The Gift of Lament: Hope
When we don’t know to lament or we choose not to, we end up expressing our grief, hurt, pain, fear, anger, confusion, etc to people who are either not listening or cannot who cannot or do not want to help. This is called complaining.
Complaining leads to despair. We have been given a biblical and healthy way of expressing grief and sorrow yet most of us are unaware and therefore are not using it. In Embodying Integration, Mark McMinn writes, “Perhaps the absence of lament has given way to expressions of anger expressed through disembodied forms (eg. network media, social media, and so on).
Matthew Wilcoxen wrote, “Lament, then, does not insult us by offering theoretical explanations of the problem of suffering. It does not compound our misery with a cheery optimism. Lament is no satisfying intellectual argument but rather is something that can only be experienced through the practices of prayer, which offer something far more powerful—the presence of the living God.” Lament is a gift God has given us to invite Him into our suffering, our Comforter, Savior, Provider, Hope, and Prince of Peace. He has suffered and feels with us the suffering we experience.
Come Before the Lord
Lament is a spiritual practice with specific elements to it. The elements given are adapted from Mark McMinn and Megan Anna Neff’s elements in the chapter on lament in Embodying Integration.
The first step is to come before the Lord in a place you feel comfortable to be as vulnerable with Him as you can. We see this in the psalms such as Psalm 77 when the psalmist cries out the Lord in misery.
“I poured out my complaint to you, God. I lifted up my voice, shouting out for your help. When I was in deep distress, in my day of trouble, I reached out for you with hands stretched out to heaven. Over and over I kept looking for you, God, but your comforting grace was nowhere to be found. As I thought of you I moaned, “God, where are you?” I am overwhelmed with despair as I wait for your help to arrive.”
One of the wonderful things about the psalms is their rawness. It is important to remember that the psalms are poetry. They express how a person feels, not necessarily the truth about the situation. In this psalm the psalmist feels like God has abandoned him, but he later expresses the truth that even though he feels this abandonment he knows the truth that God is faithful. This will be discussed a little later.
Name the Suffering
Second, it is important to name the suffering you are going through. What is the specific suffering you are experiencing? Is it sickness? Is it marriage difficulties? Is it the death of a loved one? Is it addiction or mental illness? What is it that you are suffering with? Lay it out before the Lord knowing that He is experiencing that deep and desperate pain you are experiencing.
Third, cry out about the suffering. What are you feeling? To what intensity? When you cry out the Lord you are crying out to One who is moved to sorrow with you over your suffering. When you cry out to the Lord, you are crying out to The Only One that can somehow bring beauty out of ashes. Jesus did this in the Garden, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels like I am dying.”
Fourth, express resistance to the suffering. Resistance to suffering is normal. Those experiences are not a part of God’s original plan for the world. It’s okay for us to voice the fact that we don’t like what we are going through. It is okay for us to ask, “why?”, as long as we don’t get stuck there. It’s okay for us to say, “I don’t like this!” “ I don’t want it to be this way!” “This is not okay! I am not okay!” All these resistances are normal. They are understandable because they are human. Jesus also does this in the Garden, “My Father, if there is any way you can deliver me from this suffering, please take it from me.”
Fifth, express confidence in The One receiving our express of lament. We remind our self to whom we are speaking. In Psalm 77: 11-13, the psalmist writes, “Yet, I could never forget all your miracles, my God, as I remember all your wonders of old. I ponder all you’ve done, Lord, musing on all your miracles. It’s here in your presence, in your sanctuary, where I learn more of your ways. For holiness is revealed in everything you do! Lord you are the One and Only, the great and glorious God!”
Jesus does this in the Garden, “Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfill Your plan for me.” Jesus knew God’s goodness and His faithfulness. He knew God’s plan was the only way. Jesus knew His Father.
Notice that it is not “feeling confidence”. Our feelings are not always ready to get on board with Truth. Many times we have to express confidence through our words without feeling. This is no less confident.
Lament is Expressed on Many Levels
In the same way that our suffering is felt on many levels, our lament can be expressed on many levels. There is personal lament which is the lament expressed over your unique and personal suffering. There is familial lament which is the lament expressed over the suffering of relatives and close friends. Tribal lament is the lament expressed over the suffering of those in your race and tribe. Congregational lament is the lament over the suffering of those in our church family. Communal lament is the lament over the suffering with your community. National lament is the lament over the suffering within your nation. Finally, global lament is the lament over the suffering within the world. We lament over what breaks our hearts. We lament over what breaks God’s heart. We lament over what breaks the heart of others.
The purposes of lament are five fold. The first purpose of lament is to experience true love. A person’s greatest need in the midst of suffering is “to feel seen & known” not to be rescued. In that experience of feeling seen and known – we feel accepted, secure, significant, and hopeful – all the needed factors for love. A second purpose of lament is to know Christ more. Paul writes in Philippians 3 that when we suffer, we are able to know Christ in His suffering. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 147:3 said that when we lament we are able God’s comfort and love as He binds up our broken hearts. A third purpose of lament is to praise God. In an article on lament, Todd Billings wrote, “As strange as it sounds, prayers of lament in a biblical pattern are actually a form of praise to God and an expression of trust in His promises.”
Lament was also given to us for a fourth purpose which is to experience grace. In Promises in the Dark, Eric McLaughlin wrote,
Lament is a means of grace to us in some of our most desperate times. Lament offers the freedom to come as we are and bare our hearts…. Whatever the state of our hearts, the Bible has been there before us. These are the words of scripture in the mouths of the broken hearted. The Lord is near to such as these.
Experiencing grace reminds us that we are at the glorious end of ourselves and that there is Someone bigger and greater than us who loves us with a love that is deeper, higher, wider, and farther than we can ever imagine.
Romans 8 gives us the final purpose of lament. Lament was given to us by God to prepare our hearts to see redemption. We do not grieve as the world grieves. We grieve with hope.
To this day we are aware of the universal agony and groaning of creation, as if it were in the contractions of labor for childbirth. And it’s not just creation. We who have already experienced the firstfruits of the Spirit also inwardly groan as we passionately long to experience our full status as God’s sons and daughters—including our physical bodies being transformed. For this is the hope of our salvation. But hope means that we must trust and wait for what is still unseen. For why would we need to hope for something we already have? So because our hope is set on what is yet to be seen, we patiently keep on waiting for its fulfillment. And in a similar way, the Holy Spirit takes hold of us in our human frailty to empower us in our weakness. (The Passion Translation)
We live in this world of suffering because God loved us so much that He gave us a choice to love him and others. But with that choice and the Fall came suffering. We greatly anticipate a time when we can return to the garden where we can love and be loved with complete vulnerability. We deeply desire to live in a space where we can be completely known without shame. As followers of Jesus we know that that time is coming and that this suffering is just for a moment in comparison to eternity. But while we suffer we are offered the gift of lament knowing that this gift blesses us and glorifies God all at the same time. Somehow and someway God works through lament to bring healing to our hearts. We are challenged this Lent season to use this gift from our Father as a way to be resilient in the midst of the inevitable suffering we experience in our lives.