What do you say when you don’t know what to say? What is left to utter when utterance has become utterly futile?
I am in this season. I hope it is just a season. I feel like I have nothing left to say.
What kind of a pastor ends up here? One who has experienced the outer limits of what his heart and soul can bear. I am going to uncover my depths. I need to. You don’t have to read, or care, but I must write it. In this Lenten season (begins Feb. 13) of cleansing cupboards and scouring the soul, I must pour it out. Like the Psalmist, I have found where deep calls unto deep. Wave after wave of God’s unrelenting, faithful, and frustrating pounding has besieged the beaches of my life. It has knocked the legs out from beneath me. I am scrambling in the foam of his gentle fury.
I father a child deeply troubled. My being aches. My intestines twist. Love aches. Mental illness has shattered the portrait of the ideal family. Love overcomes a multitude of sins, but can it overcome this fathomless mystery? Can we endure this? Can we survive it? Can my son make it through this valley blanketed by the shadow of death? Can God deliver? (I know he can.) Why does he wait?
Advent was about longing and waiting. We waited and God was revealed. God with us: the joy we cling to and long for. We are not abandoned or alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who testify to the power of the child who became a man, God enfleshed who is now the risen Lord.
Lent is about preparation and repentance. This journey toward Easter flirts dangerously with the human tendency to navel-gaze and work to save oneself. I must know my depths and face them honestly, but I must equally analyze the tendency toward over-analysis, and in humility make straight the way of the Lord. This is what I need to hear. Jesus, God with us, God for us, seeks the honest soul, not the perfect one. Will I be so bold? Will I be so needy? (I know I am.)
“I Am” (Exodus 3:14). That is who he is. He will be who he will be. Will he be what I need? Will he be what my son needs? He is.
But, what if we never escape this season? What if the King simply prorogues and delays? What if he is long in coming? What if I become like Mary and Martha, wondering why he didn’t show up in time? What if I am left at his feet, bellyaching, berating the divine, and wondering why he who loves so widely and completely seemingly refuses to love as I would like?
Resurrection and the life
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). This is his speech in the depths of my despair and disillusionment. This is who he truly is despite this place where dirges drag, silence tortures, words fail, and no answers abound. This muddy season in which my innards are plowed up and rained upon: can this be the season of new life?
I am given to doubt; touching his overcoming wounds is my only hope. Truly Paul is correct: if there is no resurrection then we are to be greatly pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19). Sure, there are times of glory. There are times when it all comes together, the sun shines, and all is right with the world. Yet, we eventually end up back here in this valley, and it is here where he proves himself time and time and time again.
So, I sit. I wait. I discover dust and ashes. I find I am weak. I find I am not so smart after all, and that he who holds his tongue is wise. My fingers slip. Holding the tongue is not so easy; I am prone to speech. I vomit words. I drool vocabulary.
The Lord is a faithful listener. He does not butt in. He simply weeps with me, and I find there is only one answer: he is the resurrection and the life. That’s all that can be said in this season where I don’t have anything left to say.
—Phil Wagler is lead pastor of Gracepoint Community Church, Surrey, B.C