool-Aid.

It's easy to do, to drink the Kool-Aid. It tastes sweet. Cold. It goes down easily. But that syrupy goodness masks the toxic taste of something deadly.

I've drunk the Kool-Aid. I've done it so many times in so many situations that I can't begin to count. I've believed something too good to be true. I've bought in to a system because it promises me something I think I desperately need.

I did that with parenthood. I drank the Kool-Aid, and in the the message that I should and I even COULD control the outcome. That if I did it right, my kids would make all the right choices, with right being defined by the standards of the community, and would make me proud and prove that I was a good mother.

Here's the hitch. Here's the terribly deadly thing about this particular pitcher of Kool-Aid. When you drink this up, you drink this cup, parenting is all about you. Your child's report card becomes your report card. His or her choices, your job evaluation. And if he or she fails to measure up, struggles to compete, or chooses a different path from the one you are told is the right one, you become the failure.

And what happens then? All of your energy is then focused on yourself. Beating yourself up. Or groping in panic to whip your child back into shape to fit inside the box.

I beat myself up for years. Not because there was anything wrong with my children, but because they didn't always make the choices I was told they were supposed to make and I was told it was my responsibility that they make. It was horrible. It was horrible for me because I felt that I had somehow failed God by not doing it right and it was horrible for my children because I became focused on licking my own wounds rather than what they needed from me.

I suppose it is easy now for me, years down the road, to see this. All four of my kids are well into adulthood and such incredibly wonderful, fascinating, and outside the box that it is a blast to know them as people, not just as offspring. But I wish I had known this then.

I wish somebody had told me that my job was not to ensure that they made it to adulthood as industrious, courageous, sharp, modest, ambitious, college-educated, Bible-verse quoting, smiling virgins but to love them as they are with all of their biology and brain chemistry and strengths and weaknesses and hopes and dreams and come alongside them and guide them, as best I could, based on who they were and what they needed. I wish I had spent my energy asking "How can I love him? How can I love her? Here. Now. In this situation. What does my child need?" Instead I spent my energy feeling intense shame and beating myself up every time I got a sideways look from another parent or a rebuke from a leader because my child wasn't marching to their orders.

I can only apologize to my children who I love more than life for not being there emotionally for them because I was too busy beating myself up.

I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed that my value as a person depended on my success (whatever that meant) as a parent. And even more than that, that my value to God depended on my success as a parent.

The truth is this: parenthood is not an accomplishment. It is a relationship. Anybody who tells you differently is putting something in your drink. Take note of what is in your Kook-Aid.