I gaze through the window into your creation, O Lord.
From the tiniest blade of grass along the path, up the hillside covered in vegetation, to the stately trees, I see your hand.
Each plant seeks the sun and dances in the breeze.
Just as these plants and sun and wind are all from you and connected to you, you are ever present in me, creating me to be one with you.
You continue to be Barukh ata Adonai – God, the Lord God who creates.
View from Chapel Window at Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh Monastery
For several months I was lost in a spiritual wilderness. Lost due to my own turning away from God and to the world. Lost because I put more credibility than deserved in the expectations I placed upon myself and those placed upon me by others. Lost because I interpreted those expectations as coming from God. I was believing that, although I was saved, I still had to prove I was worthy. I was thinking that if I truly believed in Christ’s presence in my life, then I’d be able to shrug off the trials of life. I was either pretending that everything was fine or experiencing guilt and shame when pretending became too difficult.
Well-meaning friends tried to help me emerge from that wilderness. But their advice and correction did little to dispel the darkness. To heal from the cycle of expectations, pretense, and shame I had to own the pain. I had to go deep into prayers of lament. Lament is deeply honest, authentic crying out to God and inviting Him to enter our pain. God always hears lament. But lament demands faith and patience to wait for answers that come in God’s way and God’s time. Yet He always answers.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep. – Psalm 121:1-4
Now lament is messy and uncomfortable. It runs counter to the “cheerful Christian” persona that we want to project and others prefer to see. Lament seeks quiet, encouraging presence from others, not advice or rebuke. Lament is not to be confused with complaint. Complaint stirs up bitterness, resentment, blame, and solutions dependent on our own abilities. Satan wants us to stay stuck in the despair of complaint, and that’s where I was stuck until I understood the Biblical foundation of lament and embraced the power of its prayer.
Throughout the Psalms, David lamented the sorrow and challenges brought about both by his own sins and by his circumstances.
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
2 Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray. – Psalm 5:1-2
I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?” – Psalm 42:9-10
The Prophets called for Israel to lament its turning away from the One True God to the false gods of their pagan neighbors.
Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.
14 Consecrate a fast;
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
and cry out to the Lord. – Joel 1:13-14
Jesus lamented Israel’s disbelief.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! – Matthew 23:37
And Jesus lamented while perfectly obeying the Father’s will as He sacrificed Himself to save us from the death we deserved.
39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me – Matthew 26:39a
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46
Through lament I learned to release the emotions and expectations based on what was untrue. I lamented my own failings and the offenses of others, and in doing so, I found the compassion to choose to forgive myself and others. I had thought it was up to me to will myself out of the wilderness by pushing hurt aside. Then I discovered that by my going deeper into the pain, God with me, carrying me out of the darkness.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:1-2
It took going through lament to experience and know God and to fully discover my identity in Him. Lament is not a dead-end. Through lament I learned to rest in the Savior’s arms and surrender to the Father’s healing. It’s in that journey of lament that my heart and mind are renewed and I praise and glorify God.
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. – Hebrews 13:1-2
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me – Matthew 25:35
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” – John 5:12
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8
O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
5 let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O Lord, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered about you;
over it return on high.
8 The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
9 Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!
10 My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
13 he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
15 He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
16 His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.
17 I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. – Psalm 7
In His unfathomable grace and love, God gives us salvation. We receive this gift of salvation by the grace of God through believing in Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God who died on the Cross for our sins and rose from the dead for us to have eternal life. I have long accepted salvation through faith in Jesus, not by my works, and the future promise of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Nevertheless, I have struggled with the “here and now,” thinking that I had to work to keep pleasing God. I had turned Jesus into a future promise that had little to do with my life now.
God reveals to us a much different and deeper truth in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In a miraculous, mysterious way, we spiritually joined Jesus in His death. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [Romans 6:6].
“Our old self” – we are no longer who we were before. Yes, in our flesh we still fail and commit sins. However, our true self is no longer that of a sinner drawn to evil. Our true self was freed from sin because Jesus gave us His righteousness, holiness, and perfection.
However, the wonder does not stop there. Not only did we die with Christ. We also live with Christ. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. [Romans 6:8-11].
Christ now lives in us and we live in Christ. Our spirits are one with His. We are pleasing to God because Christ’s nature is now our nature. Our “work” is now to believe and receive God’s grace for our daily living. Our “work” is to put aside our efforts – to “die to self” – and rest in the fact that the love of Christ is living in us and through us to transform us and to change the world.
On Good Friday, Jesus Christ died and we died with Him. Three days later, He rose from the tomb and we rose with Him. We died with Christ, and we live with Christ. The Easter Story is not just a legend. It is truth. It is God’s story and it is our story. Alleluia!