Retrieve Lament: Jen Thompson's mourning story

Throughout this week that we call Holy, I've invited a few friends who have companioned in suffering with Christ and His people to share a bit of their stories with us. My friendship with today's guest is one of the best surprises of the past year, and one that is full of a resurrection kind of grace. I never got to meet Lydia, but I feel a bit like I know her because her beautiful life is forever impressed on the collective memory of of the church community we now call family. So are Jen, Micah, Levi & Meg. Would you read their story with me, and listen with an open heart for any words Christ might be speaking to you through them?

Jen and Lydia (8 months old), April 2010

Jen and Lydia (8 months old), April 2010

Retrieving lament with the broken-hearted Father

I won’t ever forget her last day with us…

Watching her labored breathing, knowing her time was coming close.

The feeling of her body in my arms as we tried to figure out a way to say goodbye.

Laying her tiny, lifeless body down for the last time, knowing the next time I saw her face would be on my last day.

Turning away from our daughter and taking my first step into a new life that I couldn’t begin to comprehend.

They are heavy memories. I keep them piled like discarded bricks in the back of my mind. Every now and then I try to put them into some kind of shape that makes sense, all the while knowing that there are pieces I won’t ever figure out how to fit together. Despite my faith, there was a descent to dark places. I struggled to understand the purpose of pain, of loss. I questioned God’s goodness and His love for me.

Faith was hard. Sometimes, even seven years later, it still is. There has been only one thought that has brought me any comfort some days, and it is this: I serve a God who watched His only son die.

He watched His son’s labored breathing, knowing the time was coming close.

He too, had to figure out a way to say goodbye.

He had to watch as His son’s lifeless body was taken down from a cross.

He turned away.

The desperate feeling when I looked to things that had always brought me comfort, but now left me feeling empty and broken, dissipated when I looked to a Father who entirely understood my pain. If, on that last day, I could have made the sky fill with the darkness I felt I would have. If I could have, I would have pounded the ground until the whole earth shook and broke apart.

When I look at the death of Jesus now, these are the things I see more clearly than ever before. Of course I still see Jesus giving all so I could live. I still see His pain and know that He died for me. But when I look to the background of the picture, I see evidence of the God who is not visible there - the broken hearted Father. The Father who knew from before time that this would be the outcome of Jesus’ life. The Father who was sorrowful, even knowing that only three days stood between Him and seeing His son again. The Father who darkened the sky and shook the earth watching His son suffer. And the Father who finally had to turn away from His son. And not because a new life was starting for Him, but because He couldn’t bear to see the sin that covered Him. He let His son feel forsaken, something I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And the thing that keeps me near my Father in heaven, more than knowing that I walk a road of grief that He has walked as well, is the knowledge that He chose this path for me.

He left His son alone so I wouldn’t ever have to feel alone.

It’s a kind of grace I can never fully hold onto, a love I can barely grasp. Because I know how it feels to watch your only begotten die. I know the pain of separation, despite the knowledge that a glorious day of reunion will come. But I do not know nor can I comprehend anyone ever choosing this. But He did. For me. For my daughter. For you.

So when I look to honor Jesus on these days before and after His death, when I sing with a broken but joyful heart of what He has done for me, my eyes now look to the Father too. I lift my hands in praise to sing about the grave being opened with my eyes on the Father because I know that even though His sorrow was deep, His joy at being reunited with Jesus was so much deeper. And I can sing with joy of death defeated because His sacrifice has made that joy reality for me. I’m still waiting, but I wait with a kind Father who did not spare His own Son and who longs with me for the day my joy will be complete.

Jen is a daughter, pastor’s wife, mama to two on earth and one in heaven, woman walking through this world doing her best to keep her eyes on Jesus. She enjoys naps, dance parties in the kitchen, a good caffeinated beverage, and making baked goods and forcing people to eat them.

Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.”
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(You can read all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here.)