An Advent Lament

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Each December, we find ourselves in a season of waiting. Primarily, we wait for that baby to be born, to break through the bonds of water and blood and slither down into the dust from which we all emerged. We wait for the baby, the infant conqueror, the one who shows up not as mighty warrior but as a small and helpless human person.

It is the most remarkable story ever told, this one we share.  Scandalous, even ludicrous—a grand and mighty God showing up, looking like the rest of us, squalling, searching for sustenance, blinking against the light. The birth of a baby is always cause for celebration, and this one certainly deserves to be celebrated.

And yet, there is also an undercurrent of sadness swirling beneath the pretty decorations and the sweet smells. An undercurrent that rattles around in my soul and lurks in the corners of my heart, pushing me to pay attention, to make room. Room for the babe in the manger, yes. But also, room for the painful details, both then and now, room for the tears, the anguish, the questions and the loss.

Because there is always loss, isn’t there? This journey we’re on is littered with broken hearts, with pocketed tears and too many regrets. So I wonder—this Christmastime, amid the major key sounds of the pop music that bombards us everywhere we go, can we also make room for the echo of an oboe? Can we sit with some minor chords that might not resolve anytime soon?

Truth be told, there are pieces of our Christmas story that would not sell many Hallmark cards: a captive nation, refugees on the road, poverty, homelessness, murderous kings and the wholesale slaughter of little boys. And right now, this year, amid the joyous gathering of family, the feasting, the children’s sweet singing, the giving of gifts, there are so many swallowed tears, there are questions, there is sadness.

There is, most assuredly, room for lament:

And so, I sing the hard news as well as the good,
the edges as well as the center.
And I sing it all to you, O Lord—to whom else can I go?

Hear me, O Lord. Hear my cry!
Here is the truth: those we love leave us, Lord.
They leave us in all kinds of painful ways:
they die, suddenly or after long suffering;
they betray us with false words and false hearts;
they get lost in the thicket of mental illness.

Sometimes we lose ourselves, too, O God:
we do battle with addictions;
we wrestle with confusion;
we sink into depression or anxiety.

Too often, those who say they love you,
betray you with their words and their actions.
And sometimes, the betrayer is me.

Our children suffer, too, O Lord.
Some of them starve—
not enough food,
not enough love,
not enough hope.

And the children who live inside of us,
the ones we used to be,
they cry out in fear, in need of comfort,
in need of help.

Where are you in all of this?
“Why are you so far from saving us?”

We need to be saved, O Lord.
We need to be saved from ourselves.

We need to be found, O Lord.
Seen, held, understood.

Which is why you came in the first place, isn’t it?
The whole story kind of hinges on that piece.

If I were you,
I might have done it differently.
Maybe a cushier entry into this crazy world of ours,
a softer landing.

(Does everything have to be so hard?
Even for you?)

Then again, maybe that’s the point.
You do see us, you do hear our cries,
and you acknowledge all our pain
in the best possible way …
by joining in the journey, walking right beside us,
becoming one of us.
Thank you, thank you.

Of course, I am still sad, O Lord.
I still weep with my friend who lost her husband;
I still wonder about the young mom struggling through cancer;
the little boy with half a heart;
the family that lost their home;
the marriage that ended badly;
the presence of racism and sexism and hatred,
all around me and also within me.

I still wrestle with it all.

But I don’t wrestle alone, do I?

So I will sing the song of lament
and I will sing the song of thanksgiving,
and I will learn to hold them both together.

For you are my help, O Lord,
even when I am sad and discouraged.
You are my help, O Lord,
my strength, my song, and my hope.

Selah.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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  • Thank you for this, Diana.
    This is beautiful and sits so right: “So I will sing the song of lament
    and I will sing the song of thanksgiving,
    and I will learn to hold them both together.”

    • pastordt

      Thank YOU, Idelette, for your encouragement and support of this interesting Advent idea.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Diana, this is the most exquisite piece from you that I have ever read. Thank you for this raw honesty. We need it. I needed it, particularly. I’m not in a good place emotionally, and this lament gives me room to breathe and to grieve. So often Christmas is about putting on a happy face. And yet our Jesus, the one who came to save us, was a man of sorrow and grief and the one whose face the soldiers beat, whose beard they plucked out, who was no longer recognizable, marred beyond recognitoin. Jesus understands our pain, as you suggest. Sometimes, when depression smothers, and I ask why, I don’t think of Christmas, but of Good Friday. And when I want even to accuse God of allowing all this wretched suffering in the world, He reminds me of the Cross. I can’t escape the Cross. It’s not that I necessarily understand the why of suffering more, but that God suffered more than I, more than you, more than anyone. And then I realize He didn’t have to, but wanted to. And it’s then that I can’t escape the love. His love overwhelms the suffering, even when played in a minor key. The key will resolve one day, won’t it, straight into a major key in a major chorus of Hallelujah! Wow, you wrote this so stunningly, and again, I thank you for your honesty. It’s the only way out of pain: to admit it and let it bleed and not cover up the pain.
    Blessings,
    Lynn

    • pastordt

      Thanks so much for these kind words, Lynn. And you’re right – “his love overwhelms the suffering, even when played in a minor key.” And AMEN – the only way out of the pain is to let it bleed and not cover it up. Always appreciate your encouragement and insights.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        thank you so much Diana. I attended a women’s ministry “circle” today and several ladies expressed such deep pain for various reasons during this Advent season. I immediately thought of you and your lament, and told them about it. Oh my! Again, I am so grateful that you have expressed this, because most people don’t — especially in print. I will be directing them to your post this evening for comfort, compassion, and permission to grieve.
        Bless you.
        Lynn

        • pastordt

          Thanks so much for sharing this with friends who are in need of a place to be real this Advent, Lynn. You are a gifted encourager, that is for sure.

