Jeremiah 20:14-18 – Overwhelmed with Grief

By Unknown artist

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame? (NIV)

Perhaps you feel as though you must put on a good face, a decent front for others to see. You don’t like other people seeing you upset or cry because it can be embarrassing. Maybe you believe others don’t need to be burdened with your sadness. The last thing you want is to be a killjoy.

Sometimes you might even put up a front with God.  Maybe you think God wants everyone to be perpetually happy and always sing with the birds in blissful joy and gladness, or whistle while you work. However, that would not be an accurate view of God.

One of the most faithful people in Holy Scripture, Jeremiah, freely and unabashedly lamented before God – to the point of wishing he were dead. Jeremiah, the incredible prophet of God, closer to the Lord than anyone of his generation, was so despondent and ashamed that he wished he were never even born. The suffering and the shame were just too overwhelming.

To say that Jeremiah had a difficult ministry is a gross understatement. He literally had the ministry from hell, prophesying to people who neither liked him, nor his message to them. In the middle of it all, Jeremiah threw up his hands and let out his complaint to God. Jeremiah was in such ministerial misery that he wished he had been a stillborn baby.

Lest you think Jeremiah was sinfully depressed or just cuckoo, he is far from alone in the Bible. King David had no scruples about letting God know how he felt about his dire circumstances. Job, likely the most famous sufferer of all, spent time doing nothing but lamenting his terrible losses for months. What all three of them have in common is that they openly grieved with great tears, yet neither cursed God nor forsook the Lord.

Lamentation is the sacred space between intense grieving to God without blaming the Lord for our significant changes and losses in life. I would even argue that lamenting and grieving before God is a necessary spiritual practice which needs full recognition in the Body of Christ. Please sit with that last statement for a bit and consider how it might become a reality in your own life and context.

Grief can and does attach itself to any change or loss. It is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that injury of the heart. There is only one way through grief. We must tell our story to another. It is both biblical and quite necessary.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

galatians 6:2, NLT

We need our spirituality to support us in such times – not drive us away through a misguided theology of believing you must keep a stiff upper lip. It is critical to have safe and supportive people in our lives when going through overwhelming circumstances.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”

Brené Brown

Our tears are holy. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. The prophet Jeremiah was doing a very godly thing in expressing his grief. And Jeremiah’s lament is what helped steel him for the several attempts on his life that he faced.

Let the tears do their intended work in your life.

God of all, you feel deeply about a great many things.  As your people, we also feel a great depth of emotion when our lives go horribly awry from our dreams and expectations.  Hear our lament as we pour out our grief before you, through Jesus, our Savior, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Let It Out!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, c.1545

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked. (CEV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough gig. The Lord God almighty didn’t give him much choice about his life’s work. Jeremiah was commissioned by God with a message of doom and destruction. If that weren’t enough, God promised him that no one would respond, nobody would repent, and not one person would listen to what he had to say. Sheesh, talk about a tough ministry!

But Jeremiah was compelled to speak. He just could not hold it in. His calling, his life’s work, bubbled up and out of him, no matter what he did to try and keep a lid on it. Whenever Jeremiah would try and walk away and say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” then the words from God burned like a fire in his belly. Jeremiah got worn out trying to keep the message domesticated within him.

Maybe you can relate in some small way.  It isn’t always easy talking about God to others, let alone talking about some subject other people really don’t want to hear.  Yet, as the people of God, we discover it is much more painful to keep it inside than it is letting it out and taking the consequences as they may come.

Or it could be that you resonate with Jeremiah’s trying to distance himself from God.  You were hurt, wounded in some way, and no matter how hard you run from God, your inner sacred space will not leave you alone – it relentlessly tracks you down and hounds you, barking to be heard and expressed.

What then, should we do? How, then, shall we live? Don’t keep silent. Speak! Let your voice out. Say what is important to you. Because ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or thinking God will eventually give-up isn’t going to happen, my friend.  Let the Word have its way.

God Almighty, you have your ways in this world, and they don’t always make sense to me.  Sticking my fingers in my ears trying to pretend you are not there isn’t working – my heart burns within me.  So, help me to speak with all the confidence of the message I have, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 62:5-12 – Our Place of Safety

Psalm 62 by Christa Rosier (1960-2011)

Only God gives inward peace,
    and I depend on him.
God alone is the mighty rock
    that keeps me safe,
    and he is the fortress
    where I feel secure.
God saves me and honors me.
    He is that mighty rock
    where I find safety.

Trust God, my friends,
    and always tell him
each one of your concerns.
    God is our place of safety.

