One of the most remarkable lessons I re-learned while teaching for seven years was the necessity of continuously teaching and reteaching the same material over and over. Many fundamental concepts, such as how to hold a pencil, how to visualize numbers, or the mechanics of sounding out and decoding words, required tremendous amounts of time and energy to become automatic for students. These practices did not become automatic until they were relentlessly practiced and ritualized. For some reason, as an adult, I simply forgot that virtually all changes in thinking and behavior take this kind of effort and intentional practice. Nowadays, even as I am two years removed from teaching, I feel like I am once again re-learning a similar lesson on a personal level. I am learning that grief and lament are an unavoidable, necessary part of a life rightly lived before God, yet take tremendous time and energy to learn. I am learning how many of my daily behaviors work against the practice of grief and lament. I am like a young child learning to hold a pencil, gripping the practice of lament with a clumsy baby-grip, complaining when it doesn’t seem to work, and giving up all too easily when it doesn’t feel right.
There is a lot to grieve right now. Amidst the dramatic shifts that have taken place in our world due to COVID-19, Johanna and I have done a lot of extra waiting. We have been eager to try some experimental therapies to treat her illness, especially since her near death in October, but cannot safely visit the clinic when the risk of infection is so high. Johanna’s mast cell disease and underlying respiratory symptoms make the threat of COVID-19 great. So in lieu of appointments and therapies, we have waited at home. Johanna continues to suffer from her symptoms greatly, and each day feels like a trudge through the painful sameness of chronic illness. Dreaming of the future feels far off and distant, like the perusing of an old photo album and remembering time forgotten. These are the perfect times for lament and grief, yet I have done so little of them. Instead, I have let my immature heart cling to its old habits, letting relentless distractions ossify the vital practices of grief and lament. I know this is happening because in my quiet times – in my times upstairs after caregiving for Johanna, or in the morning before I help her wake and get ready – my thoughts run to the trivial. I think of the phone game I like to play, I think of the news I am reading, I think about the next time I’ll get to do something I want.
I am so much like the young child who insists that holding a pencil correctly is, ‘too hard’. Meditating on the losses and troubles of my everyday is painful. It takes continual, intentional energy to quiet my heart before the Lord and pour out my sorrows to Him in song and prayer. In a very real sense it is work. It feels like work to admit that I am deeply discouraged by today, not looking forward to tomorrow, and powerless to fix my circumstances. Yes, this is the painful, continual work of lament and grief, which forces me to my knees in powerlessness, having my controlling hands forced open in weakness. In the same way learning to hold a pencil opens up the world of fluent writing, so learning to grieve and lament opens up a more humble and intimate relationship with God. Lament and grief are not stops along the journey of faith, they are one of the ways I will get to its end.
Who am I to think that I can get beyond what Jesus himself experienced so often in his life? Whether grieving over the city of Jerusalem and its coming destruction, or his listeners’ hardness of heart, or most poignantly in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion, Jesus himself modeled a pattern of grief and lament by pouring his heart to God. I must remember that grief and lament are not one-time moments of connection with God, but the very way I let go of the imaginary control I feel I have. I must also remember my grief and lament are not dead ends. When I recognize that God is control, and I am not, I am putting my trust in His power and plans. I can grieve and lament in hope, knowing they will not have the final word in my life – I can instead remember the empty tomb and Christ’s triumph over the grave.
Once again beautifully said Scott.
Scott, how good it is to read you again. And how timely and necessary your message!
Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing with us what the Lord teaches you through your situation.
A long time ago, when you wrote about the lament, I recognized that I needed to exercise in that practice … but I have postponed it until now! (and I have tried, all this time, to distract myself to “forget” the sadness and pain). I repent, I need to regret before the Lord and receive His comfort and peace.
Thanks for writing again!
I send my love and prayers for you and your beautiful Johanna!
