Those of you who heard my sharing about my brother, Tim’s death, will probably remember my reference to the importance of “staying on the dance floor” with God when we’re in the midst of trials and troubles. I was alluding to a concept from Michael Card’s book, A Sacred Sorrow, in which he talks about the purpose of lament in the Christian’s life. In talking about Job’s response to the terrible things in his life, Card points out Job’s response after finding out that all his children had been tragically killed. After he tears his robe and shaves his head . . .
What he does next is totally unexpected, even unimaginable. Until this moment nothing remotely like it has happened in the Bible. Till now Job has responded as he should have, as he was expected to respond, as you and I would probably respond. What he does next seems unthinkable, almost impossible.
“Then he fell to the ground in worship.”
That response alone determines the rest of his experience in the book, both good and bad. It must have been that aspect of his spiritual life that had caused God to boast about him in the throne room scene in the first place. Job is the sort of man who will simply not let go of God. To him, is what worship means. He will stubbornly cry out in the groanings of this lament, which is worship until God answers. As Brueggemann would say, he refuses to leave the dance floor until the dance is done.
So my question for you is whether you are still on the dance floor with God about whatever is causing you to lament at the moment. I’ve been asking myself the same question . . .
“The Silence of God.” That’s the name of a song on Michael Card’s CD, The Hidden Face of God. After my talk last Monday night, one woman mentioned to me that the part of my talk that gave her the most hope was when I talked about the “door” that I experienced at one point coming down between me and God. She hoped that I would talk more about that sometime, and I promised her that I would. I have recently been reading the book Michael Card wrote, of the same name as his album. In one chapter, he writes about Jesus facing the silence of God–during His agony in the garden. Christ calls out in anguish to His Father.
But where is the response of God? None of the Gospels record a single word. The answer to the most impassioned plea of the Son of God was the silence of God.
God spoke audibly at least three times int he life of Jesus: at the baptism (Matthew 3.16-17), at the “coming of the Greeks” (John 12.28), and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17.5). In both instances in Matthew God says, “This is my Son.” The words are addressed to the witnesses, not directly to Jesus. . . . In John, at the coming of the Greeks, in response to Jesus’ prayer “Father, glorify your name,” God says, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” But Jesus’ explanation of the Father’s words to the crowd hint that perhaps, even here, God was not talking to Him. “This voice was for you, not for my sake,” Jesus says.
These incidents hint at something that is extremely sad and also wonderfully encouraging at the same time. Perhaps Jesus, even Jesus, lived His life, as we all do, within the context of the silence of God.
We usually imagine Jesus’ prayer sessions as “sweet communion.” But perhaps more often they were like the time of bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps this garden prayer was more representative of His entire prayer life. I must say that this thought brings a certain sadness, to think that still another part of Jesus’ suffering for me was that in His Incarnation, He chose to be silently cut off from God in the same way that you and I are cut off. And yet at the same time, it fills me with a hope that is beyond words, that Jesus, even Jesus, in experiencing every part of humanity (except for sin) knew what it was like to call out to the Father and hear only the silence of God in response! If this is true, you and I are not–and cannot be–alone in this frustrating experience ever again. It means that every time we suffer the silence of God, it is an occasion to be brought closer to Jesus. It means that He has chosen to join us in that silence and fill it with His understanding Presence. (Michael Card, The Hidden Face of God, pp. 152-3)
It’s worth quoting again. One of the quotes from the talk I gave last night at Witnesses to Hope, that is. It’s from Michael Card’s book, The Hidden Face of God:
“Those who are lost in this wilderness of grief, most especially at the loss of a child, have come to know that there is no comfort for what they are experiencing, no morning at the end of this long dark night. Theirs is an honest hopelessness that sees with a disturbing clarity through their tears that there is no hope. It simply does not exist . . . anywhere. Neither is there the seed of the hope that it ever will exist.
“At this darkest stage—in order for comfort to exist—it must be created out of the nothingness that smothers the sufferer. Comfort ex nihilio, which is to say, a comfort that can only come from the God who alone can create something out of nothing.”
So if you feel hopeless and that you have nothing, that’s actually a very good place for God . . . who loves to create something out of nothing.
Thank you to all of those of you who were at my talk last night. Thank you for being such a warm and safe environment, for “sitting with me.”
Two songs are coming to mind today. One was written by a friend of mine, Kitty Donohoe, on 9-11 which she was later invited to sing at the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial. The name of the song is “There are No Words.” Michael Card in his book, A Sacred Sorrow, talks about the importance of lament in our lives, the need to struggle through our griefs to God, as Job did. In listening to Kitty’s song (which you can do here), you may wonder where God is in it. My take on it is that it’s the beginning stage of a lament, trying to begin to grieve. In the beginning, Job himself cursed the day he was born . . . but he stayed in the struggle with God, and we know the ending. And we know there is “a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long.”
The second song is by Michael Card: “Lift Up Your Sorrows”, an encouragement to true lament, to stay in the pain and grief, wrestling through it to find the Lord.
And one more here, another by Michael:”Underneath the Door.” It is in a sense a testimony to his own struggling through pain in his life to meet God in it. “But our wounds are part of who we are and there’s nothing left to chance/And pain’s the pen that writes the songs and they call us forth to dance.”
A number of months ago, my spiritual director gave me this piece of advice (as I was going through a particularly challenging season of prayer): “Pray out of the anguish of your heart.” It was one of the most helpful things–among many others–he has ever said to me, and it came to mind this morning as I was meditating on Psalm 69, which begins:
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
O God, thou knowest my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from thee.
This is a man praying out of the anguish of his heart. David is being entirely honest with God about how he experiences life. He laments: he expresses his grief, his sorrow, his pain. Michael Card, in his book, A Sacred Sorrow, writes about the importance of lamenting in the Bible–and in our own lives. “From the beginning, David was no stranger to pain. And in the end, it was the process of lamenting his pain that led him to unheard of intimacy with God.” (p. 63) Lamenting before God–truly coming before Him and pouring out our anguish–can open the door to a deeper and much more intimate relationship with Him. Derek Kidner’s comments on these first verses of the psalms also shed light on the fruit of doing so:
This distracted beginning demonstrates the value of putting one’s plight into words before God, for David’s account of his crisis clarifies and grows more reflective as he prays. The desperate metaphors of inner turmoil and floundering (vv 1-2) give way to more objective (though still agitated) descriptions of his state and situation (vv. 3-4), and finally to a searching of his conscience (v. 5). Prayer is already doing its work. (Psalms 1-72, An Introduction and Commentary, pp. 245-6).
So, don’t be afraid to pray out of the anguish of your own heart–as long as it is done in sincerity–and before God. Let the prayer of lament do its work in your soul.