Lament: Beauty out of Bitterness

lament beauty+

 

When pain almost strangles us and darkness is our closest friend, what should we do?

For years, I thought the best response was cheerful acceptance. Since God uses everything for our good and His glory, I felt the most God-honoring attitude was to appear joyful all the time. Even when I was confused and angry. Even when my heart was breaking. And especially when I was around people who didn’t know Christ.

But I have since learned the beauty of lamenting in my suffering. Lament highlights the Gospel more than stoicism ever could. Hearing our authentic lament can draw others to God in unexpected ways. I first noticed the power of lament in the book of Ruth.

I had long seen Ruth as the undisputed hero of the book that bears her name, and Naomi as the grumbling character with weak faith and a negative attitude. But having walked in similar shoes for a fraction of her journey, I have a new respect for the depth of Naomi’s trust in God.

Ruth was an eyewitness to Naomi’s faith. She saw that faith hold fast, even in horrific circumstances. And behind Naomi’s faith, she saw the God who heard Naomi’s lament and didn’t condemn her for it, even as Naomi spoke frankly about her disappointment with God.

Lamenting to a god would have been foreign to Ruth. Ruth’s first god, the god of Moab, was Chemosh. No one would have dared lament or complain to him. Pagan gods were appeased; there was no personal relationship with any of them, especially not with Chemosh who demanded child sacrifices.

But Ruth sees a completely different God as she watches Naomi. Naomi trusts God enough to tell Him how she feels. Though she says that His hand has gone out against her, Naomi doesn’t walk away from God in anger. She stays close to Him and continues to use God’s covenant name, Yahweh, asking Him to bless her daughters-in-law. Naomi doesn’t stop praying; she believes God hears her prayers.

Naomi’s trust is further evidenced by her determination to travel to Bethlehem alone. If Naomi felt that God had truly abandoned her, she would never have begun that journey. She would have stayed in bed, pulled the covers over her head, and died in Moab, bitter and angry at God. But she doesn’t do that. She acts in faith, trusting that God will provide for her.

Naomi’s trust is extraordinary given the tragedies she has endured. She and her husband had left Israel for Moab with their two sons in search of food. While they were there, her sons and husband died and she was left alone. A widow. A grieving mother. A foreigner. With no means to support herself. I understand why she felt that the Lord’s hand had gone out against her.  In my own pain I have cried out to God, “Why do you hate me?” I have retraced my life, wondering why God had turned against me.

But to my regret, I’ve always been very private about my pain. I have hesitated to voice my anger and fears, concerned about what others might think. Lament can be messy and I want my life to look neat. And I foolishly think my bleached prayers somehow make God look better.

Yet Naomi is achingly honest. When she goes back to her hometown, she doesn’t pretend that everything is fine. She doesn’t cram her pain into a closet and shut the door. Rather, she invites others to peer into the dark corners of her bitterness and frustration. She asserts that God has dealt bitterly with her and has brought calamity upon her. She admits that she is empty.

Her words may have made the townspeople uncomfortable. Laments often do. But her humility and utter honesty would have also drawn people to her. They could grieve with her. And they could grieve their own losses too, without fearing God’s disapproval or others’ judgment.

Though Naomi’s words are raw, she speaks truthfully about God. She acknowledges that He is in control of all things and everything is ultimately from Him. Her theology is profoundly God-centered.

Underlying Naomi’s lament is a deep trust and understanding of God. She is not resentful of God and has not turned away from Him. Quite the opposite, Naomi is moving towards God with honesty. She has returned to Bethlehem, to the people of God, and is realistically presenting what happened to her.

And it is in the midst of Naomi’s pain and lament that Ruth comes to know God. Ruth gives up everything to follow Naomi and her God, whom she has come to know personally as Yahweh. She sees His faithfulness through Naomi, a woman who has seen unspeakable tragedy yet continues to follow God, talking to Him honestly and authentically. This is a God worthy of worship.

Our authenticity draws others to God as it allows them to be honest too. God welcomes our lament to help us hold on to Him. He knows our tendency to either pretend everything is okay while we suffocate on the inside, or walk away from God believing that He doesn’t care.

Lamenting keeps us engaged with God.  When we lament, we invite God into our pain, so that we can know His comfort and others can see that our faith is real. Our faith is not a façade we erect to convince ourselves and others that pain doesn’t hurt, but it is rather an oak tree that can withstand the storms of doubt and pain in our lives and grow stronger through them.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Godly lament does not repel people from the gospel, but rather draws them to the Lord; it strengthens rather than destroys the faith of others. When we live authentically, we naturally draw others to God’s grace. Naomi’s pain and bitterness could have pushed Ruth away from God as Ruth saw Naomi struggle with God’s goodness. But instead Ruth saw that Naomi’s hope, even through catastrophic loss, was in a sovereign God who was loving enough to hear and respond to her lament. 

