Over the last couple years, my husband and I faced the darkest days of our sixteen+ years of parenting. In low moments I found myself envying friends with supportive parents and extended family members who delighted in helping carry their burdens. Even this fall, as I watched wrinkled, grey-haired grandmas and grandpas show up to track meets and football games and spend time celebrating their grandkids, my thoughts drifted into criticism: “No one is that wonderful! There must be hidden issues somewhere in those families!” Recognizing my familiar battle with envy, I found myself once again lamenting the loss of family and asking for Jesus’ help to trust his promise to never leave me or forsake me.
Facing family rejection and walking the healing path is more like a jungle trek past hidden cobras and flying monkeys than a peaceful, lighted meander through a Thomas Kinkade forest. Lamenting what should be—daughters and sons basking in their parents’ delight of who they’ve become—ebbs and flows but never ceases.
Sometimes I’m surprised by grief—like the September night our son broke the Kansas 5k record, I found myself screaming while filming his finish one minute and weeping the next at the reality of having zero family members share in either our joy or the intimate knowledge of the thousand daily struggles and victories that led to his accomplishment. My son’s success became an invitation to lament—to speak my losses again and find comfort in Jesus’ nearness.
Then just a couple weeks ago, I was chatting with a dear counseling colleague in Chicago who asked me what Thanksgiving was like for me—would I be hosting family, what traditions did I have—and I found myself sharing a snippet of my orphan story. My colleague’s tender heart was pricked and tears flowed as she asked, “So I imagine most Holidays are hard for you, that you grieve the loss again and again?” This dear woman had lost two babies and found Jesus’ comfort in her pain, so she comforted me with the same comfort she had received from Jesus.
However, more often than not, I’ve found sharing my story of loss and orphanhood difficult because when faced with another’s pain, Christians often jump to platitudes like, “Well, at least you have the family of God,” or judgments, “Are you sure you aren’t part of the problem? No parent would reject their child for no reason!” or add to your burdens, “Are you sure you couldn’t have done more?” Some Christians even question your boundaries of love and safety: “A Christmas card or visit can’t do any harm, right?” while others simply change the subject or escape the sorrow of your story by excusing themselves from your presence.
Christians are uncomfortable with lament.
Even though ‘man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ and no one escapes tears—we struggle to lament. “Lament is not natural for us because every lament is a prayer . . . an honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.”*
Lament begins with honesty—naming the harm we’ve experienced and how we feel about it—but it cannot end there. If we stop at naming the harm, we are left drowning in despair or wallowing in suffering. “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust . . . It is the path from heartbreak to hope.” Lament leads us in expressing the grief, anger, and questions that suffering brings: “Why, God, would you allow such evil? Where were you? Do you even care?” But then guides us through the brokenness and disappointment to Christ.
In my own journey and my work as a counselor, I’ve found the transition from naming the harm to clinging to Christ a difficult one. This transition requires us to let go of patterns of control and self-protection and learn to trust that unlike human caregivers, our heavenly Father will never leave us and desires to bring us blessing, not harm.
In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop breaks down the journey of lament into four parts: 1) turning to and speaking with God, 2) naming the harm you’ve experienced, 3) presenting a request, and 4) an expression of trust or praise. The book of Psalms is filled with examples of lament to help us as we speak our specific sorrows and find hope in Christ.
In my own journey, I crafted my lament over the loss of my family from portions of Isaiah 49 and Psalm 55:
“Oh, Lord—can a mother forget the baby at her breast,
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Can a father cast off his daughter?
Yes, they can!
Lord, my parent’s rejection and slander is too much to bear!
No one seems to see or understand. I’m afraid of how my parents
and family members spew hate for me and at me.
Their public speech is smooth as butter, but there is war in their hearts.
Their words appear softer than oil, yet they are drawn swords, and I bleed.
I’m afraid you won’t protect me from their violence. I don’t know who to trust.
I don’t like living afraid of what man can do to me—
I’m always on edge, waiting for the next threat—
The email, the voicemail, the letter in the mailbox,
Of being called into another office by another pastor
Who doesn’t believe my story and sides with theirs.
I hate it—
All this fear and trying to protect myself.
I’m fatigued, I have vertigo, I can’t eat or sleep.
This is not living. It’s living death.
Please help me to trust that though my parents may forget me, You will not forget me.
You have engraved my name on the palms of your hands–
you sacrificed your life for love of me.
Your walls of protection are ever before me.
Though I am ruined and desolate,
Exiled and rejected,
I will trust your promise to contend with those who contend with me,
My oppressors, my family, my familiar friends,
So that all will know that you are truly my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer.”*
Since we live in a world marred by suffering and sin, lamenting broken relationships never ends. Yet, as we learn to lament our losses, we are quicker to turn to our heavenly Father, trusting that His love defines who we are.
We become more like the dependent, trusting child we were meant to be.
*Job 5:7, NIV, Bible Gateway.
*Vroegop, Mark. “Learning to Lament.” Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. pg. 26.