First published in the Jan. 27 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
By Natalie MacMillan
Special to the Tribune
There are a lot of emotions that come along with the call to rebuild.
When the Israelites returned from exile to rebuild the wall and restore the city of Jerusalem, they encountered ruins. Although the opportunity to rebuild their beloved Temple was a hopeful proposition in theory, the physical reality they encountered spoke of destruction, crushed memories and lost hope.
The book of Ezra tells us that when the builders laid the foundation of the new Temple, the people sang and praised the Lord. But many of the older folks who remembered the first Temple, wept. The result? “The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping…” (Ezra 3:13).
Grief is a messy, complicated, untamed thing, and we all experience it differently. We are grieving right now. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives, and perhaps at some point we came to the realization that we are never going back. The old Temple has been torn down, for good. But we can rebuild.
And yet God, first and foremost, is always calling us into honest relationship with him; he was doing so with the Israelites and is doing so with us now. And so even before there was any new Temple to speak of — the physical manifestation of God’s house — the people worshipped and acknowledged God’s full and complete presence with them. And when the Temple’s foundation was finally laid, they both wept and shouted for joy.
As we rebuild, we like the Israelites may find ourselves bouncing between grief and joy.
How can we be present with each other as we each experience our own emotional journey? How can we honestly bring our hearts to God?
A middle school youth group in Florida started something to this end that eventually spread to the whole church. Using fake bricks, they made their own version of a Wailing Wall. Pencils and little pieces of paper were provided, and people were invited to write their own laments and prayers and stick the paper into the wall.
“God, I will trust you, despite the fact that _________”
…I don’t know where my life is going.
…I’ve lost loved ones.
…I feel angry at You.
…I don’t understand why all this is still happening.
…I can’t always see the joy amidst the continual loss.
The list goes on. We are invited to come to God honestly, as we are. I tell this to our children constantly, and yet I find that adults — including myself — need this reminder as well. This is what God longs for; this God who treasures each of our hearts.
If you walk by San Marino Community Church between Jan. 23 and Feb. 6, you may notice a wall of stones on a table, set up in the middle of the Courtyard, with paper and pencils nearby. This is our own community Wailing Wall. All are welcome to participate.
If it would be meaningful for you, we invite you to stand side-by-side with us in bringing our joys and our laments to a God who is always eager to listen.
Natalie MacMillan is the director of Children’s Ministries at San Marino Community Church.