  • Bethany Olsen

    This is beautiful, Diana. I’m sure feeling the lament part of this season, and your words give me hope.

    • pastordt

      I’m glad to read that, Bethany. And thanks so much for your help with this one.

  • Laura Klassen

    Thank you.

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Laura.

  • Minor chord music is my favorite. Especially at Christmas. It seems so fitting, so deep, so expressive of what we keep hidden in the depths of our hearts. There is a longing filled with hope for something that is not yet, which we choose to believe will come to be when the time is right. The lament captures the waiting and the expectation of our heart’s cries being heard. This post is beautiful. Thank you, Diana.

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Jamie. And yes, I love the minor key music, too. In fact, I’d venture a guess that about 95% of all the Advent songs (as opposed to Christmas songs) are in a minor key. It fits, doesn’t it?)

  • Gwen Acres

    This Advent Lament says it all! Thank you Diana for taking words and making them speak life and hope to our hearts. You have an amazing gift!

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Gwen.

  • Helen

    Thank you for these beautiful words echoing so much truth. This year the season of Advent seems starker than ever both globally and personally. Learning to hold lament and thanksgiving together is a beautiful way of describing the tension in my heart. Thankful today for a community of women the world over who embrace this tension and support and carry each other through it with words of wisdom and actions of love.

    • pastordt

      Thankful today that YOU are a part of this sisterhood, dear Helen. Thank you for these kind, good words.

  • fiona lynne

    This is stunning. It felt like everything went quiet around me as I read. And I could hear it too – this would make such a powerful spoken word performance, a reminder to our churches in the midst of this too-fast-too-loud season that there is space for lament.

    • pastordt

      I never even thought of that, Fiona. But I think you’re right. In the middle of the community – that’s the place for these laments. For now, however, we’ll ‘hear’ them as we read – so glad you did.

  • ” Because there is always loss, isn’t there? This journey we’re on is littered with broken hearts, with pocketed tears and too many regrets. ”

    Poignant. Every word in your post spoke to my heart. Thank you for this.

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Ganise. Thanks so much for letting me know this speaks to where you are this Advent. I think many of us stand there with you.

  • Sandy Hay

    So much of your writing today is hitting me right on. Your words are helping me bring together thoughts that have been floating around in my head . I hadn’t thought of them as lament but now I know they are. Actions that make no sense; words or lack of words only looks that cut to the core. “I still wrestle with it all. But I don’t wrestle alone, do I?” No I don’t wrestle alone. Thank you Diana.

    • pastordt

      You are welcome, Sandy. And I’m sorry for those ‘cuts to the core,’ my friend. Truly.

  • Helene Burns

    Thank you Diana…thank you for giving expression to what our hearts feel. These words brought me to tears just now…
    ‘Then again, maybe that’s the point.You do see us, you do hear our cries,
    and you acknowledge all our pain
    in the best possible way …
    by joining in the journey, walking right beside us,
    becoming one of us.
    Thank you, thank you.

    I so appreciate you… with so much love, Helen xo

    • pastordt

      That feeling of appreciation is deeply mutual, Helen. I’m grateful this spoke to your heart today.

  • Yes yes yes. Goosebumps and goodness, all around.
    I so get this.
    Thank you, Diana.

    • pastordt

      Oh, thank you for this! Goosebumps even? That’s weirdly nice to hear. 🙂

  • “… we wait for that baby to be born, to break through the bonds of water and blood and slither down into the dust from which we all emerged.”

    Wow. I’m always stunned by *how* human Jesus was.

    Water. Blood. Slither. Dust.

    Wow.

    • pastordt

      I tried to find words that would help us remember that. We so easily forget, don’t we? And now you know this reality, up close and personal, don’t you??

      • *shudder*

        Yes. I do.

        🙂

        • pastordt

          To this day, I remember the shock of that first birth experience. (I was living in Zambia at the time – did you know that? 47 years ago next month.) We were 40 miles into the bush but at a beautiful mission hospital and I had a private room – remarkable experience. But NOBODY told me how messy it was, how bloody it was. It is a life-changing experience and it is extraordinarily gritty. THAT’s what our God chose to do. Astounding.

  • Bev Murrill

    My gosh.. what a beautiful post, Diana. I love so many of your lines – the infant conqueror – what a powerful picture.

    Beautiful…

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Bev. Christmas blessings to you and yours.

  • So very beautiful and painful and honest all at once, Diana. So grateful that I can walk through this life linked across the miles to your beautiful heart, my friend. xox

    • pastordt

      Oh, honey – I second that emotion. I am grateful every day for friends like you who walk through life with me through this screen. Truly. May your Christmas be blessed in every way, Patricia.

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  • Meredith Bazzoli

    Thank you for holding the dark and the light in both hands. SO important and SO refreshing

    • pastordt

      Indeed, Meredith – it is important to hold them both, isn’t it? Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  • Diana. I have just been able to come read. But THIS. This is the echo behind all my “OCome! O Come! Emmanuel~” this season. You have written it so beautifully.Thank you.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Coleen! Grateful you found these words spoke truth you needed to read.

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  • Jan

    Thank you Diana. My church read this in our Longest Night of the year service on Wednesday and then we lit candles in memory to remember the light that comes from darkness. Lament in advent. Perfect words. Perfect hope

  • Alex

    Just discovered this post—and wanted to thank you for sharing these words. I work for Jobs for Life, a non-profit headquartered in Raleigh, NC. Every morning at 10AM we pray as a staff, and this morning I led prayer about lamenting during the Christmas season. I read through the prayer you shared in this post, because it was exactly the words I wanted to express. Just wanted to know how it was used and appreciated.