I didn’t expect to usher in Lent feeling angry at God, but that’s how it went down.
On Shrove Tuesday, my fervent prayers for a dear friend that I love and walk beside went unanswered. The very thing I’d asked God to prevent, happened. I’d asked God to intervene, but God, it seems, has not. I mourned with my friend, held her as we both cried.
I can’t share details, they’re confidential and too complex, but I felt forsaken: as the Psalmist did, as Jesus did. Where are you? I lament, with tears. Why have you forsaken this family? Did you hear my prayers? Did you decide not to answer them?
Honestly, I feel nervous about admitting my disappointment with God in this season of repentance. Lent, I know, is a time when I am supposed to be lamenting my own sin, not trying to tell God how to do God’s job. This is to be a season of regretting and repenting of my own shortcomings, not pointing out what I think God’s are. Of remembering Jesus’ pain, not wallowing in my own. What will others think of my anger, my sadness, my daring to speak the words out loud: why have you forsaken us?
I’m worried about how other people will perceive my lament, will judge my lack of faith, my demanding questions of God, even though I could pull my prayers straight from the pages in the middle of my Bible:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)
My friend (and I with her) are asking these questions of God. The stark words of the Psalmist accurately describe their pain:
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:11-16)
I know how the Psalm ends—the way those lament Psalms always do—turning a corner from wailing to dancing, from mourning to praise. About halfway, sometimes three quarters of the way, through almost every Psalm of lament, you find this word: “But.” Or sometimes, “Yet.” As in “yet will I praise you.” It’s in verse 19 of Psalm 22. You can look it up but I’m not putting it in this post because to do so would feel utterly dishonest. I’m not there yet. I’m hunkered down somewhere in the first half of the Psalm, lodging a complaint.
Right now, I’m stuck in the dark. Alleluias silenced, my soul shrouded. Prayers seem to have been disregarded, and the Chicago sunshine even feels deceptive as the temperature hovers around 1 degree or so.
I’m not only low on faith, I’m having trouble feeling repentant for that deficiency. My small consolation is that Jesus felt this way—he quoted this Psalm on the cross. Where, it appeared, God had said “no” to (or maybe ignored?) Jesus’ prayer to “take this cup from him.” Though I cannot see him, there’s a deeper part of me knows he’s there, somewhere. Even if Jesus feels far away, these famous words remind me that he’s been in this place of forsakenness too.
My friend, in pain, can’t see Jesus, can’t feel him. So I go, sit with her, cry with her. All I know how to do is just love. I need Jesus to show up through me, to love her through me, even though I don’t have the confidence to believe that will happen.
Oddly, the time I catch a glimpse, as if out of the corner of my eye, of Jesus, is when I am sitting on the basement floor with my friend, holding her as she weeps. What if, when I comfort those who mourn, Jesus is comforting them through me, even if I don’t have the strength to acknowledge that, or even the eyes to see it? Can I be Jesus to someone even in the midst of my own questions and doubts? I don’t know.
Defiantly, I resolve to walk though this valley with my friend, whether or not we feel God’s presence. There is so much I don’t know. But I know this: I will love my friend. I will be with her. I will pray, even when I fear those prayers might be lost in the dark.