A book that is now on my ever-expanding “to-read” list is Glenn Pemberton’s Hurting with God. I’ve mentioned Glenn on this blog before; he wrote the incredible psalm of lament for Liam’s memorial service, as well as a moving translation of Psalm 51 for the modern-day psalter Timeless.
Part of the reason I want to read this book is because I deeply identify with Mike Cope’s autobiographical description of a “winter Christian.”
During my years as a minister, I constantly felt the disappointment of some who wanted more confidence. They needed miracles; their minister loved mystery. They loved The Prayer of Jabez; I was embarrassed by it. They turned to scripture as an answer book; I found in it life’s greatest questions (along with an “answer” in Jesus). They saw it as the inerrant blueprint for dating, marriage, job, etc.; I trusted it as my spiritual community’s library of faith. They wanted confident prayers expelling Satan and claiming spiritual victories; I turned to the Lord’s Prayer. They spotted God’s healing everywhere they turned; I kept performing funerals. They needed more “already”; I’m “not yet.” They wanted sermons where everyone could shout “Amen!”; I preached anticipating quiet nods, thoughtful expressions, and eyes moist with hope.
There are plenty of summer Christians on my Facebook feed. Nearly every morning, someone is ringing in the day with some sort of celebratory psalm or phrase of thanksgiving to God for another terrific new day. And on one level, I agree. I am grateful and privileged to be alive this morning; but for many, many others in this world, it’s another day to survive, another day of hunger, thirst, illness, rape, slavery, abuse – another day in which the mercy of death does not come.
Yet many of the same people who endure so much more than I ever have are also followers of Jesus. Their faith remains unshaken by the horrible circumstances of their own lives, even as simply hearing about them makes my own faith quiver to the core.
So, like any good academician, my thought is: If I read books by people of faith who have suffered or are suffering, perhaps I can get a better handle on how I can marry my own faith to the harsh realities of this world. Because, to be honest, most days I find it much easier to be an atheist than to be a Christian.
One of those, which I recently finished, was Twelve Clean Pages, by Nika Maples. Nika was a 20-year-old college student when a lupus-induced stroke left her at one point minutes away from death, but recovered to get her degree, go into teaching and, in 2007, be named the Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Her description of the weeks immediately after the stroke – fully conscious but unable to move or react in any way – are truly captivating. At one point, as she had regained some ability to speak, she asked her father, a doctor, to kill her. But her story of rediscovering faith in God and learning to be happy in each torturous circumstance is remarkable – and a little daunting. Could I be happy essentially chained to a bed by my own immobile body? Could I worship when I couldn’t move or see?
These are questions to which I hope never to have the answers. But I can listen to those who have been through such heartache and tragedy, who endure such pain, and continue worshipping God anyway. If they can do it, perhaps I could, too.
Lament, like winter, is a part of life. I don’t expect ever to have all the answers, but I’d settle for an uneasy acceptance.