And we can see that God did hear Naomi’s lament and respond to it.  He gave her Ruth.  He gave her Boaz.  He gave her a grandson, Obed, who was in the line of Christ. And He gave her Himself, for that is what her heart needed most.

 

 

photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar
  • April 8, 2016 - 6:20 am

    Evelyn - Absolutely beautifully put. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2016 - 7:33 am

    Elaine - Thank you for revealing a different insight to Naomi’s lamenting. God does want us to be honest, even if we are wrong, he will bring us to the truth. The photo is incredible. It immediately brought the thought of rising from the ashes to beauty. Words and photo are so encouraging.ReplyCancel

    • April 8, 2016 - 12:54 pm

      Vaneetha - So grateful the Lord used the post and picture. My cousin gave me that photo and I thought it was perfect- glad you did too! And its been a blessing for me to see Naomi in a new light too!ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2016 - 9:53 am

    Shawn - “Our authenticity draws others to God as it allows them to be honest too.”

    This is a beautiful post. I feel a little convicted in that I boast about the importance of being transparent with others about the goings-on of our lives, but the reality is that I have only given glimpses of my suffering to those around me. I put on a “stoic” smile and push thru pain so others do not see my pain. But that is not letting them see Gods grace and love thru me. It’s hiding Him. My goal now is to be “authentic”.ReplyCancel

    • April 8, 2016 - 12:56 pm

      Vaneetha - I do the same thing, Shawn. As I was writing this post I was convicted of my own tendency to hide my pain from others. It was seeing Naomi’s authenticity that convicted me!ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2016 - 11:51 am

    Allyson - When I see there is a new post on your blog in my email, my heart leaps for joy! Your words provide such comfort, strength, and support beams for my faith in the midst of much grief. Thank you for your willingness to share with so many who are hurting!ReplyCancel

    • April 8, 2016 - 12:56 pm

      Vaneetha - So very grateful the Lord is using this. Thank you for writing, Allyson.ReplyCancel

  • April 8, 2016 - 1:39 pm

    Trudy - This is so hope-filled, Vaneetha. It’s hard not to put on a “happy face” to others. I’m learning to be more authentic in my writing, but I feel I need to learn it more face-to-face, too. Thank you for this insight. I love the truth that our authenticity “draws others to God as it allows them to be honest too.” Also how He welcomes our lament. He wants us to be dependent on Him and lean into Him. Blessings and hugs!ReplyCancel

  • April 9, 2016 - 11:07 am

    Effie Darlene Barba - Thank you as always for your post. For years I have written little bits of my life interjected into the series after series of writing through scripture one book in the Bible at a time. Being in February, I began writing a series “in Search of Love” as I quite openly am telling the story of my Life including all my frailties, my struggles, my lamenting moments, my sorrows and even my unjust anger against the only source of joy in my life. That was an anger I covered up, hid because of the very fear of proclaiming it–then one day, I screamed into heaven “What do you want? I have tried with all my heart and soul to follow you and you keep breaking my heart over and over again!! Then when my sobbing ended, a gentle quiet voice replied, “oh, my dear dear beloved child, don’t you see? It is you who has broken my heart. You keep looking for joy; but, I am here beside you and I AM Your joy. You want to be loved; yet, you fail to realize the depth, breadth and height of my love for you” All the anger, bitterness faded away and I suddenly realized that all my pain had purpose, all my sorrow had purpose. 1. First it was to display to my heart His magnificent Glory, Joy, and Love that I might know Him 2. It was so He could share with me His Glory–by using my life as a testimony to those who need to find Him. He did not need me to draw others to Himself; but, He graciously has allowed a broken, scarred vessel become testimony to His Grace. So, telling the truth of my story has been a scary thing; but, if it can point to His Grace–well I write on. Thank you for always being open, transparent, and vulnerable in your writing as well. I know how scary that can be; but, I also know how wondrously God is using you.ReplyCancel

