Hope Amidst the Lament

After yesterday’s rant/lament/whine, I need to make something clear:

I would choose this life. This life God has chosen for me.

Yes, I would choose going to seminary, to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, even knowing how things would go, how difficult the process would be. I would choose to leave journalism behind. I would choose to be formed the way I have been formed, by the people who formed me. I am deeply sorry that I have hurt and disappointed people (especially on my first internship), and I do wish none of that had happened. But given the choice, I would choose this path again.

Even in 2012, when I graduated with no prospects and no clear future, I had concluded this.

And if I had to choose between writing a book and being approved for ministry in the ELCA, yes, I would choose the book. Knowing all that followed, and where it has led me. I would choose it. In the midst of a heartbeat. I would not think twice.

Yes, I would choose who I have become in the light of what Jesus has done with me — and yes, to me — over who I was.

It’s dumb, I know, but I dream of a mortgage and a car payment, and a child of my own (or two or three). I daydream of an ordinary life. But it is not mine to have. It is not my calling. It would have been nice to have been a parish pastor, but that’s clearly not my call either.

I often wish I could be someone different. But I also know that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” and in those moments when I am not anxious — because I have frequently found being me more trouble than it been worth — “my soul knows it very well.” God has spoken to me. God uses me. That causes me to tremble sometimes.

I know that I am called to bear witness, to something far bigger than me — to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and what that means, and what it does, and what it creates. I don’t know where that is leading me. I have never known where that is leading me.

But homeless and wandering in the wilderness, entirely dependent on the grace of God for food, for water, and for protection, it’s easy to “remember” and dream of the nice life left behind in Egypt. Even if the rich food and the comfort was only an illusion.

Baking bricks without straw, remember?

I take lament seriously. I do believe there is a place for wailing and weeping and bemoaning one’s fate, and doing so simply without trying to cover it in feel-good platitudes. I love Lamentations, especially the third chapter, where Jeremiah clearly and emphatically claims God is the author of his suffering and his woe:

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
(Lamentations 3:1-3 ESV)

Now, Jeremiah doesn’t end it there, and it’s one of the reasons I find chapter three so very, very powerful:

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:19-24 ESV)

This Lord, who has been breaking teeth and piercing me with arrows is also the same Lord I put my trust in. Jonah’s song (sorry, prayer) from the belly of the fish is similar. God has brought Jonah down, to the depths, deep into the waters of the sea, to the place where God is not (sheol שְׁא֛וֹל), to a place and a state where Jonah will never again gaze upon the Lord. But even in this place, God comes — God is — and rescues Jonah.

Even in this place, Jonah will praise and thank God.

This place — God has brought me down, but I will trust God to bring me up — is where Job eventually finds himself as well, surrendering completely to the work of God (and eventually seeing his material fortunes restored). Lamentations also ends on something of an ambiguous note, acknowledging the inscrutable timing of God:

21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us.
(Lamentations 5:21-22 ESV)

And it’s important we remember, in the very concrete here and now, we can speak of the uncertainty. However, we who follow Jesus know that we also have no such ambiguity. We know who and what our hope is. We know what we hope in. And hope for. Our hope is real. And he is risen.

I do not know what the future has in store for me. I do know that Jesus has told me not to be anxious, not to worry, and not to despair. Seek the kingdom first, and all you need will be added to you. And that’s hard for me right now. That has always been hard for me.

It is not impossible. It’s just difficult. More difficult than anything I have ever done. I have to make my own way — and that scares me. A lot. But I am not alone in this, and I know that. I have been called by a crucified and risen Lord to follow him. He is with me. And so I trust — I have to trust — that all he has called me to do (whatever it may be — I had no idea two years ago that included writing a book!) is possible.

Because he makes it possible.

Yes, I would choose this life. And had he not chosen me first, yes, I think I would choose to follow Jesus.

One thought on “Hope Amidst the Lament

  1. After God repented making mankind, and then repented drowning them, he thought, “I shall call out prophets from among men to speak my words for me. And they shall know tribulations without number and the world in general will make a habit of dumping on them, but – hey – that’s show business.” I’m pretty sure that’s in a Syriac commentary somewhere, right? Akkadian?

    Being a pastor is no easy gig. (Heard some old guy in a documentary once who ruefully said, “If you can do anything else, don’t be a preacher.”) But if you really care about honesty in speaking the Word more than about the favor of organizations, then you’re kinda like a guy I knew who was drafted into the Army early in the Vietnam War, but then some officer had every tenth guy step forward (including this schlemazel) and then told them that they had just heroically volunteered for the Marine Corps. Semper Fi!

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