While expecting our third child, my husband and I unexpectedly learned during an ultrasound that our unborn son would have a lifelong disabling birth defect. In the months leading up to his birth, I researched, read, and prayed and began to discover a long list of complex medical conditions that, although rare, could transpire with our son’s diagnosis. I listed them by name, prayed they wouldn’t occur, and waited in faith.
By the time our son was two weeks old, he had already spent eight days in the hospital and endured two life-saving surgeries. Suddenly, that long list of serious medical complications developed. All of them. Every single one. After a two-month hospital stay and a month in the intensive care unit, we brought home a medically fragile baby, hooked up to life-saving machines, private duty nursing in our home, and broken hearts.
Sixteen years have passed, and although some of the around-the-clock dependence on life-saving machines has waned, the conditions persist in lesser ways. In the early years, it was all about survival. I didn’t pay attention to my emotions all that much. I had to shut them down in order to care for our four children and endure repeated hospital stays and medical emergencies.
In times of calm, when I shed the armor of protection around my heart, the difficult wrestling begins. “Why did you say no to my prayers? Do I not have enough faith, and that’s why our son hasn’t been healed?
I know the truth from scripture about suffering:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3, ESV).
Yet, brimming under the calm waters of my faith and acceptance of our situation, the turbulent feelings of anger, disappointment, and betrayal swirled and churned.
What do we do when God says no to our prayers, miraculous healing doesn’t happen, and we’re left in the pain of “no.” Human nature leads us to react in several ways: bury our pain, ignore it, move through it quickly so we feel good again, or walk away. My tendency was to throw logical reasoning at my situation, so I could feel better quickly and move on, but the pain in my heart couldn’t be ignored.
Then, I began to learn about lament. As followers of Christ who believe that God is writing our story, we understand that we were created for Eden.
Sin entered the world, and we live daily in a broken place wrought with suffering and pain. Yet, because of Christ, this isn’t all there is. Whenever our situations don’t improve, we must learn to live in the tension of our current pain and loss of expectations, with the hope that God will someday make all things new.
This requires wrestling and honesty with God and enters us into the beauty and worship of lament.
Before Jesus went to the cross, He wrestled as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
He knew what was coming: the sacrifice and pain He would experience, and its necessity. But, He prayed that if it were possible, let this cup pass. This is a comforting example that we can also wrestle with God over the realities of our situation with God in prayer.
Lament is crying out to God in faith that He hears us and expressing with honest words the pain that we are feeling. It’s bringing our questions, disappointments, and even anger to God, who knows every deep part of our hearts. Throughout the Psalms, there are prayers of lament. God invites us to bring our pain to Him. The phrase, “I cry out to the Lord, and He heard me,” is repeatedly written. He desires to hear from His children.
Living in this tension of lament means that while we are mourning, we can also remember. We turn to Psalms and see that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. We remember God’s presence personally in our own lives and the ultimate suffering, but purpose through the redemption of Jesus on the cross. Pastor Mark Vroegop said, “The cross shows us there is purpose, reason, and meaning in suffering, and lament gives voice to it.” Our suffering is not without purpose.
In John 11, scripture relates the narrative of Lazarus’s death. Jesus heard his friend was sick, yet He stayed where He was for two more days. Then Jesus rises to go to Mary and Martha, and He plainly tells His disciples, “…Lazarus has died, and for your sake, I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe…” (John 11:14-15, ESV).
Jesus could have rescued Mary and Martha from the pain of Lazarus’s death, yet He allowed them to experience death. Why? So, they would believe and know who Jesus truly was. God in human flesh, sent to be their Savior, the resurrection, and the life.
Like any complicated relationship, intimacy with God requires time, trust, and loving Him. Oftentimes, He doesn’t rescue us from pain but rather allows it so we may believe because the goal is to know Him and glorify Him. If we lived a life where every prayer was answered with yes, would we need God?
Living in lament offers the tension of wrestling, honesty, trusting, and remembering, so we experience the intimacy of a relationship with Jesus. This hopefully results in a deeper love of Jesus, desiring more of Him rather than relief from our circumstances.
Living in lament gives voice to our grief, opens the door to wrestling with difficult questions, and leads to trust as we remember God’s goodness. Lament is the worshipful practice of honesty with God and allows healing to begin.
Carrie M. Holt is a writer, speaker, and mentor who specializes in caring for special needs moms. She is mom to four amazing kids, and her third son was diagnosed with Spina Bifida when she was twenty weeks pregnancy. Carriecohosts the podcast Take Heart Special Moms and is coauthor of The Other Side of Special: Navigating the Messy, Emotional, Joy-Filled Life of a Special Needs Mom. Carrie regularly speaks at conferences, hospitals, churches, and more about special needs mothering.