A Necessary Lament

When we built our worship center nearly 10 years ago,
our community was in a time of transition.
A long-term senior pastor had recently left
to assume a denominational position,
a kind-hearted interim had come to guide us
through the building process,
and I was serving as general encourager and history-bearer for all of us.

Construction took a little over two years,
and as we neared the end of it all,
we invited the entire congregation to travel over
from the gymnasium
(our worship-home for ten years)
to the still rough-around-the-edges new space.

We handed out felt markers to everyone
and gave this word of instruction:
“Everywhere you see plain concrete beneath your feet,
take a marker and find a space that is yours alone.
Write down your name,
and if you have a family, write down their names, too.
Then, next to your names, write a favorite scripture verse
or other words of worship.”

For the next hour or so, about 300 people spread themselves
across the front of the sanctuary
and down the aisles, right into the foyer.
And everyone got down on the floor and wrote.
When it was finished, we had a wild looking collection of
words, names, dates and love.
There were hearts and flowers,
there were whole sections of scripture.
One adolescent who sang in choirs
wrote out the entire mass — in Latin.

It was a stunning and beautiful sight to see.

About six months later,
as all the final details were coming together,
we laid down some lovely, soft, green carpet over it all —
all the words, all the promises,
all the names of the body of Christ in this place at that point in time.

Anyone who was not a part of us then would not know this.
But those of us who are still here,
who cannot imagine being anywhere else —
we know it’s there.
And we thank God for it.
It is a beautiful picture, a hidden treasure,
a reminder of bedrock,
our foundation, the ground beneath our feet,
the place on which we stand.

When times get tough — as they always do —
we remind one another:
“Remember that Sunday? Remember those words?
Remember how blessed we were to see it all spread out like that?”
We carry that sweet, secret autograph party in our hearts, 
and when we need to, we pull it out and look at it, again and again.

Remembering.

We were not sad that day,
though we were feeling the weight of transition.
We were not fearful that day,
though we wondered what sadnesses
might lie ahead of us.

Since that time, surely not always or even very often,
we have indeed had occasion
to feel sad,
to feel fearful,
even to wonder where God is,
to sense an absence where once there was presence.

Such wonderings are a part of life, a necessary part of life,
providing a necessary season of lament from time to time.

Why necessary?
Why spend time in lament?

Because we all need to remember who we are,
and who we are not;
to remember that we need saving;
to remember that we cannot do this life well
by ourselves;
to remember that there is a Shepherd
who truly loves us crazy, lost sheep.

Every.Last.One.of.Us. 

The broken ones,
the unhealthy ones,
the frightened ones,
the wandering ones,
the little ones.

The ones who fake it really well,
and the ones who don’t.
The ones with gigantic chips on their shoulders,
and the ones who always think somehow,
they’re to blame for something or for everything.

The ones who cheat on their taxes
or their spouses,
the ones who sit in judgment on everyone else.
The ones who cannot hold things
shared in confidence,
the ones who cannot find the courage
to share the things that matter.
The ones who bleed neediness,
the ones who don’t know
how truly needy they are.

ALL of us need to remember where help is found,
to remember again the things that are hidden.

We all need to know that we stand on the promises,
we stand on the Word,
we are loved and kept and saved,
even when all feels lost. 

“Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us
that we may be saved.” 

 Three times, the psalmist cries out these words in Psalm 80.
In the midst of confusion,
loss, painful suffering and sin,
the only hope for the community of Israel
is God.
God alone.

The people are ‘eating tears,’
the vine of Israel is dying,
rotting away.
Where is God?

Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
    at your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
    the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
    revive us, and we will call on your name.

 Even here, if we read with the eyes of the early church,
even here, buried in the ancient, worshipping words
of a traveling, tribal people,
we see signs of the Shepherd,
the one who tends the sheep and who is the vine,
the New Vine,
to whom we are grafted,
and in whom, we are found. 

The One to whom we cry out: “Restore us, O God.”

Restore us.

 

My thanks to Don Johnson for his fine sermon on this psalm this morning, to Bob Gross and Pam Herzog, our intentionally small worship team, to Jeanne Heckman and Martha Johnson, who fought back their natural urges to create an altarpiece with a dying vine, to Sherry Peterson who offered such beautiful words in prayer (many borrowed from Flora Slosson Wuellner – if you don’t know who she is, you should),
and to Jon Lemmond, who read scripture, powerful scripture,
for us to contemplate as we entered into the preaching time. 

