We seem to be living in a world of hurt right now. I feel like the road to Bethlehem this year is strewn with tears. There’s an office party next week that I’m supposed to bring a White Elephant gift to, and I’m considering handkerchiefs.
A week or so ago at church, when we read the scripture for the second Sunday of Advent and I heard the words from Luke 1, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace," I almost stood up in my pew and said, out loud, “Yeah, really? When?”
Because every day, everywhere I look there’s something else, some huge horrific news story, some new assault, atrocity, some act of hate in the guise of politics, or some new small personal story that breaks my heart. I feel like I say that constantly, in fact, in Facebook comments, in response to something some friend or another has posted… “This breaks my heart.” Or “I’m praying for you.”
How often can your heart break?
What difference does prayer make?
Honestly, some days I don’t even know if God is out there, or if God is listening. And on those days when, miracle of all miracles, I can actually believe God hears and cares, I can’t really figure out what God is doing about it, or if God does anything at all.
I recently read a wonderfully honest, beautifully written book, Coming Clean, by Seth Haines, on his walk through his first 90 days of sobriety in which he confesses that to him, God often seemed like “…a man with a set of fancy tops; he had set us all spinning in motion and walked away. He left us to bump into one another, to wobble from time to time. He left some of us to fall to the floor.”
Yeah, I know what you mean.
When my kids were little and came to me in tears I would always ask, “Where does it hurt?” And they would say, “It hurts here.” And I would DO something…depending on the nature of the hurt, either give them a hug or Band-Aid or that red prescription cough syrup they always requested until we realized it was the one with the codeine and they were possibly becoming little baby addicts.
But is there even a point in telling God, “This is where it hurts”?
Sometimes, to tell the truth, I don’t think so.
Sometimes going into Fa-La-La-land and ignoring the crap out of everything seems like the only answer. Possibly aided by a tad of heavily spiked holiday punch and a trip to the Target. Oh yeah, and Christmas fudge. Because we’re allowed to have as much fudge as we want when you put the word Christmas in front of it.
But for some reason, I started thinking again this week about that parable told in Luke 18, often called the “Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unjust Judge.” It’s also called the “Parable of Pain in the Ass Woman and the Asshole Judge.” Ok, maybe I’m the only one who calls it that last one, but you have my permission to use it if you like.
In this parable, Jesus tells about this terrible judge who is finally worn down by an annoying woman. The point of the parable seems to be that we need to be like this pushy woman and keep asking. We need to scream and cry and weep and wail, and maybe God, who often seems like that judge who doesn’t give a damn, can be changed, moved to action, by our pleas.
I also ran across a verse from the Psalms this week that I’d never noticed before.
A verse that made me think perhaps God sees our tears as valuable, important, necessary. The Psalmist says to God, “You have my tears in your bottle.” (Psalm 56:8)
That’s quite a picture isn’t it? God sitting there with this huge bottle of tears. The tears of all of us. Keeping them. Like each tear matters. Makes a difference.
So, yeah, I really don’t understand what God does. What God is doing in the middle of the world of pain we find ourselves in right now. But as much as I just want to go numb, crawl in front of the TV and watch holiday specials until I go blind, I’ve decided to keep trying to name what my tears are for. I’ve decided to not give up yet, to keep going to God, just as my children came to me, saying “This where it hurts. It hurts here. And here. And here.” And believe somehow, Emmanuel really does mean, God is with us. God is always where we're hurting. That Jesus is always born in the longest nights.
I’ve decided, this Advent, to lament like there’s no tomorrow, and not give up hope that there is going to be a tomorrow, a tomorrow that’s better than today, somehow, someway.
I’ve also decided to become a huge pain in the ass to God. I’ve decided to be that annoying woman who keeps asking. And maybe the way I ask is with my tears and maybe it’s with my screams and maybe it’s by walking in Black Lives Matter marches and by calling on our government officials to let refugees into this country, by standing against anyone who says we need to start targeting Muslims. Maybe I ask by knocking down the walls of my own racism and fear and maybe mixed in with the salt of my tears are moments of repentance, when I ask God to let me be kinder on a daily basis, when I ask God to help me forgive others and myself, when I begin to see everyone on this planet like one of my own children, hurting and needing someone to notice, apply a Band-Aid, tell them it’s going to be all right.
And since possibly God is into collecting tears in a bottle, I’ve decided to start collecting my tears too. In a bottle. So I can hold them up to God in an annoying woman kind of way on a daily basis, and say, “Hey buddy…remember these?”
Yesterday I got a bunch of yellow sticky notes, and I’m going to write on them, every day, the names of places where people are hurting, the names of people I know, or who I’ve read about, who are hurting.
I am going to be an annoying woman with a bottle of tears, who isn’t going away. Who isn’t going to go numb. Who isn’t going to quit naming out loud who and what my tears are for. Who isn’t going to quit saying, “This is where it hurts.”
I’m calling it my “Pain In the Ass Advent Devotional Practice.”
And you’re welcome to join me.
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