My Lament Moment (Or, a Different Kind of New Room)

My first New Room Conference was back in 2016. I went to Tennessee with a small group of friends to attend a conference that I was told was unlike any other. “Unlike any other” turned out to be the grandest understatement of all time. When I thought of conferences, I thought of annual conference—a yearly gathering of our regional denominational body to conduct business. Or I thought of a conference where I would pay to hear experts download knowledge that I could use in my ministry toolbox.

The New Room Conference, very simply, is a conference where the only agenda is to meet with God. And that’s what happened. I met with God in such a powerful way that I knew I couldn’t go back to “normal”….this, whatever this was, was my new normal. These people, they were my tribe. The seeds of longing for the renewal of the whole church that began in my youth, New Room watered them.

So I went back in 2017. And in 2018. 2019 also. 2020 got cancelled, along with the rest of our lives. In comes the opportunity to register for New Room 2021, and I kind of balked at it. A large gathering during the pandemic, a laundry list of reasons I should skip this year: my doctoral work, my family, a new baby on the way, it being wedged between a week of school and another leadership obligation out of state the following week….I thought of a dozen reasons not to go. And I really only had one reason I should go: my soul needed it. Turns out, the need of my soul was enough. (Plus, I got to bring along one of my staff and her husband both of whom I know share with me a longing for Holy Spirit renewal).

So I bought the tickets, secured a killer Airbnb (can anyone say Barndominium????), and made the necessary arrangements for the time away. I was so pumped to go to New Room.

Only it wasn’t the same. Sure, the worship was a picture of heaven. Granted, the teachings were refreshing. I loved hugging people that I’d been physically separated from since the start of the pandemic. All that was fine. Really. But I felt like I was just coasting through the motions. I stayed comfortably in my chair during every altar call (save to go pray with my dear friends for their healing). On Thursday morning, I sat in a room of nearly 2,000 people and felt utterly alone. That’s when I realized that the problem wasn’t New Room, the problem was me. Why did I feel so lonely in a room full of people I love? My mentor/coach/spiritual papa was a few rows behind me. My beloved friends that came from my church were right next to me. My best friend was two rows in front of me. How in the world could I be alone? I couldn’t tell you why, but I was.

I went to the breakout sessions. The first was actually very helpful to my doctoral work, but I wouldn’t say it made my heart sing. I only stayed at the second one for about 10 minutes before I went and sat alone at a table in the courtyard.

Thursday night at New Room has been my favorite since my first trip down. If there was any shot of me “meeting with God” as I had in the past, it was going to be there. After dinner I actually considered dropping my friends off and staying in the car, that’s how much I wasn’t feeling it. But then my better nature prevailed, and I decided that I had to try. As per the usual, the worship was excellent. The whole room was crying out to God singing Graves into Gardens. I sang as loud as I could with as much passion as I could muster:

Oh, there’s nothing better than You
There’s nothing better than You
Lord, there’s nothing
Nothing is better than You

You turn mourning to dancing
You give beauty for ashes
You turn shame into glory
You’re the only one who can
You turn mourning to dancing
You give beauty for ashes
You turn shame into glory
You’re the only one who can

You turn graves into gardens
You turn bones into armies
You turn seas into highways
You’re the only one who can
You’re the only one who can

We got to the end of the song and the worship leader started talking. I know I won’t get it exactly right but it was something like, “there’s a lot of graves in this room. Pastors, leaders, you think you can deal with your graves by helping other people with theirs, by pouring into others over and over again. We need to get passed singing about graves to gardens and actually deal with the graves. So tonight, I want you to look right into your grave and say to the Lord whatever you need to say.”

I closed my eyes as I stood there. I thought, what could possibly be in my grave? I started thinking about everything I’ve experienced (we’ve experienced) over the last 18+ months….okay, I can picture it. Now what would I want to say to the Lord about all that?…I could only come up with one word…

Why?

As soon as I fixated on that word the worship leader said, “maybe tonight you need to ask God why.” Okay, that was good enough for me. I fell into my chair and I wept. And not just the misty-eyed sniffles, it was the shoulder shaking ugly cry. I started to list my lament of why straight to the Lord as I crawled into the grave of my life:

Why is COVID even a thing? Why now?

Why are Your people so divided?

Why would we let something as simple as a mask divide us? Like, that’s really going to be it? No arguments over doctrine or salvation or how to reach more lost people….we’re going to spend our time arguing over a piece of cloth? Why, Lord?

