Updated: Jun 17, 2020
A few weeks ago, I was participating in a webinar on the topic of children’s ministry and our re-entry into in-person ministry. I was looking for brilliant strategies to keep toddlers 6 feet apart (spoiler alert - there are no brilliant strategies for this). Instead, the leader talked to us about lament. Lament? I was taken aback. Why were we directed to wallow in our misery rather than pep-talked into finding joy and praising God through our trials?! How was ‘being sad’ going to be helpful?
Of course, lament is neither wallowing in our misery nor is it actually opposite to finding joy and praising God. Rather, lament is a way to pray that allows us to be honest with God about our complaints, and this honesty deepens our relationship with God.
Most of us have never practiced lamenting. Instead, our norm is to put a positive spin on things. Sure, working from home is a challenge some days, but at least we’ve cut out the commute. Seeing empty grocery store shelves was unsettling, but we learned that our 2-year-old yeast still works and we can bake our own bread! It’s sad that school is canceled, but we have so much family time now, and it’s just lovely! Now try those sentences without the positive spin: Working from home is a challenge. Seeing empty grocery store shelves is unsettling. It’s sad that school is canceled. Those sentences land like boulders, heavy, and uncomfortable.
I love that we have a pull-ourselves-up-by-our-own-bootstraps mentality. We need to be strong, and we need to move on, and we want to be happy, and so we find the good and cling to it. This is not wrong. It’s an excellent strategy for surviving in a fallen world where pain is guaranteed. But when we don’t practice bringing our pain to God honestly, we miss out. We miss out on working through our pain, we miss out on experiencing His comfort, and we miss out on growing closer to God through it.
Are you ready to give lamenting a try? Here’s how:
To begin, turn to God - an example from the Psalms is “How long, God? Will you forget me forever?”
Bring it. Voice your complaint. Be honest. “God, I’m so discouraged by what’s happening in the world…”
Ask for help. Be bold. Remember who God is and what He has promised us. “Jesus, you are Immanuel. You are always with me. Please be with me now...”
Trust or offer praises to God. “God, I trust in your deep and abiding love for us. I will sing praises to you.”
For inspiration, you can read (and pray) some psalms (try Psalm 13 or 77). You can even follow the psalm’s format and write your own psalm of lament and pray it a few times.
One of my favorite descriptions of lament comes from an article by Dr. Glenn Packiam, a pastor in Colorado. He writes that lament is a “pathway to intimacy with God”, explaining that “by laying every emotion and every experience before YHWH, their covenant God, the psalmist was reinforcing a bond of intimacy, affirming an attachment. Just as God made a covenant with Abraham by the breaking apart of animals, so Israel embodied the bond of the covenant by breaking open their hearts before God.” Being broken open sounds difficult and uncomfortable. But being in that posture before God? That sounds worth it.