by Ryan Thurman
Do you feel it? In the quiet and unguarded moments. This sense that there must be something more to this life. Deep meaning that integrates history and reaches into the future and fills the present moment with purpose.
Why are we so easily seduced into a narrow and superficial life. Why do we settle so easily to a life of passing pleasures and trivial distractions?
"Faced with problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility: escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. But today, I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape.” -John Paul II
We live in a society that is created to distract us in relentless and ever-creative ways. The advertising industry is not unaware of our propensity to consumptive distraction. Marketers spent over 295 billion dollars in total media advertising in 2007. Perhaps they know that humans mistakenly equate vitality with the ability to consume. Our souls are both restless and troubled so we move from one distraction to the next, which increases our restlessness Giving ourselves over to this cycle leads to a deadening apathy and a quiet desperation.
We will never shake our compulsion to distraction until we are captivated by something more compelling.
This something is actually Someone. God who created us in love, and alone can satisfy us, captures our hearts with His love and beauty. As Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Even though we experience the gift of belonging to God and being brought into His family and given the great dignity of being involved in His work of redemption it does not exclude us from suffering and pain.
To be human is to suffer
Every day we experience some level of pain and suffering, whether it be physical, emotional or relational. The world is full of broken people colliding into one another and the results are devastating. We feel entitled to a life of happiness, and desire to feel good, at all times, and at all costs. When suffering comes, we often put all of our energy into finding something to distract us or alleviate the pain. Sadly, we often miss an opportunity for a deeply intimate and transformative encounter with Jesus that happens in suffering.
If Jesus wants to meet us in our suffering how do we remain in it and not become undone? I believe part of the answer is learning how to lament. God, not only gives permission to lament but considers it worship. Lamentation is a vital aspect of a life in relation with God. Seventy percent of the psalmist’s words are words of lament.
Biblical lament is the practice of bringing our sorrow to God,
and admitting that something is wrong with this world
and with our own hearts.
We then need to become open to the idea that maybe what we need most is a merciful undoing. Entering deeply into our own pain and the pain of the world can feel like we are free falling into an endless abyss. But we can trust that God is strong enough to catch us and can handle all of our honest and uncomfortable emotions. Perhaps God is closest to us when we are in our most vulnerable place of hurt and anger.
Turn to me and be gracious to me
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
-Psalms 25: 16-17
It is the cry of pain that initiates the search to ask God, ‘What are you doing?’ It is this element of a lament that has the potential to transform the heart. Lament is not a relinquishing of faith, but a crying out to the one who suffered for us and still suffers with us.
There is a great gift in learning to lament with others in community. We come face to face with our common humanity and our need for one another.
I have a long way to go personally, I have avoided pain and suffering for most of my life. But I no longer see God as angry that I do not bring my pain and suffering to Him. Instead I see his tears as His heart grieves that I am missing out on knowing His love and healing in a fuller way. I am ready to grow up. I want to trust that with Jesus suffering can be embraced and be used nurture in us a greater compassion and empathy towards others, and also be a powerful creative force.
Henri Nouwen writes, “Suffering is a dreadful teacher but often the beginning of the best in us. Suffering can be like a grain of sand in an oyster: it can create a magnificent pearl”
It is the crushed heart restored by God that becomes the soft heart, the tender heart
God welcomes and receives us as we are. Whether we rest upon His chest in a posture of trust or beat on his chest in raw anger and pain, we do so from within the circle of his arms.
You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love.
Let us run.
-Augustine of Hippo, Confessions