Living this side of Heaven leaves us in moments reeling with confusion, anger, and disappointment. We simply do not have the whole view. Resurrecting the practice of Lament gives us language to express our sorrow and sit in the uncomfortable place that cannot be resolved quickly with human answers. Our ancient spiritual ancestors understood this place which is who scripture is filled with examples of prayers of lament. Job, Psalms, Lamentations bear witness to people wrestling with living in this place of in-between.
How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions! 18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. Psalm 35:17-18
Western civilization moved away from sitting with the unknown and quickly embraced rationalism as the opportunity to find answers. While our Imago Dei certainly affirms a God who infuses his human creation with creativity and diverse gifts and skills, we cannot solve everything. And that is a good thing. Because recognizing our limited human power can catapult us into His presence. And we become like a children unhibited and vulnerable clamoring for comfort from their parent in a state of despair and posture of surrender.
It’s time to resurrect the practice of lamenting. To acknowledge that we can’t always fix suffering, whether intentionally inflicted or not, with pat answers, platitudes or “microwave” solutions. Sometimes we have to sit in the pain and recognize that God is in it with us.
Aubrey Sampson, in her book, The Louder Song, writes, “Lament says, “God you have described yourself as one thing, but my life, my community, and my city currently reveal something totally different. Please! Help me see your hand in this. You broke the power of evil on the cross and at your resurrection-so please be victorious again! Show me your goodness again!” Let us offer up our questions unhindered to God who “sees” us in our pain. He’s waiting.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
The journey to new things is often uncomfortable. Certainly anyone familiar with the laboring process recognizes the intense pain that arises prior to the birth. Sometimes the pain must be endured for a short time. But other times, it just doesn’t unfold that way and the pain lasts a long time as new life prepares to emerge.
Certainly, we all have experiences with waiting for the “birthing” of something new. A job, reconciliation with a friend or family member, physical healing, or resolution to a conflict or hard decision. Some of these journeys involve individual narrative contexts. But some point to collective experiences in the wilderness.
God’s promise here, as spoken through Isaiah, addresses all of the Israelites. They, as a group that was called to bear witness to the “I am” turned away from their covenant. And the consequences hurt. God’s path toward restoration involved letting them reap the consequences of their sin. Did every single man, woman, and child commit the sinful actions that angered God? of course not. But we all belong to each other and our sins can never be contained to a single violation of another. The ripples spread in our sea of humanity.
Despite, Isaiah’s words of pending discomfort through an upcoming exile in chapter 43, hope still existed. God has always been in the business of new things. Israel had lost their way. The result would be painful for generations. But they have the opportunity to reach toward “new things.” Birth preparations are beginning.
So it is with us. We, in this country, feel birthing pains. A new thing is in process. Trusting God means we who are committed to paving new roads toward racial justice have to stay the course. When it’s hard. When escaping hard conversations becomes tempting. Blessing will come in the refining. God is making things new.
Leaning into voices different from our own points us to the vast mystery and beauty of our Creator. We are privy to seeing more of God’s character and work through sharing life with the diversity of Image bearers. Here are some people that I have found helpful in my own journey. Please explore and find multitudes, not just a few. And of of course, build relationships with diverse people in your community and online spheres.
We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others?What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?
Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now?How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?
Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.
It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.
None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.
We overcomplicate it. We forget that parenting doesn’t take tools, it takes relationship. We want our kids to behave so we read a book on “The Top Three Ways to Stop Your Child From…”. We look to counsellors and medications to “fix” our children.
The need to feel connected… and then counselling, medication, and books can add to the solution. You don’t start here, you start with connection.
When we were struggling to figure out what was happening with our son at the young age of 5, getting a diagnosis helped us understand what we were dealing with. Knowing he was struggling with clinical anxiety, depression, oppositional defiance disorder and ADHD gave us a framework to work with, but it couldn’t end there. Diagnosis only gives us a view “under the hood”, it doesn’t “fix the car”.
Anger was his way of saying, “HELP ME!” Opposition was his way of saying, “I feel out of control! Look at me!” The more we searched for outside help without giving him the relationship he needed but couldn’t ask for, the more the episodes of rage increased. It hit its peak at 8 years old when he became suicidal.
