The lamenting of Lent feels like it has stretched past Easter for me this year. I spent a large part of Easter in tears, praying for my friend who miscarried another precious baby this past year, my friend whose brother gave his life in courageous service to our country just weeks ago, and my friend who delivered her beautiful stillborn daughter and cradled her perfect little body to say goodbye just days before. And I processed more of my own grief over my beloved Marmee, imagining her spending Easter with Jesus and Kara and Grandpa and my Mamma, her daughter. As time passes since Marmee’s death 9 months ago, I’m learning more about lamenting—grieving with hope—and it’s freed me to explore our relationship.
It was complicated and messy. It was beautiful and redemptive. And because I’m learning to lament, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be afraid of looking back 20 or 30 years to examine who I am because of Marmee’s love and influence and role in my life. Good and hard. I cry a lot and laugh a lot and find joy in new things. Then I cry because she’s not here to share what I’m learning; I realize that it’s her very absence that allows me to have this new perspective, and then I grieve and cry over the brokenness of relationships in this world. Finally, Grace meets me and God lifts my chin, and I find hope in the Restoration to come. This is my new lamenting cycle.
My wise and gracious mentor Amy once painted a beautiful word picture that affected me deeply; I think about it every day, and God is using it to welcome me into his embrace and eradicate shame in my heart. Amy talks about how when God invites me [us] to his table, he invites all of me—he doesn’t just invite the current me or the best version of me. He doesn’t just invite me when I’m working hard or when I’m reading my Bible every day or when I’m living well the Truth of his Word. He doesn’t just invite the versions of me from my life when I’ve been obedient or good or put together. He invites all of me.
When Amy first painted this picture, I imagined a big farm table with warm, rustic loaves of bread and jars of homemade strawberry jam sitting on the tabletop in a delicious welcome. I saw a bouquet of wildflowers stretching toward an unseen window, linen napkins pressed and folded next to empty pottery tumblers that awaited pours of wine or water from nearby pitchers. Dust danced in sunbeams casting a delirious, carefree effect across part of the table. And in the middle of the bench on one side of the table was a kind-faced Jesus with eyes that communicated nothing but delight—there was no apprehension that any version of myself would show up that was not welcome. I watched different versions enter the room and takes seats, eliciting cries of joy from Jesus, cries of welcome and happiness that they were there.
At first, the versions of myself that entered the room were the versions I like the most and approve of most and think would impress the most—the polished and pretty. But as I’ve worked through this vision in my mind over the months, different versions of myself have tentatively made their entrances—the toddler who was shamed and humiliated by someone who should have been a safe place; the teenager who lost sight of who she was and fell into the mire of that confusion and rejection; the 20-something woman who was assaulted and told no one out of fear of judgment. Etcetera.
There was one version of myself, one Blythe-in-time, who lingered in the doorway, afraid to enter, afraid that God’s invitation didn’t apply to her. Or maybe she didn’t know how it applied.
I saw her lingering there and silently observed her in the doorway for months until Amy started talking about infusing our suffering with Love until the suffering is dissolved by Love. Maybe this dissolution will happen right away or it will take months or years. Or maybe it won’t happen this side of Heaven. But by accepting God’s grace into our pain, regardless of what that pain is or what the source of that pain is, by acknowledging that he loves us—every version of us—we invite transformative compassion. Our perspectives change. We view these versions of ourselves with Grace instead of judgement, disappointment, disgust. We can reach out our arms and say what needs to be said, Because of Jesus’ love and work on the Cross, you are safe, you are loved, you are protected, you are welcome, you are forgiven, or you are accepted.
The Blythe-in-time that I can see hanging out in the doorway is a 20-year-old version of myself. She is alone, grief-stricken, angry, desperate for answers. Her parents have died and she is heart broken for herself and her siblings. She is about to spiral down a well of depression, and though she knows her parents are with Jesus, she lacks any kind of theology to put their deaths into context; no one has explained Redemption to her or that God is working toward ultimate restoration to make all pain and death undone. She is growing bitter and only knows grief, which has swallowed up her joy, and though she can see the pain she is causing the people around her, she doesn’t know how to snap out of it or how to smile again. In her bitterness and anger, she feels increasing shame over the hurt she causes her family and her lack of a godly response to her parents’ deaths. She is an inadequate Christian, an inadequate sister and granddaughter and friend. She is an Inadequate.
That Blythe-in-time existed for several years, but once God’s never-ending, never-stopped, redeeming love truly took hold of her heart, a new Blythe emerged and walked away from that Blythe-in-time, putting as much space between them as possible.
Yet that Blythe-in-time remains a part of my story, my dna. She is important and she requires—demands—God’s healing, not neglect. I realize now that Blythe-in-time simply didn’t know how to lament. She was a Good Friday Blythe, not an Easter Blythe. She was one of the women crying at Jesus’ grave, never expecting or imagining resurrection. She was fragile, devastated, void of hope. And honestly so.
Twenty years later, grounded in God’s grace, can I revisit that Good Friday girl? Can I gather her in my arms, just as God has gathered me, and shower her with compassion, comfort her, forgive her, whisper to her the beautiful truths about God’s redemptive love and his restoration to come? Can I lead her to the table where Jesus so patiently and eagerly awaits to welcome her home?
What version of yourself is hanging out in the doorway, longing to come to the table where Jesus awaits eagerly? What version is hesitant, convinced that Jesus won’t welcome them? How can you compassionately visit that version of yourself and approach her with words of grace? What is a passage of Scripture that would minister to that hurting version of yourself?