Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nostalgia or Lament?

How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!..... ” (Lam 1:1a)
Regret – that it could have been better
Relief – that it could have been worse

When Wendy Murray Zoba’s husband committed adultery, her hopes of a near-ideal marriage crumbled. Everything else that made sense for her suddenly lose meaning. Her marriage was over. Her life was shattered. Her search for God became more teary and weary. She needed a miracle to ever recover emotionally and spiritually. What can she do? Did she regret what happened, or was she relieved that it was all over? Sometimes it is simply not possible to do either. One simply needs to go through the painful process. The question is: Where does our lament lead us to? More specifically, WHO does it lead us to?

We live in a world where there are many troubles. It does not take long for a young Christian to realize that the Christian life is often not like a nice bed of roses. There are challenges too. Israel learned it the hard way through its painful exile to Babylon. The biblical book of Lamentations is a detailed cry of pity over the loss of Jerusalem when the Babylonians sacked her around 586 BC. Written poetically and in acrostic manner, Lamentations is a structured form of poetry. Some people may even suspect that it was written for a funeral service. The sadness deepens as the author looks back at how Jerusalem lost its crown (1:1c), betrayed (2), exiled (3), abandoned (4), and utterly disgraced. The twin emotions or regret and relief play strong. Three observations can be made regarding this sense of lament. While Jeremiah laments, he is always looking back to God.

1) Lost Potential
Unlike the recent death of Michael Jackson, where some tries to milk his death buy selling more wares, the author Jeremiah makes no effort to ‘profit’ from the destruction of Jerusalem. The words in Lamentations reflect his grief over the loss of a once-great nation. Some of us who mourn, only have a few short words or phrases. Jeremiah on the other hand, wrote acrostic poetry, amounting to 5 chapters and 172 verses in Lamentations! A nation that was once 'great' among nations, has now become a forced laborer (Lam 1:1). What a loss.

2) Lost Promise
Not only has the nation lost its independence, it became subjected to the rule of its enemies (Lam 1:3). What happened to God’s promise about Israel becoming the nation of nations? Did God forsake Israel and his covenant? Will there ever be hope for mankind through Israel? At one look, it seems that it is the LORD who has 'caused her grief' (Lam 1:5). Verse 1:18 reveals the reason for Jerusalem's demise, their rebellion. Thus, it is Israel's rebellion that caused their own downfall. Israel has rejected not only the promise but the Promiser.

3) Lost Peace of God
The word ‘Jerusalem’ literally means ‘foundation of peace.’ How can a nation that is supposed to bring peace to the world, now becomes ravaged by war and drained of any power to bring peace? It is one thing not to be able to do something. It is yet another not to be able to live up to one’s name.

The sins of Jerusalem caused Israel to lose all three; Potential, Promise and Peace of God. In this state, life can seem meaningless and helpless. Lamentations is a call for us to mourn over the sad history of past Israel. Yet it should not be allowed to become an end in itself. We have a choice. We can remain trapped in the past or we can choose to look forward. The last verse of Lamentations is a guide for our prayers.
Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days of old
Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.” (Lam 5:21-22)
What About Our Own Regrets?
Did Wendy Murray Zoba remain in a state of limbo, lamenting her own personal losses? No. She pressed on in her faith. Her personal story debunks the myth that a Christian life ought to be one that is ‘untarnished and sublime.’ Our Christian life is not simply "Prayer of Jabez" nature where God gives us all the nice things in life when we ask for it. Sometimes, it needs to be "Prayer to Jesus," where we need to pray, 'Have mercy on me, O God, for I am a sinner." I believe the 'cry for Jesus' prayer is far more Christ-centered than the 'Prayer of Jabez.' The former seeks God's mercy, while the latter seeks God's prosperity. The former seeks to be released from the pressures of sin, while the latter seeks to indulge in the pleasures of multiple blessings. If we claim to follow Christ, we need to mirror his heart (for God!) and not become infatuated with material riches (for gods).

As Wendy Murray Zoba tries to climb out of the painful seasons of her life, she recognizes that it is not coming to the end of the tunnel that brings her hope. It is actually God walking next to her in the tunnel that brings frequent consolation. A precious lesson she learned was from St Francis of Assisi.
"He was a pilgrim, stripped of life's easy consolations. Life as a pilgrim had but a single purpose: to have eyes to look for the unexpected, to imagine possibilities, and to remain accessible to the voice that speaks." (Wendy Murray Zoba, On Broken Legs, NavPress, 2004 153)
Thought: If you are always asking for nice things, you are prepared only for nice results. Whether nostalgia or lament, if you learn to seek NOT mere things nor only niceness, but instead the Face of God, you would have learned that the Christian journey is not one of joy or sorrow, but of companionship with the One you love.

Question: Where does your personal lament or nostalgia lead you to? Does it end in self-pity or does it lead you back to God?

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