We’ve discovered in our recent sermon series on the book of Ruth that Naomi suffered great loss and was in a state of despair upon her return to Bethlehem: “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Ruth 1:20) But we’ve seen that God is with Naomi in her suffering. Many have similar experiences of brokenness and pain. Following is a reflection by Kristin Gelinas about her afflictions and how she finds hope in God. You may wish to read Lamentations 3:1-24 before reading Kristin’s reflection.
For years my memory has haunted me. It has been my enemy, a means by which I can be dragged down into deep pits of shame, lost perspective, self-loathing, and ultimately, despair. Just like Jeremiah, my mind easily wanders down a spiraling path of self-pity, calling forth all the afflictions of my soul.
Very quickly, even the things that once were so sweet to me; now turn bitter in my mouth. Prayer and fellowship, peace and joy, communion with God seem long gone. I am, like Jeremiah, walled in, torn up, dwelling in darkness, practically dead. My endurance is gone. My hope is gone. Everything is bitterness. And this state is perpetuated by my insistent remembering which feeds upon itself:
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
The more I consider my afflictions and my wanderings, the more I am downcast in spirit. And the more I am downcast in spirit, the more defenseless I am against the onslaught of such memories. It would seem that memory is a plague, a demon, a thorn. If only I could rid myself of this albatross.
But something unexpected happens right in the midst of Jeremiah’s lament, and it’s teaching me that perhaps not all memories are meant to haunt. Perhaps there are two kinds of remembering. For immediately after Jeremiah mentions how his soul is bowed down under the despairing weight of his bitter memories, he says this:
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.”
Suddenly, right in the midst of his bitter despair, smack in the middle of his dark pit, Jeremiah remembers something else. He is somehow able to call something else—something other than these plaguing memories—to mind. He remembers something not about himself—not about his afflictions or his wanderings—but about God. He, miraculously, is able to set his gaze above himself for a moment and remember something very important.
Jeremiah remembered God’s lovingkindness that cannot be thwarted, not even in the face of our most wayward wanderings and grievous sins.
He remembered that the Lord’s heart is always, always for His people—that His tender mercies, His deep compassion rise anew each morning to greet us; and no manner of filth or guilt or weakness or lack can stop it.
He remembered the perfect, rock-solid, steady faithfulness of God to every promise He has ever made. Even if we are unfaithful, He will remain faithful still. Jeremiah could not deny that, even in the midst of all he had suffered, God had never failed him.
He remembered that the Lord Himself was his portion. In the end, whatever he had lost, whatever he had suffered, whatever dark pit he now found himself in…if God was in the pit with Jeremiah, then it was well with his soul.
So he reminded his soul of all this. And after walking down this long trail of memories, Jeremiah realized he had arrived at a very different destination—not a place of despair, but a place of hope: “Therefore I will hope in him.”
And so I am learning that there are two kinds of remembering. Not all memories are my enemy. I can, by God’s grace, use my memories in service to God as a means of arriving at hope. I can practice remembering the characteristics of God’s nature, instead of dwelling on my own bitter ways. I can choose to believe in his steadfast love, tender mercy, faithfulness, and sufficiency. I can set my soul on these things, and therefore have hope.