We humans are only a breath;
    none of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less
    than a puff of air.
Don’t trust in violence
or depend on dishonesty
    or rely on great wealth.

I heard God say two things:
   “I am powerful,
    and I am very kind.”
The Lord rewards each of us
    according to what we do. (CEV)

My girls, now grown with families of their own, are wonderful mothers. Recently, I got to hold my newest grandson, which is wonderful! A close second to that experience is watching Mom hold her baby. The little guy has not a worry in the world when he is in her arms. For there is no doubt of perfect love and security.

God is our place of safety. For the believer, it is as if we are a baby having finished nursing, lying peacefully and contentedly in God’s loving and secure arms. There is complete trust because God is the one holding us. Our enemies are nothing but a puff of smoke – toothless lions who can make all the noise they want but will never get a bite on us with God around.

I was reminded of yet another truth as I watched my daughter and grandson. Although tired, both are genuinely happy. Neither riches nor fame can ever buy security and happiness. God, as the source of steadfast love and perfect safety, is our Rock. The Lord’s power and kindness meld together in a wondrous and active care for us.

God’s kingdom is constructed on solid rock, not sinking sand. Trusting in violent vengeance, deceitful scheming, or great wealth might build an impressive looking edifice, but will only be destroyed in the first big wind that comes along. Depending upon God as our refuge and strength is building a relationship which will last and stand the test of time and tribulation.

Jesus, aware of the Psalm’s theology, drew upon the image of the rock to impress on his listeners the need for making wise choices (Matthew 7:24-29). The foundation is the key element. The house built on the rock will withstand the storm; the foundation built on sand will not. The cornerstone of faith’s foundation for the Christian is Jesus. The way of Jesus is the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and the stabilizing presence of peace our lives need. Christ is our place of safety.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts, be with you in all your ways.

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions and from the fear of the known and unknown.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Genesis 16:1-14 – The God Who Sees

Hagar and Ishmael by John Shayn (1901-1977)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so, she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So, after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so, she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.”

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered. (NIV)

A wood cut of Hagar and Ishmael by Jakob Steinhardt (1887-1968)

I am blind as a bat without my glasses. They are the first thing I put on when waking in the morning, and the last thing I take off before retiring at night.  Without them I cannot distinguish anything well and everything is a blur. Apart from corrective lenses, I can only see who is talking to me when they are inches from my face.

As bad as it would be without my glasses, it would be even worse if you or I were not seen by anyone.  I believe one of the great tragedies of modern Western civilization is that we can live among so many other people, yet not be seen by so many of them. The loneliness of being overlooked and unnoticed is a terrible situation.

The ancient woman, Hagar, certainly felt that way. Even more, she felt a worse circumstance: Hagar neither believed that anyone saw her and cared, nor that God saw her at all. It was as if God lost his glasses somewhere. 

In a convoluted series of decisions, mostly outside of her control, Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s son.  Then, Sarah, Abraham’s “real” wife got pregnant with another son.  It got really complicated, real fast. Relational dysfunction abounded, leaving Hagar and her unborn son, Ishmael, with no one to help. Hagar was so distraught that she simply expected to die alone.

We can feel Hagar’s despair and desperation.  She saw no hope, and nobody saw her… but there was someone watching: God. The Lord saw everything that happened to her – all the craziness, all the mistreatment – and stepped-in to act on behalf of Hagar.

As a result, Hagar began to call God, “The God Who Sees Me.” She never again had to wonder or doubt whether she was seen. 

You might feel today that God is overlooking you and not seeing your pain – that somehow the Divine is aloof and distant from your hurt, and blind to your deep wounds. Oh, but the Lord sees it all, everything. God may not be working on the same timetable as you and me, but nevertheless sees you like no one else can. You and I never have to wonder about it. “See” for yourself the God who lovingly observes and knows us:

The Lord’s eyes scan the whole world to find those whose hearts are committed to him, to strengthen them. (2 Chronicles 16:9, GW)

God sees the ends of the earth, sees everything under the sky. (Job 28:24, GNT)

The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees every human being… Look here: The Lord’s eyes watch all who honor him, all who wait for his faithful love. (Psalm 33:13, 18, CEB)

You, Lord, know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you.

Psalm 139:15-16, MSG

The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, NRSV)

May you be encouraged to know and believe that the God who formed billions of people, sees you and loves you, just as you are.

God of Hagar, just as you saw her in the desert and the desperate position she was in, so I ask that you see me and act according to your great mercy, through Jesus Christ, my Savior, with the Holy Spirit.  Amen.