“This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit…”
Lamentations 1:16 (NIV)
I don’t really believe in coincidences, and I believe that everything is connected. Thus, I try to pay attention to patterns and connections.
Yesterday morning I read of the death and devastation caused by tornadoes across multiple states.
Later in the morning, I spoke with a friend among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday who is experiencing acute grief after the loss of a child.
“I can’t smile,” they said to me. “I try to do it. It’s like I’m physically incapable.”
After delivering the message in the next worship service, I was handed a note and asked to announce to our local gathering the death of a long-time, core member. He was once Wendy’s boss, and he a transformational presence in her life.
Yesterday afternoon, the blog post of an acquaintance landed in my inbox. It’s another installment in what I’ve observed to be a somewhat fashionable trend of late among a younger generation deconstructing their faith and waxing eloquent about the failings of the church/institution/Christian_brand of their youth. This individual wrote:
“I have lived…years in the company of people (and have been one myself) who are very quick to pose a theological short-hand as the solution to all of life’s woes. And when that theology fails, it is simply a problem of not believing enough.”
For the record, I don’t begrudge anyone their own spiritual wrangling on this earthly journey. Everyone has their own path to walk and their own story being told. I’ve observed that entire generations have something of a collective spiritual path. Nevertheless, it made me sad.
A couple of years ago, our local gathering went through an unprecedented season of death. I don’t remember the exact numbers but it was something like almost 200 families in our gathering experienced the death of a loved one in a period of about 18 months. This included infants, toddlers, and the son of a Pastor, who was just in his twenties. Thus, each Advent season we’ve had a Sunday we call “Blue Christmas” in which we remember those we’ve lost, and we give permission to grieve for those in the midst of it. We try to respectfully, lovingly, and sympathetically walk alongside. We do our best not to let the empty, sentimental schlock of the season distract us from the reality that there are those among us walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
Our local gathering handed out candles, along with a blessing, to any who wanted a light to remember those they’ve lost this Christmas season. Wendy picked one up as we left worship yesterday and delivered it to a loved one in the afternoon in remembrance of a key family member who passed years ago and in recognition of the recurring grief that comes with that loved one’s absence every Christmas.
Having connected all of these experiences in the past few days, I’ve decided to journey through the ancient, poetic book of Lamentations this week. Written by the prophet Jeremiah after the siege and fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., it is a lyrical expression of grief amidst the realities of suffering and death that we can scarcely imagine. Suffering and grief for which there is no easy theological solution. More on that as we walk with Jeremiah in his grief throughout this week.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself grieving those like the acquaintance who find themselves in the company of those whose faith is “a theological short-hand as the solution of all woes.” I pray they find new company among those who choose not to deny the woes in this life for which there is no solution, but for which there is sympathy, empathy, consideration, and wordless companionship on the walk through the valley of death’s shadow. I’m grateful to live among such company, and I’m thankful that in the Great Story there’s are entire books dedicated to the realities of incomprehensible suffering and grief.
I pray for all for whom this Christmas is a Blue Christmas.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.