Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with them is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
1 Kings 19:4-8
19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”
19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.
19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
Well, it’s good to be with you this morning. I’m especially thankful for today because it’s our wedding anniversary. So I’d like to give a shoutout to my awesome husband Eugene Shiu. You don’t know how much support a minister’s spouse gives for me to do my job well. Happy anniversary baby, and thank you for encouraging me always to be the pastor God calls me to be. So in light of that, I’ll share a story about us to open up my talk today. It’s a little cheezy but hey, it’s my anniversary! Today’s talk about is about grief and lament, so I think I can start out with a little cheeze.
Ugly Crying to God
So, Eugene and I met at church in a small group. It wasn’t an ordinary group, but an intentional 12 week series on the Enneagram where you reflected with a group of people about your personality type, your blind spots, your sin tendencies, your childhood trauma that shaped your worldview and so forth. So yeah, a great way to get to know a person. And because we got to know each other in that context, our first few dates were already very intense with vulnerable conversations about ourselves. I remember sitting at a bar next to him and over drinks, at about our 3rd or 4th date or so, and he would assure me that I could share anything, that there was no judgement or shame from him. And I hated that because, I’m suppose to keep my crazy in at least until 3 months into the relationship. But he kept making me feel safe. Kept affirming me for all that I am in that moment, no matter where I’ve been, what I’ve done, or what’s been done to me. But it was those early conversations that became the bedrock of our relationship. To be completely open and vulnerable, honest, even about the ugly, well especially about the ugly. And I think, that’s love. Can I totally ugly cry in front of you and will you still think I’m beautiful?
That’s why I love today’s Psalm because this is a picture of a guy ugly crying to God in his prayer. He says, out of my depth, I cry to you Lord. I’m at my worst God. I’ve hit bottom. He says, Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
Do you hear me God? Do you see me crying out to you, Lord?
His prayer progresses and evolves. Like a real conversation where emotions arise and shape the interaction.
A wave of anger,
Are you listening, God?
A crash of guilt,
Oh if you saw all my iniquities….
a moment of understanding receding like an ocean wave,
I’ll wait, I’ll wait for you.
Resurgence of hope and proclamation,
For with the Lord there is steadfast love!
What an honest prayer. And the Psalms are great examples of the kind of prayers we can have with God. Because God can take our anger, our grief, our lament. The question is, can we? Can we face our pain? What do we think that God does with our hurts? And what do we do in the face the pain and sorrows of those around us?…Those are my points today, What do we do with our pain. What does God do with our pain? What do we do with the pain of others?
Facing our dark side is not a fun or easy thing to do. C.S Lewis in his book, A Grief Observed says,
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
It’s not pleasant. It’s not a welcomed guest when it hits us. Like a stab of loneliness that suddenly comes when the house is quiet and internet is not working. The reality is, it’s not whether you face it or not, it comes to us.
A Spanish mystic from the 16th century named St. John of the Cross wrote an extended poem called Dark Night of the Soul, as an inevitable pathway to knowing and experiencing God fully. He describes this experience of facing such void, a spiritual crisis of sorts, a place where God seems absent and distant, a place where tangible affections fade, where you soul is faced with the darkest of the night. He compares this journey to the life an infant, who once was held safe in the tender care of a loving mother, enjoying the sweet milk of her bosom, but soon must grow up to no longer be cradled but walk out into the world. Like so, the spiritual child is released from the first initial joy of God’s goodness, and experiences a dark world. Jesus warned Peter of this, when he was still enamored with love and devotion when Jesus asked him if he loved him and he responded with, Of course Lord! Jesus says,
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. (John 21:18)
In the same manner, we all grow up and are lead to places we do not want to go.
