Lament, an essential spiritual practice for our violent times

mourn sorrowHow do I stay resilient in the midst of so much violence, evil, corruption, need, and pain? Is there a way to stay awake to the needs around me without becoming overwhelmed and despairing?

I wish I could’ve asked these questions in such a thoughtful way, but I couldn’t. I was crying and had lost count of the number of tissues I’d used.

My spiritual director listened with great compassion and then asked a simple question. “Do you practice lament?”

I didn’t. I didn’t know much about it. I learned and started that same day. It’s become an essential spiritual practice for me as I stay on the front lines with so many in need.

What is Lament?
“Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.” – Emmanuel M. Katongole, Reconciling All Things

Common Fears of Expressing our Anguish to God (Fear of Practicing Lament)  

  • I don’t want to appear weak. I have to be strong for myself and others.
  • I don’t want to burden my loved ones and friends.
  • Fully expressing my pain will only increase my pain leading me down the path of despair rather than the path of hope. What if I can’t stop the floodgates once I get started?
  • It feels unfaithful to question, complain, doubt. (Here’s the good news, it isn’t!)

Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know that our relationship with God is real. God cares. God understands our pain. God can and wants to help. 

Psalm 130: 1-2, The Message
Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.

Lament in the Scriptures
We find laments from the beginning to the end of the Bible. From the ground crying out over the murder of Abel in Genesis to the martyrs crying out for justice in Revelation.

  • 1/3 of the Psalms are laments
  • Much of Job is lamenting
    • Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?”- Job 3:11
  • The Old Testament Prophets often lament. The prophet Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet.
    • For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? –  Jeremiah 8.21-22
    • If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.”- Jeremiah 9:1
  • An entire book of the Bible is called Lamentations- written concerning the fall of Jerusalem

Jesus Lamented
Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. This reminds us we can lament our personal pain.

Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. This reminds us we can lament people not recognizing the gifts of God’s grace and salvation. We can also lament the brokenness of society. If they only knew the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42)

Jesus weeping all night in the Garden of Gethsemane. This reminds us we can be totally honest and totally vulnerable. No feeling or thought is taboo.

Jesus crying out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” from the cross.

How to Practice Lament

1. Rest

  • To lament, we must stop. Feel it fully. Recognize what we’re up against.
  • We medicate with activity. Busyness keeps us distant and the pain at bay.
  • Rest is “not an invitation to become unconcerned about the conflict and chaos in the world but to imagine that the salvation of the world does not ultimately depend upon us.”
  • Rest enables us to cease from grasping, grabbing, striving, trying to be God

2. Direct our cries to God

  • “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1)

3. Make your Complaint

  • express your anger, pain, heartache, sadness- Uncensored feelings
  • ask heartfelt questions
    • “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2-3)
    • I do not understand what is going on. This makes no sense. How long? Why?
    • Questions can be more than requests for information, they can also be cries of pain.

4. Make Your Request

  • Describe the affliction. It might include rage against your enemies
  • Look toward me, and have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.  Put an end to my affliction and my suffering, and take away all my sins. Behold, my enemies are many, and they hate me violently. Preserve my life, and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Psalm 25:16-20)

5. Affirm your trust in God

  • God’s presence
  • God’s power in the past
  • The attribute/character of God
  • The promises of God that you’re thankful for and that you are claiming

Psalm 130:5-7           
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  

What spiritual practices help you stay resilient? 

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Lament Article © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

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