While updating a Caring Bridge web page two days after my first child was born, the spiritual words I wrote were simple.
It is well with my soul.
Born five weeks premature, Luke was taken from the delivery room in a reserved panic to the NICU. In his first two weeks of life, his motionless body animated in my mind a myriad of thoughts. Thoughts filled with fear and utter devastating grief. Thoughts like, “Will he be able to do anything for himself?” Or, “Will he even live?”
Thirty-two days later, along with around-the-clock care and prayer, Luke was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder with many obstacles: low muscle tone, cognitive delays, and immensely low metabolism resulting in extreme weight gain to name a few. To make matters worse, the biggest oddity of the disease is an insensible hunger that is never satisfied.
In the diagnosis, here’s what I heard: “You are now a special needs father.” Under the weight of that moment, I concluded all was not well with my soul.
Covered in Shadows
“Instead of falling into despair when God brings suffering, fall into his arms.”
There are times in life when the shadows where Peter wept become the very same shadows where we weep. Those shadows are filled with denial, fear, anger, and the abandonment of desire to relate with God. Having received Luke’s diagnosis, I was devastated. Thoughts raced and anger raged, How could this be? God, do you care? I have always consulted you — always! We waited ten years before we had our first child. We did it right, and this is what we get?
And more than any other pain, I feared what Luke would endure. What kind of life will he have?
In the midst of my palpable anger, there was a real awareness of how we were supposed to feel and what we were supposed to say. We knew God promised to be with us always, yet in those days, that reality felt distant and remote. I experienced the throes of a battle inside of me between the gentle reminders of the Holy Spirit and the sinful nature of my heart toward God.
Sin Not in Your Anger
God gave me the strength to endure this grief, but the process was lonely and scary. Hidden sins of my heart were exposed. One “wants” to be okay with the diagnosis, but when your god of comfort has crumbled under the weight of a near-lifeless body cradled in your arms, it feels as if all of life crumbles, too.
Yet in God’s gracious leading, he made my suffering an easel which held up the canvas of my heart. In that suffering, God painted a fresh vision of himself for me and in me.
This is what I wish someone had told me then. In all our suffering, we have two alternatives: we can cry in sinful disdain over the work that God is doing in and through us, or we can lament deeply with hope in the joy that is set before us. The weeping itself is not the issue — that is probably the most God-glorifying response. But if our weeping comes simply from angered pride, or the shattered shards of our sin nature, we’ve moved away from lamenting the way things are to resenting that things are not the way we wanted them to be.
“In lament, we seek a greater vision of God’s glory, and therefore a deeper joy in him.”
Anger directed at God is not lament, it is a temper tantrum — plain and simple outrage does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). In the words of John Piper, “Anger at God is not godly lament.” No, it’s not. “The godly lament of Lamentations says, ‘You have driven your arrows into my breast’ (Lamentations 3:13). Godly lament says, ‘You have filled my mouth with gravel’ (Lamentations 3:16). Godly lament says, ‘You have covered me with shadows.’ Nevertheless, godly lament always says, ‘To you, O God, I look for my deliverance. To you alone I look for my hope. You alone are my portion.’”
Trust Beyond the Tears
Three times in Scripture Jesus weeps or laments (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7).
“Our Lord’s lament gives us an insight into the great tenderness of his character,” said Charles Spurgeon, “his hearty desires for our good.”
This “good” that Spurgeon mentions is God’s commitment to conform us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). God refuses to leave us merely to tears, but rather leads us by example to ultimately trust him. That is faith! Faith is the only way to please God, which enables every experience of suffering and lament to be glorifying to him.
Broken and Restored in Holiness
The author of Hebrews tells us Christ’s cries were heard because of his reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7). Much to my shame, my cries were often irreverent defiance, but God’s faithfulness opened my eyes to see my need for lament. I was broken.
The great thing about being broken is that if God is the Maker, he always puts us back together in a way that looks more like Christ than before. In the process, painful though it was, I saw he also had a son with special needs: me.
“When God lets us be broken, he always puts us back together in a way that looks more like Christ than before.”
Like Luke, I have a syndrome — one which requires utter dependence on God. I, too, have been diagnosed with an ailment that, unless he intervenes, will lead to destruction and even death. But the law of sin and death no longer makes me its slave. Seeing our special needs, God gave his Son. All of the things I feared Luke would have to face, Christ, through the cross, has already faced for me.
Lord, Lead Me to Lament
When the hollow caverns of despair are begging you to plunge in, resist! When all you can do is stand, then stand! Stand on the promises of a God who is acquainted with your grief (Isaiah 53:3). Instead of falling into despair, fall into his arms.
Cry. Lament to God. Say to him: I don’t understand, but I am committed to trusting the rock that is higher and wiser than I (Psalm 61:2). In lament, we seek greater dependence on God, a greater vision of his glory — and therefore a deeper and greater joy than we could otherwise receive.