Good to hear from you again, Raquel. May the Lord meet you as you practice lamenting! And as always, thank you for your prayers.
Thank you so much for sharing your heart. Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.
Beautifully written, Scott. “Our strength is made perfect in weakness.” ” We grieve but not as those who are without hope.”
Thank you for the encouragement, Lee! Those verses capture the very essence of Christian lament – I thought of the latter one as I was writing this post.
Thank you Scott for sharing your gift. Prayers for you, Johanna, and your family.
Thank you for your faithful prayers, Karen.
What an encouragement it is to read your thoughts regarding lamenting in our griefs. Living with a similar malady as Johanna, though at a lessor severity presently, I’ve been met with well meaning Christians (and non-Christians) attempting to steer me away from lament. As you indicated we, as humans, tend to want to distract ourselves from feeling the pain of grief. It can be exhausting and some even believe it’s unhealthy. The biblical worldview has always been counter-cultural though and our flesh naturally recoils from suffering. Like you, I see how needful it is to fix our eyes upon the example of Christ in order to truly let lament do a good work in us. I want to know him not only in the glory of his victorious work of salvation but also in sharing his sufferings. It’s hard and sometimes that desire is difficult to hold onto when the pain escalates and I certainly long to be free from this prison of illness, but in my pleas for mercy, the Lord reminds me it is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us! Blessings to you and Johanna.
Amen, Diana! In a world surrounded by the power and comforts of modernity, we so easily forget our utter weakness and helplessness. Your comment is very wise, as it taps in to the very power of Christianity. As you said, as followers of Christ we get to share not only in his resurrection power, but in his difficult sufferings. It is in these very places that our relationship with God can become more intimate and sacred. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Hey Scott: Well said, and very true. Stay strong…
Thank you, Gary. Blessings to you, may you stay strong too!
Wishing your wife a speedy recovery. God is in control… All the love from Tanzania
Thank you Tebo! May it be so!
Well written Scott. Thank you for sharing it. It is hard to intentionally spend the time needed to grieve and process. It is so much easier to distract ourselves and avoid the emotions.
Thank you, Molly. Indeed, remembering to grieve and lament is something I’ve needed to learn and re-learn over these hard years. Blessings to you, I hope you are well!
I so admire your faithfulness in writing through these painful and terrifying times. I’ve been following your story from the other side of the country for 4+ years and think of y’all often
These times are indeed scary, I often don’t know what to think of them myself. I do, however, see the parallels between difficult times now, and the so-often difficult times of the biblical writers. God is faithful, even when we can’t see what’s ahead!
I read this post earlier and again today. Thanks for a needed perspective. You and Joanna touch my heart and since I’m in Wisconsin we are practically neighbors on the world scale!
Hope you can enjoy this beautiful spring in whatever ways possible.
Thank you Greta. Though Johanna can’t go outside, we do long to enjoy Spring together! We hope that day will come soon.
Was thinking of you both today. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for reading, Emily!
I was thinking of you and Johanna and I started to look for updates when I fond your blog. I’m portuguese. I would love to receive booth when everything will be ok at my house in Portugal. Wish booth the best and tell Johanna that if she needs someone to talk about everything ou about nothing, only to spend time I m pleased to do it.
I’ve never met you guys and only briefly heard your story back when you began fundraising to build your house, but recently, out of the blue, you came to mind. I thought, “I wonder whatever happened to that couple…” I also keep randomly hearing about MCAS this month, which is what lead me to finding this blog (I wouldn’t have remembered “MCAS” to find your story and follow up). All this to say, God has you on His heart as he placed these random reminders in my mind. I, a stranger who never followed your story and only read about it briefly, have been woken at 3:00am to find you again and pray for you. God sees you.
Your story of yourself and caring for your wife. touch me. May I ask what country you live in. God does touch peoples lives and will be praying for you.
Thank you for visiting and reading. As to where we live, we live in the United States, in the upper midwest. Thank you for praying for us!