All those years of us trying to help him clinically only created a bigger problem inside. He was taken from us for three weeks to stay in the children’s hospital mental health unit. Even with our daily visits, his anxiety only increased with the separation.
The hospitalization was good for the doctors to observe him on meds. The medication helped our son become more reasonable to connect with. The problem was, I was expecting the time in the hospital and the meds to fix my son. I expected when he returned home that everything would become “normal”. But it wasn’t, his rages continued.
I remembered what one of the psychologists at the hospital had said to me after I mentioned I send him to his room when he throws fits of rage. She said, “Oh no, you never send the hurting away from you, you bring them closer.”
I started keeping my son close to me when he would rage. I made connecting with him the number one goal, not fixing his outward behaviour.
I started getting curious about what his anger was trying to communicate with me. I would sit in the room while he would rage, reassuring him that I was there to help no matter what. I would stick by him.
He belonged in our family. Over time as I consistently did this, I watched my son soften. I saw him go from dysregulated to peaceful. The more I made connecting with him my priority, the more regulation I saw.
Healing the brain, with human touch
The number one thing I have learned through my experience with my son along with 20 years of working in resilience and seeing other children go through similar is that we can’t expect clinical answers to solve a mental problem. Our brain heals differently than our body.
Our body responds to clinical answers: a cast for a broken leg, surgery to remove a tumour, antibiotics for a virus. Our brain is healed through human touch. It literally rewires as when we feel connected, secure, and loved. If we don’t start there, the brain lives in its basement: cold, dark, on edge, never trusting and ready to pounce when there’s a threat of attack.
What does being stripped away from your family for 3 weeks do to an already anxious child’s brain? How does it feel when mommy is always yelling at you to do better? How do you cope with all your big emotions when there’s no one strong and safe enough to hold them for you? What does a counsellor’s office look like when all you feel is there’s something “wrong with you”? How do you feel about taking meds when you feel those around you are only trying to control your behaviour?
But how does all of this look when you know you belong? When you know your family is a safe haven? I’m not stating hospitalization, counselling, and meds are wrong. I’m stating it’s not where we start.
As we connect with our children we build trust and safety. From there we do what is needed whether that be medication or counselling. And when trust is built with our children, they are more open to receiving help because the relationship has opened the neuropathways to receive help.
Parenting starts with relationship. Connection is always the first step before “fixing” behaviour.
Connie Jakab is the owner of The Jakab Co and the Senior Manager of Wellness Innovate – two companies that are all about changing home and work environments for mental health. She is also the author of Bring Them Closer and two other books. Connie is passionate about rebelling against status quo living and encouraging others to branch out. She is also the Director of National Hope Talks and the Hope Movement combatting mental health in Canada. She is a sought out speaker for her raw honestly and humour. Connie drives her passion outward into the arms of those wanting something more radical and meaningful in life. She lives with her husband and two boys in Calgary, Alberta Canada.
“That’s not how we normally do it.” As a substitute teacher, I am often confronted with that phrase as I begin a task in the classroom. The teens, seem to roll with the change. The younger kids? Not so much. They thrive on routine as a framework of security.
All of us, to some extent, need regular rhythms to inform our days. They remind us of purposes outside ourselves. My kids don’t always want to take the garbage can to the curb every Monday night but they do it because it shapes their purpose in our family and contributes to the helpful rhythms and functions of a community.
However, sometimes, the routine changes. If a holiday falls on a Monday, garbage day moves from Tuesday to Wednesday. It means we adjust by writing it down and changing our routine. We recognize that the extra day benefits the garbage collectors so their work week doesn’t start until Tuesday. And we learn that flexibility is an important learned skill.
Currently, everyone around the world is grappling with flexibility. The perceived “normal” structure which frames our lives is changing. Truthfully, without a pandemic, it can happen at anytime. Nothing is guaranteed. And if we reflect on our lives, we recognize that we have encountered numerous seasons of “normal” that all look different from each other. And without realizing it, we adapted. Even when those “normal” places felt exhausting, inconvenient, and confusing. We did it because Jesus breathes life into us through all times and all places.