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Laura, Jennifer, em, and Ann today:

 



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Comments

  1. Just what I needed to read…as our tiny congregation seeks God for what is next. It’s a strangely calm, beautiful time of trusting. For all the reasons you’ve listed here, Diana.

    When I was growing up, my mom always let me decorate my own room. I’d choose the paint, the wallpaper, the curtains and bedspreads. Before the new color or paper went up on a blank wall, my mom gave me crayons and markers and pencils and let me leave my mark on that wall. My creation was covered up, but I always knew — I know even now — I belonged there. I meant enough to my mom that she let me write my name on the wall in permanent marker. And, a few years ago, when my husband and I had new carpet installed, he painted our family name on the subfloor. For all the reasons you’ve listed here.

    • Praying for wisdom for all of you, Deidra. Such a hard time! And I LOVE your mom’s centeredness and creativity. Wow. Wish I’d thought of that before I wallpapered EVERY DANG WALL IN THE HOUSE (it was the 70’s you know?) when my kids were little. Brilliant.

  2. Dear Diana,
    This was a blessing to read tonight. Thank you!
    Love,
    Susan

  3. This is beautiful. That you know that worship is happening in the hidden places, all those treasures right under your feet–must make your heart throb. It does mine just thinking about it.

    • Thank you, Sandy. It’s been a sweet part of our community story, a piece that’s coming to the surface just now as we’re searching for a new student/children’s ministry person.

  4. This is beautiful. This is true. Thank you, Diana.

  5. I’m thinking about the day that the new carpet will be laid -maybe you’ll wait a week or two, just for praise at the alphabet at your feet. Loved this!

    • Great idea, Sue. Don’t know if I’ll be around when that happens, but what a lovely thought. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

  6. ALL of us need to remember where help is found, to remember again the things that are hidden.” I was encouraging someone today and as I did I realized everything I said to her was what I need to hear, things needful sitting hidden just below my knowing waiting for truth to be remembered. A confirmation landing here today.

  7. Thank you, Diana, for your sensitive message.

    “The ones who bleed neediness”

    That’s me, all right!

    “ALL of us need to remember where help is found,
    to remember again the things that are hidden.

    “We all need to know that we stand on the promises,
    we stand on the Word,
    we are loved and kept and saved,
    even when all feels lost.”

    So, in the midst of my lamenting, at times when it seems like there is too much “lost”, and not enough “found”, may I remember Jesus my Savior keeps me and sustains me. Always. In ways that are clearly seen, but also in ways that to me, today at least, seem hidden.

    • So sorry that this is a heavy season for you, Marilee. I’ve been there and it’s tough sledding. I’m glad you found hope in this piece and pray that you will remember those places in your story where God has been there. It helps to hang onto those when God feels distant.

  8. Ruthie Dutton says:

    Diane,

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I love the specific reminders of all the kinds of people we are and that our Shepherd truly loves us just as we are. It is reminder, for me, to go below the paper and paint most of us wear and to seek for the hidden beauty within another.

    • Ruthie! So happy to see you here – thanks so much for commenting and connecting. Indeed, looking below that paint and paper is holy work, work that I know you do with those you minister to.

  9. This really touched my heart. How amazing to be a part of such a beautiful act of faith. Hallowed ground.

  10. Oh, yes–the foundation of faith beneath our feet. I think of all those families, all the trials they’ve faced, the scriptures they have hung on to, and all the miracles they’ve experienced. And what a privilege, even for a brief time, to witness that physical representation on the concrete of the church members’ faith. What a wise thing to do! Even those who were not there to participate must remember, now and then, the legacy on which they stand. Just hearing about it makes me think of my foundation–family and friends whose influence has shaped my faith. And I say, “Thank you, Father, for the imprint upon my life of your saints.

    • It is a gift, one that we do need to remember, maybe more often than we do. The human mind tends to go with what it sees. It’s really good to think about all that we cannot see but is still true.

  11. This is stunningly beautiful Diana. I need to read it over and over. It ministers to me in a very special way. Your wisdom and beautiful heart bless me so.

  12. We do need to remember who we are and who we are not, mostly who God is. I find solace in the psalms because after every lament, there is a “but God” that brings the hope of redemption. They carried me through 18 months of sadness. I’m grateful for the laments now in a way I wouldn’t have been before that time. They are like memorials of His faithfulness. Love this Diana.

    • It takes those times to more fully embrace and appreciate the laments in Psalms, I think. They are such a rich gift and I’m grateful for them regularly! Thanks for coming by, Shelly. Always happy to see you!