Friday, February 21, 2020

On Lament

Yesterday my friend Katie Billheimer shared these words:

Lamenting. Something our culture doesn’t really know how to do. Grief makes us uncomfortable. When someone is going through something and they have questions we can’t answer, we try and fix things, force a positive spin on it, tell people not to be sad or angry as if it’s a switch to turn on and off. In the book of Psalms, 70% are songs of lament where the writer cries out to God out of fear, sorrow, and frustration. It’s not wrong to feel this, even if it is scary. We were made to feel. Made to question. Made to yearn for something better. We’re not going to have the answers for all the struggles in this world—if we did we would be God. But this lack of knowledge is nothing to be ashamed of. We should never make people feel less for being low or like there’s something wrong with them. Just be there. Listen. Hold their hand and don’t say anything. Your presence and the knowledge that you won’t run away or ignore them is enough.
Her words are wise. Timely. I have spent the past few months taking as much time as I can nab to be alone and sit and ponder and acknowledge the loss and the brokenness and cry out to God and ask him lots of questions and then let go of longings and dreams and unmet needs. It is been very good.

In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, Mark Vroegop says this of lament,
The space between brokenness and God's mercy is where this song is sung. Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise. It is the path from heartbreak to hope. 
 He goes on to describe the key elements of lament:
 1.) an address to God, 2.) a complaint, 3) a request, and 4.) an expression of trust and/or praise....turn, complain, ask, and trust....the heart is turned to God in prayer. Complaint clearly and bluntly lays out the reasons behind the sorrow...the lamenter usually makes a request for God to act--to do something...nearly every lament ends with renewed trust and praise.
What struck me about this is how little lamenting we do. Maybe lament doesn't look good. I would imagine some might think it a bad witness, a wallowing, so to speak in your pain. We are so often told, taught, chided, commanded, exhorted to trust God in our pain, leapfrogging from turn to trust and skipping entirely the complaining and asking part that is absolutely crucial and the very heart and soul to lament.

Why are we afraid to lament?

Perhaps so much of it is our Christian culture. We are encouraged to do, do, do, do, do. To be studying our Bibles and praying and evangelizing and discipling and raising up our children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and so often are told exactly what that all should look like. And, of course, we should at all times and in all places have that "attitude of gratitude" (insert sing song-y voice and syrupy smile here.) Stop gazing at your navel and get on with the show.

Perhaps so much of it is our theology. We have a theology of sin, but not of suffering. We think the whole of the Christian life, the whole of it, is about sin and repentance. So any suffering requires not complaint, but confession. Any suffering is your own damn fault.

Perhaps it is because we think if we hurt enough to need lament, we are doing it wrong. We have been fed a lie that if we come to Jesus he will clean up our house and tidy up our rooms a la Marie Kondo and pain and suffering and brokenness and the terrible messiness of life here on this earth will touch us no more. Or if it does, we will be so filled with the "peace that passes understanding" that we can just float above the fray in our Happy Jesus Balloon.

But the older I get and the more messy I see life truly is. The more broken I feel. The more pain and suffering I see in the world and in the lives of people I hold so dear. The fewer answers I have. And I find that all I can do is lament. And it is good for my soul.



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