This “new normal” may look different for us as individuals, communities, and nations. But rather than clinging to the familiar frameworks as idols, let us instead cling to God’s mercies as we learn to adapt again. We have been there before. And so has God.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9
“Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we raise our kids in a “church bubble?,” asks Traci Rhoades in her new book All Who Wander (spiritually) are Not Lost. She throws out an interesting question. Certainly, we don’t want our children to become “church consumers” where multiple congregations repeatedly become one stop shops to meet spiritual cravings. On the other hand, what do our children miss when they do not experience the diverse traditions that make up the the Church (with a big C)?
Learning About the Church
As I read her book, I realized the ways my own encounters with multiple churches have shaped me. As a child, my family found roots in a Methodist church about 20 minutes from my home. Mostly our rhythms consisted of Sunday trips for Sunday School and worship but occasionally we attended other events. Initially, this building and it’s members were the only images I had of the Church. To me, church involved developing relationships with people who had a common goal in a confined setting.
Expanding my Narrative
The location of our church extended beyond our neighborhood. I saw no one from school there or anyone in my periphery. Several of my friends got out of school early once a week for catechism class at the local Catholic church. I felt a bit jealous that a) they got to leave school early and b) they got to be together at school and church. For me, church was a once a week destination.
But then my eyes opened up to a bigger picture. Friends invited me to a vacation bible school program at a local congregation. The language was familiar and I learned that walls do not define a church. They too spoke of God’s love and shared the same Bible stories I knew.
The Importance of Organic Connections
This new church building became a familiar place not only to attend VBS but also the location of my girl scout meetings. Though these encounters never resulted in my family changing congregations, they shaped my faith journey in ways I didn’t realize at the time.
Despite the brief “back door” interactions with this church, I experienced repetitive interactions with Pastor Andy. He was friendly, funny, and seemed well liked. I even remember him preaching one time (probably at a VBS centered Sunday service) and he talked about Bozo the clown. My understanding of God, the body of Christ, and its mission expanded through these seemingly small interactions. In addition, I felt comfortable engaging in more church settings outside my own. Church represented a safe space where I felt welcomed and where I could explore the vast and diverse Kingdom of God.
Identifying the End Goal
Often, congregations lurch toward the big gains of inviting people into their midst. How many people will be added to our number? What will be the financial benefits? When programs and building usage do not result in seeing the participants return for regular involvement, the church is discouraged. Shouldn’t fruit appear from the investment?
It depends on what kind of fruit is being sought. My experience as a child, disciple, parent and pastor informs me that any interaction with the church acts as an introduction/touch point through which Jesus is made known. Even opportunities to use space for community events. Those who cross the path may or may not result in settling at “our” church but that’s not the end goal. We as the Church are in this together.
Traci Rhoades’ question points to the need to be mindful of a bigger narrative of Christ’s church than one with which we are familiar. Her own journey through multiple traditions witnesses to the beautiful ways we can connect with God and others when we step outside of comfort zones. When I do pulpit supply, I find blessing in experiencing the breadth of the church. My children come along as well because my husband and I want to expose them to this beauty.
As we learn to embrace these differences rather than responding with fear, labels and avoidance, others will see God’s love tangibly. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.
Beauty radiates from this basket. And I’m not just referring to the goodies.
My nineteen year old daughter bought these gifts for me. With her own money. I told her that dad could have paid for them when they went shopping. But she resisted, stating that she specifically wanted them to be from her.
Her choice of items here represents her intimate knowledge of my likes. She knows from a lifetime of shopping trips together that I have occasionally dropped a bag of iced animal crackers into the cart. I have negotiated with her about sharing the peanut butter snickers from her Halloween bag. And, together, we have taken advantage of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Happy Hour more times than I can count. Plus we have enough syrups at home that we could open our own coffee shop.
Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. We try the best we can but inevitably words said in anger and postures of withdrawal rather than embracing wound. And guilt ensues. Questions fester. Why did I say that? How did I get to this place? The temptation is to let those moments define us and our relationship with our children. But God’s mercies abound.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
So we forge forward, securing our feet in God’s promises. Today, I am thankful for the grace offered to me through my daughter’s gift. Sometimes a healing balm looks like peanut butter snickers,a coffee cup, and iced animal crackers.
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 1:3-8)
Originating in the Garden of Eden, humanity has sought control over life this side of Heaven. Seemingly, tasting the full knowledge of good and evil promised security. But we are the created. Not the Creator. Thankfully.
Left to our own devices, our vision of “good” is skewed.
The passage from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God’s goodness may not resemble our expectations. Living in undefined territory feels uncomfortable How can something seen as “good” paradoxically become “not good” in a different context? Messy boundaries demand surrender to a greater understanding of creation. How about the Creator? (My ways are higher than your ways).
Currently, we struggle with “a time to refrain from embracing.” Knowing that scientific evidence points to the life-giving properties of touch and the sacred nature of our relationships with one another, refraining from touch seems to run contrary to God’s design.
But what about those paradoxes?
Perhaps, we can reframe them as purposes rather than paradoxes. Scripture attests to times when touch was life giving and when it was not. When it was life giving to weep and when it was better to laugh. When we hold onto one action for the sake of security, it becomes an idol. Letting go and embracing it’s alternative, allows us to trust that God is by our side in the midst of it all.
May we continue to seek the Holy Spirit as we navigate the messy parts of life. Knowing that what may seem purposeful for a neighbor may not be for us. As we do that, we recognize that God really does have the whole world in his hands.
They are everywhere. As I attempt to navigate my days around them, I wonder what I might be missing. Voice bytes of those who have descended down their openings beckon me to investigate them too.
However, delving in leads to following tunnels that may lead to nowhere. The hole morphs into a corn maze. And before I know it, I have become distracted. Large amounts of time were consumed with nothing life giving in return.
Tish Harrison Warrens’s words in her book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, whisper, “How you spend your moments is of course how you spend your days.”
I pray for wisdom and discipline to keep my eyes focused on what’s worthy of investigation. When to recognize that I have let the quest for information become my idol. I need to focus my gaze up at Jesus rather than down into empty holes.
Changing my rhythms allows me to prioritize and discern my movements. Where are my steps leading?
A. http://bipolarchild.com/ B. http://stephaniejthompson.com/home/help-that-wasnt-in-the-book/ C. http://www.tiltparenting.com/ D. https://www.drmanipavuluri.com/ E. https://childmind.org/ F. https://www.thekennedyforum.org/ G. https://www.nami.org/ H. https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/special-needs I. www.keyministry.com J. https://www.adhdchildhood.com/
A. The Bipolar Child, Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos B. What Works For Bipolar Kids: Help and Hope For Parents, Dr. Mani Pavuluri C Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, Amy Simpson D Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry, Amy Simpson E. No More Fear for Kids: A Family Devotional Jo Hannah Reardon F. The Dark Side of Innocence Terri Cheney
G. Bring Them Closer Connie Jakab
A.The stigma of raising a mentally ill child (youtube-”60 minutes”) B. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/18/you-know-that- mom-who-isnt-joining-in-the-proud-of-my-kid-conversation-yeah-ask-how-shes-doing/ C. http://mudroomblog.com/people-think-kids-apples/
D. http://www.embracingtheunexpected.com/did-god-choose-the-wrong-mom/ E. https://annvoskamp.com/2016/09/when-youre-living-a-life-you-didnt-choose/ F. https://themighty.com/2018/10/phrases-to-calm-an-angry-child/ G. https://themighty.com/2016/03/how-a-parent-can-calm-their-anxious-child/ H. https://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2018/12/7/the-most-isolating-thing-ive-ever-experienced I.. https://thewildword.com/normal-parents-should-know/
Books for Kids: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/610484/tornado-brain-by-cat-patrick/?ref=PRHB3B3009F49&aid=33375&linkid=PRHB3B3009F49&pdivflag=1&fbclid=IwAR1xxw-ynRM4eN2Eewd8OFPg3b2Jr3ucY-B—CHADpH_qJ24JOVDm–tb8