Today we will talk about the spiritual practice of Lament and how God meets us in our losses when we interact with Him honestly about them.
I first learned about the spiritual practice of lament in spiritual direction training. They were talking about how helpful this practice can be for people like me who can sometimes be unaware of what we are feeling and why. It can also help if you are feeling guilty about the emotions that are bubbling up inside you and you’re not quite sure what to do with them.
The goal of the spiritual practice of lament is to express and capture the emotions that we are feeling so we can see underneath them. For instance, if we are angry, we might write a lament that will reveal that our anger is hiding feelings of guilt, fear or anxiety. Or maybe we are angry during this pandemic because we have compassion for the people who have been greatly affected by it. By writing out the things we are feeling and thinking we are bringing them into the open so that God can heal them.
Think of it like removing a scab from a festered wound. We have to take the scab off so we can treat the infection. The scab in this case might represent how we have hardened ourselves so we don’t feel too much. But if we leave the infection buried, it will continue to fester and grow worse.
So, yes, lamenting will expose our wounds. It is vulnerable, scary and sometimes surprising. The first time I wrote a lament I saw on the page so much anger. I had no idea that all of that was inside me.
I find it really helpful to write my laments down on paper. Just know that you do NOT have to show what you write to anyone. If you don’t want anyone to see it, feel free to burn it when you’re done. But there is something really powerful about seeing it there in black and white on the page that can be really healing. But let’s say you’re not a writer. Maybe for you it would be more helpful to sit in your car by yourself in a deserted parking lot and yell out your lament before God. That’s fine too. Whatever works for you!
So, let’s get started, shall we? We are going to start by reading a verse from the master work of lament in the Bible, the Book of Lamentations.
Lamentations 1:16 NIV
This is why I weep
and my eyes overflow with tears.
No one is near to comfort me,
no one to restore my spirit.
My children are destitute
because the enemy has prevailed.
We see here in this verse three parts of a lament: the Reason, the Result and the Rival. The prophet starts by talking about what has been lost. “THIS is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.”
In this first part of your lament, write down specifically what or who has been lost, the Reason you are grieving. You might include the circumstances in which the loss occurred ~ HOW this thing or person was lost. You might want to talk about where it went when it left you. This is especially helpful if you have lost a person ~ where have they gone that you can’t reach them? Feel free to pause here while you write down this first part of your lament if that’s helpful for you.
In the second part of your lament, write down how you were affected by this loss. Talk about what YOU lost when that thing or person was lost to YOU. This is describing the Result of your loss. Explain what it is about this loss that affects you so deeply. What ripple effects has the loss had in your life? In this section you might also write down what you want from God, what you need from Him during this time. Again, feel free to pause here while you write down this second part of your lament if that’s helpful for you.
The third part of your lament is to name the individuals who have been your adversaries in this experience ~ those people who have been your Rivals, if you will, during this time of loss. This may feel uncomfortable to you because you might feel guilty about being angry or upset with other people because you know they are struggling too. Let me just encourage you that the Bible is full of laments that include the expression of strong emotions towards people that the person writing the lament perceived as their enemies in their current situation. Friend, God wants to hear about how the behavior of others is affecting you! Let me say with all affection that forgiveness can be incredibly difficult if you have not fully lamented the hurt that you are feeling as a result of the words and actions of the person you are trying to forgive. So, once again, feel free to pause here while you write down this third part of your lament if that’s helpful for you.
The last part of your lament is optional, and that's the Redemption. In this section we write down the ways that God has redeemed the situation or used it for good. The reason I say this part is optional is because you may not be able to see any ways that God has redeemed the situation yet and, if that is true for you, then that is okay too. Maybe you can write down the ways you HOPE God might redeem the situation or the potential for GOOD you see might be possible for the future. Perhaps you want to write down what you feel like God wants from you ~ the ways that He is calling you into partnership to bring healing into the situation. So, last time, if you would like to pause here while you write down this part of your lament, feel free to do so.
So, now that it’s all out there on paper, how do you feel? I know for myself I often feel lighter after writing a lament, like some burden has been lifted from me. There is something incredibly freeing about saying these three things. 1) This thing happened. 2) It hurt me. 3) I open myself up for the possibility of healing.
I thought I might include in today's post one of my own laments that I wrote a few years ago. I recently stumbled across this poem again and realized how relevant it is to this coronavirus pandemic.
People are moving, the church is locked
The world revolving, the church is locked
Men are despairing, women are bearing
Children are wearing, the church is locked
People are seeking, the church is locked
The world is weeping, the church is locked
No one has answers, dying of cancers
Popping enhancers, the church is locked
People are losing, the church is locked
The world abusing, the church is locked
Men misbehaving, homeless ones craving
Little girls waving, the church is locked
People are praying, the church is locked
The world decaying, the church is locked
Beauty is hidden, stolen from Heaven
No one is bidden, the church is locked
You notice in this poem the Reason for my lament is that churches across our city, across our nation, and across the world are locked. Many congregations are not holding public services and some may choose to continue to abstain from doing so for some time to come. This lack of corporate worship has been the source of deep loss for me, as I imagine it has also been for some of you.
You may notice that the poem talks about the Result of locked churches, that people are hurting and struggling and that the church, which has historically been a refuge in times of crisis, is not able to be so in the way we are accustomed to during this time. Now, I want you to notice that the poem is also not entirely true. Although the DOORS of many churches have been locked during the pandemic, the Church is not the building. The people of God are actively serving all of those people I mentioned in the poem in some context, even if it’s not possible to do so in our church buildings.
This is a good time to point out that laments do not have to be true. It is not the purpose of a lament to talk about what’s real. The purpose is to talk about what FEELS real to YOU. We see in Scripture examples of biblical heroes who lament to God about what they see as true just to be told by God that what they have imagined is not actually true. So, be encouraged, friends, that the purpose of your lament is to begin a conversation with God, a dialogue with Him about what you are experiencing.
The last thing you might notice about my poem is a hint of invitation from God ~ that He is welcoming me into partnership with Him to reach out to those mentioned in the poem, that I might be a source of hope and healing for them until the church doors reopen. I hope that I have been able to respond to that invitation in some small way through taking this time together with you today. #weeklywellnessword #nourishyourbeing