As I Enter the Final Week of Lent
Thoughts on "deconstruction" and how lament has mercifully, gently tethered me to the God I love.
The word “deconstruction” garners a lot of responses. Some spit it out like a naughty word. Others, laud it as sacred.
In my own life, I’ve judged those who are deconstructing, looking down my nose at them with a patronizing benevolence. I also know certain strains of deconstruction talk can breed a fundamentalism that elevates doubt as a spiritual discipline and leads to much navel-gazing that has left me stuck instead of creating a pathway to honest faith.
Somewhere in 2017-2019, I went through what some might call “deconstruction.” I use quotations because I feel like deconstruction means different things to different people, and I’m not here to parse out the particulars of that season of my life, or even consider deconstruction in general.
My deconstruction did not lead to deconversion, but I learned that the questions and observations that give birth to dismantling aspects of my faith and life weren’t/aren’t meant to be avoided, tamped down or ignored. The questions needed to be asked and the observations deserved attention. I also learned that the how, where and with whom I went through that process made all the difference in the world.
My “how” is what’s on my mind today, the beginning of the last week of Lent.
In the midst of my ambivalence and apathy, my “dark night of the soul” or “deconstruction” or what have you, I started learning stories from the black church in America and how they chose lament when faced with suffering, marginalization and the unjustness of the world. I’m also learning similar lessons from the church in China.
Lament was a new way to respond when faced with pain, doubt and suffering, standing in stark contrast to atheism or cultural warrior-ism that I felt were my other options.
Over the past few years, lament—an expression of grief and sorrow before God—has tethered me to the God I love in the midst of questions I can’t answer. Lament has bred fidelity to that God, his word and his ways even when I’m prone to wander, creating a way to participate in the work of his kingdom even when my heart is cold and I feel hopeless.
My friend Liz put it this way:
“For the past 20 years, lament has been a great stabilizing discipline for me. It has humanized my faith in a way other spiritual practices have not. It has opened me to greater self-awareness and made me more aware of those around me. It has not ‘cured’ me of my spiritual angst. But it has tore me open, and then opened my eyes to the depth of need in both myself and my neighbor.
It has made me more desperate for the power of resurrection.
Some people think that the experience of Christian victory and joy and ‘my best life with Jesus’ is what draws us nearer to the heart of God. And, yes, there's some of that to be found. But I've found intimacy with Jesus just as much in the dark places of my mind and heart.
As my favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner, says—‘The Gospel is bad news before it is good news...’
And, oh boy, isn't the world so very full of bad news?
If we don't embrace the Biblical framework for approaching the bad news of the world, then we can never come out through it to the other side—the side where we encounter the good end of the story. Here, we see it in part; in eternity, we'll see it in full.”
I don’t have any grand plans for this last week of Lent apart from attending Holy Week services at my church.
But I am cultivating the habit of lament.
These days the injustice of the world leaves me sick to my stomach, I’m grieved by the stories of disease and death that are close to my life, and I’m tempted to look to the future with fear or worse, indifference.
The habit of lament teaches me to choose community with God and others over self-isolation when I’m ashamed of or not able to understand my emotions; lament offers me a way to come before God in community when I feel defeated and can’t manufacture joy.
The habit of lament reminds me to take my outrage to God first instead of lashing out at those around me with scoffing, self-righteous anger or contempt.
The habit of lament invites me into relationship with God when it would be simpler to make sense of the world without his existence.
I believe Easter is coming. And as I wait, I’ll keep lamenting.