  • April 11, 2016 - 6:16 pm

    Krysta Carhart - Thank you, Vaneetha, for continually pointing toward the God who does not require us to be inright-outright-upright-downright-happy-all-the-time (oh, how I loathe that song!). Close to ten years ago, my husband left me and our four small children. I have always had a heart for single moms – never dreaming that I would actually *be* a single mom – and currently work for an organization that ministers mainly to single moms. The women I talk with give me a place to speak into their lives that I would not have had, if our family had survived intact. God redeems all things.
    I agree with the importance of being transparent in the midst of our pain. I think, though, there’s a cost to choosing that – particularly in the Church, where I often encounter people with a need to reframe my pain in a neat and tidy way, in order to make themselves feel better. For me, this has run the gamut from the relatively mild “It’s good that you’re still single, so you can focus on your kids,” to my pastor’s wife saying with pleading eyes, three weeks after my husband moved in with his girlfriend, “You’re okay, right?” (You’re kidding me, right?!) Many well-meaning, caring people just cannot handle the evidence of a God who allows appalling things to happen to the children He loves. And their comments have added pain to an already painful season. Not that this excuses me from being transparent. But I do limit how I share with certain people who, when I share a struggle, seem to need to “put a bow on it.” I’m not sure this is right or good, but it’s what I tend to do.ReplyCancel

    • April 12, 2016 - 7:45 pm

      Vaneetha - I think your perspective is wise, Krysta. We need to be transparent and not try to hide our struggles, but we also need to careful about who we share our pain with- some well-meaning people add to our burdens and don’t lift them. I’m sorry for all the pain you’ve been through but thankful for what the Lord has been doing in you and through you.ReplyCancel

  • April 13, 2016 - 9:56 am

    Imogene Hatcher - Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been there. Whitewashing my pain,
    and fearful of letting others know what was going on inside and only letting them see the fake smile and the pretense that everything was peace and joy. Thanks for the honesty of the above comments. I
    thought I was honoring my Savior and Lord
    through my pretense of joy. Thank you,
    thank you! Imogene HatcherReplyCancel

    • April 13, 2016 - 10:15 am

      Vaneetha - Letting go of pretense is hard and daunting at first– but then it is so very freeing!ReplyCancel

  • April 14, 2016 - 5:11 am

    Ellen - Very authentic writing. God bless you, Vaneetha!ReplyCancel

  • April 14, 2016 - 4:29 pm

    Paula Rinehart - I love the way you bring out the permission part of lament…that
    in the Gospel it’s not only possible to “feel” but to bring those
    feelings to God. many thanks….ReplyCancel

    • April 14, 2016 - 4:39 pm

      Vaneetha - Lament is an amazing gift from God, isn’t it? I love the way the Psalmists modeled it for us so we all have permission to bring our emotions to God!ReplyCancel

  • April 15, 2016 - 1:27 pm

    Jazmine - Thank you so much for this post! I read an article of yours on TCW then clicked on the link to your blog and wow! These words have been a blessing for me! Thank you for your honesty and taking the time to write and share!ReplyCancel

  • April 16, 2016 - 9:39 am

    Joyce Snuggs - Thank God for you , Vaneetha. You have been blessed with the ability to see our God, Lord and Savior change a vessel from brokenness and chadderedness to complete wholeness. It is so very difficult to experience such tragedies in our lives, but it is essential for us to go through these times in order to be what He want us to be. For the last ten months, I have been on a rollercoaster ride and it’s the first time in my life where I have not been the one that was in the driver’s seat. I have finally learned how to totally surrender to Him and let Him take me by my hand and lead me. I tell you it was HARD at first. But at this time right now in my life, I am happy, have more peace and contentment to allow the Lord to direct every step of my life. By the way- this all happen after I told Him yes to become a vessel to take His word wherever He allows me to go. I am happier now than I have ever been at 64. For twenty plus years I have been running from preaching the word, now I’m running towards it. Thanks for encouraging my heart today. God bless you.ReplyCancel

    • April 18, 2016 - 11:37 am

      Vaneetha - I so agree, that God uses the hard things in our lives to draw us closer to Himself. It can be a hard road, but the blessings are incredible!ReplyCancel

  • April 17, 2016 - 7:11 am

    What Else Does the Bible Say? | Boxx Banter - […] Source: Lament: Beauty out of Bitterness – Vaneetha Rendall […]ReplyCancel

  • April 22, 2016 - 6:55 pm

    Toni Keeling - I thank God for your recounting of Ruth and Naomi’s story – trusting God and His Word and trusting God to hear us and love us when we are authentic and lament the losses of life. Your posts, especially this one helped me to really trust God that I could pour out the heartbreak day after day.
    I do feel now that this has opened up a new day for my walk with God. At 71, I do feel a new day dawning, of contributing and loving Him.