Why did our church gather all this momentum for Your kingdom, build a new building addition, and then have to shut it all down over a virus?

Why have so many not come back to Church? And why do I take that so personally?

Why are we so divided over blue or red?

Why do we continue to put our trust in Caesar instead of You, Lord?

Why are we so divided over issues of race when You died for every tribe, nation, and tongue?

Why don’t we value the sanctity of all human life at every stage?

Why don’t we trust each other?

Why have we made it so easy to hate?

Why is everyone so mad all the time?

Why do I care when they’re mad at me?

Why are so many Christian marriages on the brink of collapse?

Why did I have to sit through the funeral of a high school classmate a few rows behind his two young children who probably won’t remember their daddy?

Why do I feel like over the last 18 months it’s become absolutely commonplace for dreams to be ripped from right in front of me?

Why do I feel like I’m not making a difference in the lives of the people you’ve called me to shepherd?

Why did my best friends experience the joy of a miraculous pregnancy only to lose her? Like seriously, don’t You remember us dancing around my dining room table when they told us the news? Don’t you know how we all longed for that little girl. Why?

Why has all this division over politics and pandemics caused so much heartache right in my own home? Why have some of our closest relationships been severed over mistrust and diverging allegiances? WHY?!

Why, why, why, why, why? Why, Lord? Why do I feel so alone? Why do I feel so broken? Why do I feel like I’ve used all my energy fighting never ending battles? Why do I feel like my life is a mad dash from one fire to the next that needs putting out? Why?

I’m sure while I was doing the ugly cry and naming my complaints before the Lord that the worship leader was still talking, heck they may have been singing….but I was still asking why.

Then I felt the Lord say to me, “Okay, we’re down in this grave. Here’s all the stuff. All the brokenness. All the whys. What do you want to do now?”

That’s when I realized….God could handle my lament. God could handle my complaints. We’re so bad at lament. We’re so uncomfortable with sitting in the ashes, lying in the grave of the brokenness around us.

“What do you want to do now?”, I felt the Lord ask.

“Lord, we just sang it. You turn mourning to dancing. Why won’t you do it for me? You give beauty for ashes. I want you to do it for me. You turn shame into glory. Do it for me. You turn GRAVES into GARDENS. Do it for me! You turn bones into armies. Do it for me. You turn seas into highways. Do it for me! God, I’m so tired. I’m tired of feeling alone. You’re the only one who can do this.”

I felt the Lord ask me a final question, “How will you let me put you back together? How will you let me bring dead things back to life in your life?”

All I could think of in that moment was the place where I first died to myself, where I first let Jesus bring me out of my grave. If you know my story, you know that Jesus found me at a week of Church camp. My mind often goes back to that little Christian Service Camp where I first learned to trust in Jesus. I often find myself singing the songs that were so important to my formation there.

As I was having this thought, the worship band began to sing, “I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, I exalt Thee, O Lord!” How like our God to just show off like that? I can remember singing that song around a roaring campfire, looking up at the stars, hugging my friends who were helping me to learn how to follow Jesus…

I stood and I sang that song like I’ve never sung it before. Tears streaming down my face, totally off key—but it made so much sense. The way out of our graves, the way out of those places that we feel broken and beat down is to lift Him up!

I share this very long and winding story, and quite-frankly a terribly personal and vulnerable story, in the knowledge that someone else needs the word I received.

You feel broken. You feel defeated. You have a list of why’s a mile long. You might feel like you’re lying in a grave full of broken dreams and empty promises, but God is with you in that grave. He’s right there. He sits with you in your lament and grief. He can handle your anger, your shame, your guilt and your confusion. And He’s so good, He’s the only one who can bring all that deadness in you back to life. He’s the only one who turns graves into gardens.

New Room was very different for me this year, but I died in that grave on Thursday night. I still have so many whys. I still feel broken. But I have a renewed sense of hope that not only CAN God bring beauty out of these ashes, He’s ALREADY WORKING ON IT.

I died in that grave on Thursday night, but I heard somewhere that he specializes in bringing dead things back to life.

What grave do you need turned into a garden? He’s the only one who can.

3 thoughts on “My Lament Moment (Or, a Different Kind of New Room)

  1. Thank you for your utter honesty and vulnerability; for persevering through instead of staying in the car so that you could be present. That right there is a lesson to keep on even when you don’t feel like it. Praying for you, brother, that God will encourage your heart and strengthen you for the day ahead. One day at a time.

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