A Lenten Experience Week 1: Lamenting The Unexpected Life

Feb 21, 2023

For hundreds of years, Christians worldwide have prepared for Easter’s joy by observing Lent. Although predominantly a Catholic and Orthodox practice, Christians of all denominations can and do observe Lent in an effort to prepare the heart, mind, and body for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Known as Tessarakosti in Greek, “the Forty”, Lent is marked on the liturgical calendar beginning on Ash Wednesday and culminating the Saturday before Easter, which equates to a total of forty days, not including Sundays.

The purpose of Lent, in short, is to focus on Prayer (our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness), Fasting (personal sacrifice in order to remember Jesus’ sacrifice), and Giving (responding to God’s mercy and grace by offering the same to others). It is a season of reflection, confession, and service, all leading toward the glorious day when God, once and for all, made it possible for sinful humanity to have full access to Him, through the resurrection of Jesus.

With this in mind, I carefully chose passages from my book, A Faith That Will Not Fail: 10 Practices to Build Up Your Faith When Your World Is Falling Apart, to provide a complete Lenten Experience for you. Beginning Ash Wednesday (February 22) through Easter (April 9), I will send you one meditation per week to enrich your Lenten Season. If you find this experience helpful, you might want to preorder the book itself, which includes 50 days of meditations to draw you closer to the cross.

It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain— and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.

—N. T. Wright

On Thursday, December 30, 2021, as another difficult year marked by a global pandemic ended, a wicked storm moved through Colorado.

Although the storm came with neither rain nor snow, it delivered wind gusts at upwards of 80, 90, and 100 miles per hour. Sitting in our country home forty-five minutes south of Denver, I listened with concern to the howling wind rattling my windows. The months of September, October, and November had been unusually warm and dry as if summer refused to concede to winter. Even December came with sunshine and very little snow. By December 30, we’d had nominal moisture and precipitation. I couldn’t remember another December like it, where sweaters sat untouched in the closet and T-shirts filled the laundry.

After more than two decades in Colorado, I knew that windy days like this one—especially during hot and dry seasons—could spark devastating wildfires. Scrub oak cover most of our eight acres, easy kindling for a wayward spark or strike of lightning. They’d already shed their leaves in preparation for a winter that hadn’t yet come. That Thursday, I listened to the wind as it whistled through our eaves, and I prayed for protection.

It was only an hour or two later that my biggest fear became a reality. Not for our neighbors or us but for the communities of Superior and Louisville, both sitting an hour north of us outside the city of Boulder.

Video footage soon surfaced showing shoppers running to their parked cars at a local Costco and residents fleeing their homes as the wind whipped smoke, ash, and sparks in every direction. The scene showed terror and chaos, an ordinary afternoon in a sluggish holiday week turned to tragedy. Later, I read news accounts of firefighters struggling to save structures at the risk of their own lives, fighting an unrelenting wind that outpaced them at every turn. In spite of their tireless effort, they realized minimal results. Within a single day, 1,084 homes were destroyed by the Marshall Fire. It took months to complete the investigation. No matter, the damage was done, the losses were devastating.

I’ve struggled to wrap my mind around the magnitude of the destruction. In a single day, 1,084 homes, representing 1,084 families, were gone. So many memories, family heirlooms, and photos burned up in the span of minutes. Christmas presents opened only five days before turned to ash. Plans for a hopeful 2022 up in smoke.

Over the next months, these individuals and families filed insurance claims. Some were determined to rebuild, while others couldn’t bear to return and decided to start fresh elsewhere. Regardless, life would continue. It always does. These now-homeless families would build new homes, buy new furniture and appliances, make new memories and celebrate holidays in houses smelling of fresh paint and possibility.

But rebuilding takes years. And before these families could build the future, they had to attend to the ash of the past. Charred remains needed to be waded through to look for surviving treasures. Collapsed homes, little more than cinders, needed to be bulldozed. Losses needed to be cataloged, then submitted and explained to insurance companies. That alone could take months or years. Then, new plans needed to be drawn up, new permits pulled, construction crews hired, foundations laid. Taking stock of losses is a long, painful process.

This story and the painful recounting of it is the best representation I can think of for the biblical practice of lament. In Hebrew, lament means to wail, denoting a demonstrative form of grief, not merely an inward feeling of sorrow. In the Bible, lament is a critical part of worship. And it is always honest and expressive.

I realize that beginning a book about faith with the practice of lament might feel a bit intimidating. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with worship or gratitude? They certainly sound more hopeful. And yet as I considered my experience and likely that of the Marshall Fire survivors, I realized an important truth: hope without lament is like trying to build a home without dealing with the rubble.

To build an enduring faith, you and I must deal with the debris, cataloging the losses. I’ve learned that the grieving is the necessary first step to new living. Like clearing out the ash, lament allows the Spirit to help the heart heal and rebuild.

Just as the cross is necessary to the resurrection, lament is often the path to authentic worship. This means that if you are the one grieving, it is okay to weep. Your losses are worthy of lament. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, and it’s okay to give voice to your anger and anguish.

And if you aren’t the one grieving today, give thanks. And then make space for those who are. Add your tears to theirs. In that way, we together worship the only one who can heal.

 

7 Comments

  1. Martha

    Such a powerful message. I am planning to fast during this Lenten season to focus on the sacrifice that God made and the sacrifice that Jesus made on my behalf. Turning my focus on Gos the father and on the Son. Thank you

    Reply
  2. Linda L Hoenigsberg

    I am so thankful that lament has been finally portrayed as an authentic part of the Christian experience. For too many years we were taught in some of our churches that admitting sadness, grief, or depression were signs that we were allowing the devil to win. We were taught we shouldn’t “confess,” sickness or even a broken bone! The gift of pain (a survival mechanism) was something to reject as something from Satan and admitting it a weakness. The Psalms of lament were never mentioned in sermons in a way that was helpful to our own worship. Thank you, Michele.

    Reply
  3. Cara Venable

    Yes! Every word Linda said!

    Reply
  4. Susan Sage

    This is so beautiful and deeply touching. I have never participated in the time of lament before Easter’s victory. Maybe it’s time to begin. Thank you, Michele, for the encouragement and insight as well as for providing a place to begin.

    Reply
  5. Denise

    Sweet woman! Once again you have brought to life something so many of us have a hard time understanding. You nailed the analogy of the wild fires and my heart just broke for the loss of all of those families.
    I have always found that my weeping (lamenting) emptied out the pain and hurt until there was nothing left but Jesus’s tender gift of hope and restoration! Grief is a topic that comes up so very much with the people who come to me for counsel. I’m so thankful that you are addressing this, and in true “Michele-style” it truly reaches the deepest parts of our soul and encourages us to embrace those hard seasons with lamenting. You are loved and cherished!

    Reply
  6. Diane

    Thank you for your message. It resonated with me. My world has been so radically destroyed by varying circumstances that I can easily relate it to a fire ravaging a home. There are so many hurting people. There is vulnerability, fear, isolation, and a disturbing loss of innocence involved in surviving devastating circumstances. The world seems scarier, darker. Believing God’s unchanging love and timeless wisdom takes special effort. Thanks for bringing real struggles to the forefront. There seem to be moments where I have to be honest with my grief, sadness, and losses. They are too real and heavy to do otherwise. Thank you for legitimizing them. Eventually, our paise through the pain is a precious gift to our Father.
    God bless you, Michele.

    Reply
  7. Lenore

    Michele…. your words are a gift. Thank you for being willing to use your gift of words to help those of us who need to understand grief on the journey to home. My heart is truly grateful.

    Reply

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