The book Dark Night of the Soul was such a companion to my own dark nights. It endlessly describes the despair, the stuckness, the emptiness, the loss of appetite for anything enjoyable–and it seemed to capture my experience so well. It accounted, for me, words I dared not say, that it felt as though God had abandoned me, and there was no consolation. Speaking truth to the state and the extent of my grief was, an encouragement to me. Have you ever been met with such dark night of the soul? What was that like for you? Maybe it’s a distant memory you’re grateful for getting through. Maybe you’re there now, in and out, week to week. Or maybe you’ve never been really aware of it, but wonder if it’s looming there somewhere. Have you had the courage to face it? Or does it bubble up when you least expect it? Wherever you are, it eventually finds us all. Life has its hurdles of suffering and pain. And if not in life, well, the end of life, even Jesus asked, “My God My God, why have you forsaken me”
So. What are we to do when the dark night comes to us? St. John of the Cross offers again and again to simply be there, he says,
The conduct to be observed in the night of sense is this… let the soul be quiet at rest, though they may think they are doing nothing, that they are losing time, and that their lukewarmness is the reson of their unwillingness to employ their thoughts. They will do enough if they keep patience… all they have to do is keep their soul free, unembarrassed, and at rest from all thoughts and all knowledge, not anxious about their meditations… (p.43)
It says to let the worries rest! Let the anxieties just do its thing. Let the soul rest in the dark. That’s not the advice I’ve received from my mom when things get tough.
[Buzzfeed Comic] What actually happens: vs. What we wish would happen:
What do you do with your pain? What do you say to yourself? Do you welcome it? Or ignore it? What does grief or lament look like for you?
And this dark cloud sometimes hits at the weirdest time too. We find the character Elijah coming to this dark place at a strange time in his journey as a prophet. He comes to this place where he’s defeated and is ready to give up, saying to God, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life,” It’s one of rare places in the Bible where someone is suicidal. Steve preached on this text and about suicide about a year ago called, Yes to Life. If you’ve struggled with this or know someone, check out the talk on our website. I want to point us to the rest of the story, but just want to pause and say Elijah experienced it. It’s a real threat to so many of us and we should all be more open in talking about it. Reach out to one of us the pastors, or a therapist, or a friend.
The crazy thing about Elijah’s moment here is that he just had this epic victory, in the prior chapter, and should be on a high off of it. He had a public showdown with prophets of Baal, all 450 of them, where they set up an altar and prayed to Baal, danced around and asked for fire, while Elijah mocked them saying, “I think your God might be busy? Maybe taking a nap? Maybe on a vacay?” I’m serious, he makes fun of them hard, read chapter 18. But the fire never came. And then Elijah stepped up to his altar, and made this grand gesture to add water to his altar, and boom fire came down and he was like, see my God rocks! So the other guys are really mad and wanted to kill him. So Elijah was on the run, and this is where we find him today. But, I mean, he JUST saw God’s miraculous work vindicate him in front of all his enemies, so why is he so down? I don’t know. Sometimes things hit us at weird times.
Two of my darkest times were right after graduating from UCLA and right after seminary. It’s like when you’ve achieved something, something else seems to be missing. Or the things that you’ve been working so hard for, all this time, doesn’t live up to filling or making up for other things. I remember there were days where I would coup myself up in my room, binge watching Korea drama and eating only cup ramen for days. I would have no motivation to do anything productive, or even shower, or clean up after myself. I had ramen bowls just stacking up on my desk and I was so gross just in my bed for days. The pillow was my solitary tree. I remember praying and crying into that pillow for days, soaking my diary as I journaled… And then I distinctly remember one morning, after another night of twisting and turning in my bed, wrestings with my own thoughts of laziness and disgust, I recall, hearing something other than the thoughts I’ve been saying to myself. It said, “Get up. And wash your face.” And I remember thinking, where did that come from? Because I’ve had no strength to do anything past few days. And it sounded strange, and, so simple, and gentle. Not like the voices I was familiar with, saying why can’t you be disciplined like an adult and cook yourself a decent meal. Why can’t you go out and do something worthwhile and make something of yourself? It was definitely a different voice that I didn’t recognize. And yet, it seemed doable, “go wash your face. That’s all you need to do for now.” And I got up and washed my face.
I remember thinking of this Bible story then too. When Elijah was defeated and laid down, God woke up him gently saying, “Get up and eat” And there it was, beside his head, “some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water!” I mean, who doesn’t like fresh baked bread and a water when they wake up from a nap? And so he ate and drank, and took another nap, and God woke him up again and said, “eat some more”.