    Thank you for being faithful to your call Vaneetha and may God continue to pour out His Blessings through your writings to you and readers.ReplyCancel

    • April 24, 2016 - 9:26 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad that you are trusting God to hear your lament! It opens us up to God in new ways…so excited you feel a new day dawning in your walk with Him.ReplyCancel

  • April 26, 2016 - 4:24 pm

    Louise - As you, Vaneetha, I have always been very private about my pain.
    I still am.
    Because it is usually not safe to be open about it. Unfortunately, that has been my consistent personal experience due to being too different, an “other”.
    There were only a few close friends I could share my deepest sorrows with, people who would not punish me for not feeling and thinking the “right” things.
    Another reason for keeping my sorrow, or my lament as you so poignantly describe it, to myself is that some people would get really worried about me, people who have much to endure themselves. I am really reluctant to add to their burdens by sharing about mine. It doesn`t seem right, because it looks like I am dumping my woes on top of theirs.

    In a weird way I cannot explain, pain, suffering and sorrow has always drawn me closer to Creator Jesus.
    There are a few times when I am blessed to share laments with someone else and we can encourage and validate each other [rather than acting punitively towards each other].
    It also seems like I am going through very specific sorrows to be able to understand and reach out to others in similar situations. That has been a distinct pattern in my life.

    Nothing will happen to us that He does not know about and is in control of. I don`t like certain words, such as control, because they have been much abused and wielded like lethal weapons by some people against other people.

    Creator Jesus is the only one I do not fear or mistrust being in control of His creation and everything the created beings experience. I am not afraid of what he might do in my life, even if I don`t understand it on this mortal side of life.

    As someone wise has said :
    Never doubt in the dark what He has shown you in the light.ReplyCancel

  • June 16, 2016 - 12:12 pm

    philip - Am just from reading your post vaneetha you are blessed,the words you share are so building and encouraging may God bless u moreReplyCancel

  • September 25, 2016 - 1:27 am

    ~Brenda - Found your blog from Desiring God. This entry particularly spoke to me, as I have been in a lamenting season. Will be returning for more wise words from you! Thank you!ReplyCancel

    • September 27, 2016 - 10:55 am

      Vaneetha - You’re welcome, Brenda. Glad the Lord used this.ReplyCancel

  • September 25, 2016 - 3:12 pm

    Cheryl - Krysta, I couldn’t have said the last part of your comment any better. I was thinking the same thing and was going to comment, but you did it for me. I do have a little to add about our experience.
    In the church, there are indeed people who are very uncomfortable with transparency and lamenting. It is indeed wise to be careful who you share your heart with. Our situation does not have to do with divorce, but instead with chronic physical pain/disability, unemployment and deep-seated depression that resulted from the first two. Many have advice as to how they would “fix” our problem and think they are helping by recommending the obvious while not standing in our shoes. But we understand the heart of what they are saying; we know they are trying to help. We mostly keep to ourselves these days not because we don’t want to be transparent and allow our laments to show, but more because they do not seem welcome by most. A smile is most preferred and some have told us so. We have gathered that there is a shameful stigma attached to our situation. It comes across to us that some are kind of tired of our problem and wish that we would “get over it already”. And we understand that too. We have judged others that same way, to our regret. And we have prayed that God would keep us from doing that in the future.
    In our experience, lamenting draws some and repels others. Some people seem to be very uncomfortable with our suffering either because they don’t know what to say, or they seem to want to “put a bow” to make themselves feel better. Our problem is a one of those “no-casserole” kind of problems (like bringing a meal to a shut-in) that you don’t share openly. Our suffering is mostly invisible and sometimes it seems easier to just give them the smiles they want to see. I think that sometimes, especially for men, they are afraid of these very things themselves (disability, unemployment, depression) so they don’t want to talk about the pain or reality of it in someone else almost as if it might be contagious. It has made my husband, especially, feel very alone (and because we are one, me too!). I thank God for the few men who have been drawn to face it with him and pray with him through this season. It has been a long season of waiting on God! But He has been faithfully working on us while we wait for his answer.ReplyCancel

  • October 5, 2016 - 4:56 pm

    Sylvia - Originally, I was looking for information on Naomi and her character for something I’m writing. But the more I read, the more I saw my own sorrow – the death of my own son and husband. How true that we feel we must hide our sorrow! Now, not only do I know Naomi’s sorrow better, I know my own more fully. Expressing our pain to God brings us closer to him. What an insight. Thank you.ReplyCancel

    • October 6, 2016 - 3:40 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad that it was helpful, Sylvia. I learned so much about my own sorrow in Naomi’s response as well. Scripture is amazing, isn’t it?ReplyCancel

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