The end of the year is just five short days away. And I know a lot of people who can’t wait to say, “Good riddance” to this year that brought disappointment, grief, tears, and difficulties. But I also know a lot of Christians who, not wanting to get caught in a complaining cycle, tend to focus on the positives.
“Yes 2020 was hard,” they might say, “but we still had a lot to be grateful for.” Or, “It brought unexpected blessings in the challenges.”
I would agree with both of those things. There was still much to be grateful for in this unprecedented year. And there were many unique blessings that I didn’t expect.
But even in the midst of our gratitude, we can still lament. And we can lament without complaining. The Bible shows us both sides.
First, it shows us an entire nation that got rebuked for the sin of complaining. And not just rebuked but struck with a plague. The Israelites were not satisfied with the food that God gave them in the wilderness, so they started grumbling about it. They ended up getting the meat they wanted – but it came with a side dish of punishment to remind them that God takes complaining seriously (Numbers 11).
When we complain, we’re showing our dissatisfaction with God. We’re telling Him He’s wrong for the way things are going. We’re saying that we don’t trust Him to take care of us, and that we’re annoyed and angry that our selfish wants aren’t being met.
This is dishonoring to God, and He calls it what it is: a sin.
On the other hand, we have a whole book of the Bible entitled “Lamentations” (unfortunately not a book that gets preached out of very often). This book teaches us the meaning of lament, which is very different from complaining.
It starts out with this verse:
“How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
How like a widow has she
She who was great among the
She who was a princess among
Has become a slave.”
The whole purpose of this book is to mourn the fall of Jerusalem and the entrance of the nation of Israel into captivity. And while some might think, “Well, they sinned against God greatly – they deserved their just punishment,” it still grieved God greatly. Sin always grieves Him, which means it always deserves mourning or a lament.
And while a global pandemic isn’t the result of particular sin, it is a result of living in a sin-cursed world. Sickness, disease, and death are all results of the fall. This is not how God originally designed His world to be. And any time we encounter the world not as it should be, we grieve. We lament.
And with this in mind, I lament the lost days of 2020.
The lost days of so many peoples’ lives.
The lost days of school.
The lost days of church services.
The lost days of concerts and live theatre productions.
The lost days of wedding receptions and graduation parties.
The lost days of family reunions and celebrations.
The lost days of sports events.
The lost days of vacations and trips.
The lost days of so many jobs.
The lost days of things we look forward to every year.
This year left us broken in many new ways. Many of us shed more tears this year than any other. Many of us feel like we’re in a dark pit we’ll never get out of.
But the ending of a lament shows if all those things will make us bitter and angry or if they will make us stronger in faith and hope.
If we end our lament with the conclusion that this was awful and there’s no way it will ever get better and we stew in our anger over it, then we will grow bitter. We won’t be able to let go of the lost days because we keep replaying the “if only” in our heads over and over again.
There’s no doubt we’ll always feel sad over what we lost in 2020. But like my dad used to say, “If only won’t change anything.”
So how do we end our lament? Jeremiah shows us how in Lamentations 3:21-26:
“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. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
In the midst of our sorrow, God is with us – weeping with us. And like verses 31 and 32 say, “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
God has compassion on us, and He will draw us closer to Himself in the middle of our grieving. He knows the depths of our sorrows like no one else does. And when we take the time to acknowledge those griefs and losses, He is with us, like a Father showing compassion to His child.
There is no promise that 2021 will be any better than 2020. In fact, it may only get worse. There may be more grieving and lamenting ahead of us. But we can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in it. God the Father knows the cares of our hearts, and He is ready to take our burden when we bring it to Him. And He’s also given us a community of people to share the burden with – to be tangible reminders of His great mercies.
Let’s learn to lean into that community and lament properly together. Not in a complaining-fest kind of way. But also not in a “spiritual bypassing” way either where we don’t even acknowledge how much this year has left us hurting. We can say with honesty, just like Lamentations 1:16 – “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears” – and sit with one another in our grief, even if that makes some of us feel uncomfortable at first.
And as we learn to lament, may we also learn to draw closer to the Lord in the midst of it. He is the great Comforter and Healer of all our sorrows. He will be near us in our darkest hour when it feels like the sun won’t shine. And even if we don’t feel hopeful, we can put our trust in the greatest hope of all – that which the Word of God says is waiting for us someday in heaven.
For all the people we said good-bye to in 2020, I weep.
For all the memories that didn’t happen in 2020, I weep.
For all the dark days, anxious thoughts, and aching challenges in 2020, I weep.
For all that wasn’t accomplished in 2020, I weep.
May the God of all comfort and strength sustain us as He collects our tears in a bottle. He will guide us through this dark valley to the other side. Praise His name.