God Our Mother
“Eat Some More.” now that is one way that my mom definitely showed me love. That was her love language. Growing up, she would always have something to feed me, fruit, bread, rice cakes, nuts. And in college and beyond, she would come over with tupperwares of Korean side dishes, called banchan, and kimchi, to stock up my fridge. Sometimes so much so, I dreaded her coming cause she’d fill up my fridge and I couldn’t eat ramen anymore. Eat some more.
What does God do when we’re at the end of our rope? God gives us a snack and a nap. I got this from my mentor and friend, pastor Peter Choi. A God who gives us a snack and a nap. This may be a different God than we’ve come to assume for many of us. We’re used to a more of a father figure, that gives us instructions, sets up expectations and goals for us to meet, teaches us to do things. And I know Jesus called God Abba, which was provocative in its time to call the unspeakable name of God YWHW (which they literally didn’t say because it was too holy and that’s why it’s translated as the LORD in the Bible usually), so to call the Lord, Abba was bringing the parental character of God closer to us than ever, rather than insisting that God is male. There are many names for God in the Bible, and many descriptions, metaphors, and anthropomorphized Godly characteristics. God is a Rock. God is a Helper. Sometimes God is sleeping or is jealous or smells things. They all try to get at the true nature of who God is, but none captures it completely.
What would it be like, to imagine God, as a creative theological exercise in expanding our minds about what God is like, to think of God as a mother. A mother who held you in God’s womb and birthed you into being. A mother who nursed you, and you were on her back as a baby, or playing in her lap. A mother when you cried, cradled you in her arms wiping your tears and snot with her sleeve, singing to you? A mother who put you down for a nap and prepared your favorite snack when you woke up. What’s it like to see God like a mother to you? The Bible describes a God like a mother bear that protects, like a mother in labor who cries out for you, as a mother hen who holds you in her wings. What do you think of a God who, in your darkest moment, doesn’t condemn you or is disappointed in you but offers you rest and nourishment?
And if we have a God who can hold and comfort us in our grief, how might we be that for others? In the same way, you don’t need to tell them what to think. Just be with them. And bring them fresh baked bread. It’s a thing we all do naturally. When we see someone take a fall, when we don’t know what to do, offer them a cup of water. When we don’t know what to say in the face of tragedy, start a meal train. When your heart goes out to someone but not sure what to do? Invite them over to your house and cook them a meal.
Jesus in his last days on earth, after his resurrection also fed his disciples, before he ascended into heaven. At the end of book of John, chapter 21, Jesus met his the disciples by the beach. He appeared to them while they were fishing. And when they came on the shore, you know what they found? Jesus cooked breakfast for them, “fresh fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread” it says. And Jesus said, “Now come and have some breakfast!” Sweet Jesus, again, who doesn’t love a beachside cookout? After he fed them he asked Peter, “do you love me? And he replied, you know I love you. “Then feed my lambs” Jesus told him. And he asked again, do you love me?” and Peter replied again, “Yes, Lord you know I love you!” “Then take care of my sheep” And he asked again, and Peter got hurt, “Lord you know everything!” And Jesus repeated the last time again, “Then feed my sheep”.
Let me wrap up with the summary on our programs.
What are we to do with our pain?
In your depths, cry out to the Lord. God can take it.
Face your grief. Let the Dark Night of the Soul come. Welcome lament.
Be gentle with your pain. Let it rest. Let it do its thing.
What does God do with our pain?
In our times of despair, God offers us a nap and a snack.
The loving mother God holds you, dries your tears, will feed you and cradle you in her arms.
What are we to do with the pain of others?
Journey with those through grief and lament, with bread. Feed them.
May we be the children that cry out to our Mother God who hears us, comforted by Her everlasting love and grace, and fed and nourished, go out and feed the hungry, feed the hungry, feed the hungry.
I want to end this time by giving us a chance to rest with a song. A time for us to just sit and take in and be washed over by this scripture text, Psalm 130. Out of the Depth, I cry to thee…. Let us listen and take in this prayer: