A month ago I wrote a blog post on the power of lament. I described my personal process of lament as I struggled to come to terms with the radical changes our world is going through.
I discovered how important it was for me to allow myself to feel and be with, the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing—bringing them before God and admitting my fears, grief, and pain, instead of pretending they didn’t exist.
I also discovered that lament is not about whining and wallowing, but about acknowledging honestly to God my feelings of fear, anger, and struggle and working my way back to faith.
As I’ve shared my thoughts on the importance of lament with numerous people, God has continued to give me deeper insights. One recent conversation with a friend reminded me of the process of orientation as described by Walter Brueggemann in his book, Praying the Psalms.
Brueggemann writes that human beings regularly find themselves in one of three places:
A place of orientation, in which everything makes sense in our lives. This is the familiar day-to-day life we have become accustomed to. It is comfortable, reliable, and predictable. In terms of the current day, this would be for most of us, pre-corona virus.
A place of disorientation, in which we feel we have sunk into a pit. It happens when our world collapses around us and we feel that there is no way out of the deep hole into which we have sunk. Life, as we know it, has changed in some way—we have experienced loss, death, a change in circumstances, health, or finances. Life feels unsettling, scary, and unpredictable. Disorientation often brings emotional pain and suffering.
Richard Rohr would call this liminal space: a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing, “where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. Our old world is left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence.”
My friend calls it “the messy middle.” This is the place most of the world finds itself right now. We have left the old way of life as a result of the pandemic and we are not sure how long this season of disorientation will last, where we are going, and what life will look like on the other side.
The third place is new orientation or re-orientation, in which we realize that God has lifted us out of the pit and we are in a new place full of gratitude and awareness about our lives and our God. We have moved out of the unfamiliar into a welcome place. We accept the “new normal” and understand that it is God who has brought us here.
The challenge for us all is disorientation.
We don’t like to be uncomfortable. We don’t like life to be disrupted. We don’t like change. And we certainly do not like pain and suffering.
If we’re honest, most of us would prefer to skip this place and go directly from orientation to reorientation.
To avoid disorientation, we look for ways to numb, to escape, and to keep the suffering at bay. Unfortunately, if we do this indefinitely, we not only keep the pain at a distance, but God as well. We may ultimately move into reorientation, but the residue of pain, grief, or loss keeps us from being fully engaged in the new.
How then, do we navigate through a time of disorientation?
We learn to lament. Lament is the language of disorientation. On those days when our emotions feel overwhelming and more than we can handle, we can bring them to God. Lament helps us stay current with the condition of our souls and brings us into the place of intimacy and presence that we so desperately need and desire. Lament does not change our circumstances, it changes our perspective.
Graham Cooke says this, “This worship isn’t done in order to have God remove the pain. It simply recognizes that God stands in the moment with us.”
We learn to wait. Richard Rohr reminds us that liminal space (or disorientation) “is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us.”
He goes on to say, “If our liminal spaces are approached intentionally and within community, rather than staying paralyzed, running away or going at it alone, we can boldly approach it and confidently move forward into our futures” (or reorientation).
We let go. Reorientation is not a place we arrive on our own. It is not an accomplishment, something we can force, control, or make happen. It is pure gift. God’s grace. We learn to release our hold on expectations and trust God with it all, believing that He has a plan for our future.
Jeremiah 29:11-14 speaks to reorientation:
‘For I know the plans and thoughts that I have for you,’ says the Lord,
‘plans for peace and well-being and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call on Me and you will come and pray to Me,
and I will hear [your voice] and I will listen to you.
Then [with a deep longing] you will seek Me and require Me [as a vital necessity]
and [you will] find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,’ says the Lord,
‘and I will restore your fortunes and I will [free you and] gather you from all the nations
and from all the places where I have driven you,’ says the Lord,
‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ (AMP)
There is no formula to follow.
There is no 10 step program that lays out the abc’s of when and how to arrive.
We cannot rush the process.
Our times are held in God’s hands. As we learn to be honest with God, as we learn to embrace change and wait upon Him, and as we let go of our expectations of what life should look like on the other side, we will gradually move into this new place God has for us.