See Your Way to Hope
I sit on the back porch watching my two oldest sons play soccer and giggle boisterously in the backyard below.
Like many recent evenings, I am once again not feeling well.
I like to fancy myself as a kind of Wonder Woman. (I mean, obviously I’m her doppelgänger and often get confused for her. Happens. All. The. Time.) These days, though, I’ve shed my tiara and lasso for a set of rusty armor. Tonight I’m the Tin Man. My illness—which at this point remains undiagnosed but appears to be some type of fun autoimmune disease—inches its way, nondescriptly and bilaterally throughout my body, from top to toe.
Though everything hurts, it’s my hands that suffer most. My fingers are currently frozen in un-pliable, angry fists.
I don’t want to miss out on the boys’ playtime. I refuse to let this disease rob me of these precious days with them. So I do my best to cheer them on from my back-porch view.
I have my journal outside with me to keep at the work of lament (crying out to God in pain) that I began a few weeks ago. Since most laments are expressed verbally or visually, I sense that whatever this process involves, it will help if I can write down a few things. That is, if I can figure out how to grasp a pen. Tin Man’s hands being what they are and all.
The How of Lament
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Notice that David doesn’t run from his sorrow or pretend like it doesn’t exist. He hurls his most vulnerable hows at God, over and over again. This isn’t a gentle surrendering; it’s a reckoning, You can hear the desperation, the anguish of David’s soul. “Look at me and answer!” he demands.
Then somehow in the middle of his outburst, David shifts his tone: “But I trust in your unfailing love.” This is important: David’s reaction to pain begins with complaint but eventually and mysteriously moves to praise. David’s misery hasn’t dissipated. His enemies are still threatening to celebrate his downfall. But still, somehow, David sings his louder song. David has learned to trust the God who initially appeared untrustworthy.
As we learn to surrender our laments to God in the same way, we are actually letting God loose from the neat and tidy boxes we’ve placed him in. We are letting God be God. And as this new intimacy with God transforms us, our laments are transformed into hope.
As for my own lament journey here on my back porch—watching my boys play soccer while my body flares with pain—all of my questions pinball around in my brain, and I struggle to know what to do with them, how to actually offer them to God.
At last, I stop overthinking it, open up my journal and simply begin.
I start by writing down my hows, like David did, just to get them out of my head—which is difficult not only emotionally but also physically. Doing this feels like an act of lament in it of itself. Here are some of my first ones:
How could you let me get sick, God? I can barely function, and my kids are so little! How will this impact them in the long run? Do you even see my family here?
How will Kevin and I get through this? We build walls more than support each other. If you don’t intervene, I don’t know if we’ll make it.
How do I keep working? How do I keep going? How can I do what you’ve built me to do?
How can I grieve my own pain when there is much greater suffering in the world?
I look over my list of hows. I would like to yell them at the top of my lungs, honestly. But I don’t want to scare the kids. So instead, I imagine scattering each one around God’s throne, a messy pile of questions without answers at his feet.
I want him to pick them up, one by one, and tuck them carefully into his breast pocket. I want him to store them like a treasure, safely near his heart. If not that, then I want him to plant them in a garden, little seedlings that grow into something fragrant and lovely, something he watches, waters, and carefully tends to.
There’s this story about Jesus where he spits on the ground, mixing dirt and saliva together to form a muddy concoction. He rubs the mixture onto the eyes of a blind man, giving him sight. If at the moment, your walk with Jesus and your lament journey are nothing more than a mess of dirt, mud, and spit, take courage. That’s enough material to see your way to lament—while waiting for hope once again to appear.
And with Jesus, hope will appear, friend. It will.
Aubrey Sampson is the author of The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament (NavPress, 2019) and Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul (Zondervan 2015). She and her husband are church planters in the Chicago area where Aubrey serves as pastor of discipleship and on the preaching team. Aubrey travels around the country to speak and preach and is a regular contributor to Propel Women.