I recently spoke with a friend as she prepared for our church’s Fall Festival on October 31. They’re headed to India next year. They sent me the cutest photo of their family dressed up as Batman, Batwoman, and cherubic ittle Bat-kids.
I asked if that night’s festival might be hard. The “lasts”, you see, have begun.
It wasn’t, for her. But Christmas with extended family is coming. And while it is deeply good to grieve all the little lasts–last time decorating the tree, last time at the community Christmas parade, last time with Christmas morning in the house our kids have grown up in?
Goodbyes still stink.
Beautiful “Nexts”, and a Lifestyle of “Lasts”
It wasn’t till my own family was near departure for Africa that my mom reminded me we are moving toward something–some beautiful “nexts”.
But for my family? It’s just “lasts.”
It hit me one night in my mom’s living room, my eight-month-old nephew grinning up at me in his diaper. I wouldn’t get to see him grow up except in home-assignment increments and fuzzy Skyped details.
Turns out the “lasts” when we left for Africa the first time would continue into a lifestyle full of goodbyes. Missionary life is transitory.
We watched so many friends leave. My kids would have last playdates, last hugs, last goodbyes at a party where we tried to be excited about friends’ next steps.
What Mourning Says about Your Goodbyes
Years later, I would watch my children cry as, through glass, they watched their grandparents plod through security for another flight back to to the States. But as my husband and I held them, he spoke wisely. “People always told me not to cry. But I want you to cry. Your crying means what you’re losing is valuable.”
Sometimes in our goodbyes, we’re wondering who will pick up the mantle. We’re discouraged and fearful about the future.
But rather than speed ahead with a chipper “God is good! Nothing to worry about here!”, it’s critical we take the “blessed” time to mourn, time to acknowledge and grieve loss.
God grieves, too
God, too, grieves. He knows things aren’t right here; that the Gospel requires heartbreaking sacrifice. That, like Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, knowing resurrection is around the corner, it’s still worthy of weeping over loss.
The modern monk Thomas Merton wrote of
the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ.
Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”…a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms.*
Lament is a biblical norm, practiced even by Jesus on the Cross. Yet sometimes as Western Christians we want to race past the uncomfortable sadness, our “Cross”, and rush to the Resurrection.
Biblically, there is a sad, frighteningly unresolved Saturday in between. It’s when we are simply trusting God always gives more than He asks of us.
Lamenting the Lasts
As you grapple with fear and sizeable unknowns, keep in mind the Bible’s no stranger to lament.
In fact, as you grieve your own losses, Paul implies we might just acquire another invaluable skill for the field: The ability to comfort others well (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
In the Psalms, scholars find a general structure for lament, sometimes sequential, sometimes weaving back and forth between these elements:
Address, invoking God.
Acknowledge this as a prayer, not just an internal struggle. Recognize who God is in His sovereignty, His kindness, His relationship with us.
This author writes, “A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies…it may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt.”
Beg God for action and response.
Expression of trust.
Generally, lament returns to an affirmation of God’s character and trustworthiness. It’s a critical restatement of our hope; of walking by faith, not by sight. To quote Tim Keller on this:
…all true prayer ‘pursued far enough, becomes praise.’ It may take a long time or a lifetime, but all prayer that engages God and the world as they truly are will eventually end in praise.” **
As Graham Cooke writes,
Lamentation is a powerful, and meaningful, form of worship because it places our love for God above even the worst of circumstances in our life…
God does not ask us to deny the existence of our suffering. He does want us to collect it, stand in those things and make Him an offering. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, helps us to do this: He aligns Himself with our will and says, ‘I will help you to will to worship God.’ The glory of the majesty of God is that He helps us will and do. ***
The Overpowering Beauty
As you grieve the goodbyes and lasts, tiny or massive–like Paul (arguably one of the greatest missionaries), it’s the overwhelming gain that helps us muscle through loss:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Jesus, too, set His sights on the joy set before Him as He endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).
In your painful “lasts” this holiday season, may God’s overwhelming gains eventually spur you on to the blindingly bright “nexts” in your future.
*Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), p. 66.
**Keller, Timothy; Keller, Kathy (2015-11-10). The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.