It’s tempting, isn’t it, to take messy endings and wrap them up in a neat bow of “everything is fine”? To look at difficult circumstances—a hard move, a broken friendship, even death—and dismiss them with “it’s all going to be okay”? I do this all too often. When I write, I want my readers to walk away wrapped in the warm fuzzies of a happy ending. I would rather shy away from the hard things and make it look pretty then dig into the mess and risk coming away without a three-point lesson.
Unfortunately, sometimes this means I end up doing the rhetorical equivalent of papering over potholes. Refusing to acknowledge difficult circumstances not only ignores the plethora of laments throughout Scripture but also cheapens God’s power over those circumstances. We end up leaving ourselves with the same grief, patched with cheap comfort that does not heal.
I have been trying to be honest about the mess instead of tying a bow on it, and these last few months, I have had ample opportunity to practice. On global, national, and personal levels, we have had reasons to lament. To wrap that up and package it away would be unfair, tantamount to lying to myself and you. In my efforts to keep from saying “Everything is fine,” though, it slips out of my mouth so often that “Nothing is going right.” My laments have not been careful words bringing my cares to my Father, but graceless, clunky phrases that reveal my lack of faith. I have tried to be honest, but in my pursuit of honesty, I have fallen from hope. In my lament, I have forgotten Lamentations 3.
The third chapter of the book of Lamentations, sandwiched in the middle of graphic descriptions of a nation in anguish, finds its author in the depths of despair. By his own account, he is completely without peace, happiness, hope, and endurance. Still, on the heels of that account, he says:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV
Honest lament leaves room for hope. Hope does not ignore the hard things but lives in the middle of them. Hope calls to mind with every morning cup of coffee, every shower, and every load of laundry that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Honest lament holds two truths at the same time: This is really, really hard, and God is really, really good. “God works all things for good” is not a platitude. It’s real, substantive truth. And it’s truth that ought to grip our hearts and cleanse our souls and keep us hoping. Faith is, after all, the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). To have faith means to hope in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a power greater than ourselves whose wisdom and might is unsearchable, and to be assured that He uses that power out of love for our good and His glory. Having faith does not prevent us from lamenting, but it does mean that in the middle of our lament, we cry out “Great is thy faithfulness.”
In other words, refraining from tying a bow does not mean forgetting that there is a ribbon. Because there is a ribbon, woven from Ur to Goshen to Judah to Babylon to Bethlehem to all the earth. For Joseph in Pharaoh’s prison, forgotten and alone, there was hope. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the depths of the fiery furnace, there was hope. For Abraham, setting out from his father’s city to a land he did not know, there was hope. In a Philippian jail, in the middle of the Red Sea, in an ark built on dry land, there was hope. In the lonely city that was once full of people (Lamentations 1:1), there was room for hope.
This thread of hope winds through the lives of the women that left Moab behind and the prophets who spoke to those who would not listen and the fishermen who dropped their nets, culminating in the Alpha and the Omega who will make all things new. We cannot tie the bow, but He can, and He will. In fact, He is tying it even now. It’s not a cheap bow, either. It’s one that truly ties all the ends together, the happiest of all happy endings, allowing us to hold both honesty and hope with open hands.