Someone I greatly respect recently posted the following on Facebook. It’s a short word about lament. I’ve been saying we live in circumstances appropriate for the practice of lament prayer, so I was glad someone is writing about it. However, when I read this friend’s word, I had mixed feelings. I agreed with his main point — that for followers of Jesus “lamenting simultaneously in and with trust is crucial to our well being” — but, on the other hand, these words troubled me because I don’t think too many Christians, especially here in America and particularly in the world of evangelicalism grasp the process this entails.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:8-12)
We see here the simultaneity my friend writes about. Death and resurrection mark the life and ministry of the Christian. Here’s how my friend put it:
What do the people Jesus created -— the Church —- do in times like these?
Here is what I think we do: We empathize. In biblical terms, we lament. But as the people of God, we lament in a very unique and Christlike way (John 15:11). This allows us to be a positive, faith-filled presence to the brokenness we lament.
We lament, mourn and pray in pain, but not without trust that hope and joy are in the very air we use to pray. It is not an either/or proposition.
We may feel hope/joy and lament/mourning in what seems like cycles or alternating moments. But lamenting simultaneously in and with trust is crucial to our well being and our ability to lovingly and effectively be present to and lead others.
It seems to me that most of us are quick to rush through the “death” part so that we can emphasize the “resurrection.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to skip the first part altogether. We don’t allow ourselves to truly grieve, to mourn, to lament — to let death do its work in us.
This subsequently leads us to play the part of Job’s counselors with others. Sitting in silence with them makes us itchy. So we give immediately hand them a Dayspring card. We recommend a new Christian song that emphasizes God’s blessings in times of sadness. We spout a cliché. We run quickly from the foot of the cross and don’t stop running until Friday turns to Saturday and then we get to Sunday. But the old preacher told us to wait. Sunday’s comin’, he said. He did not say we get to skip right to the end of the weekend. He did not say Friday and Saturday don’t matter. He did not say we should avoid looking fully into the darkness of the inhabited tomb in favor of immediately embracing the empty one.
I want to advocate for a full, unrushed experience and practice of lament. We need to live in it, to soak in it, to let it do its work in us before moving on. Loss, change, and disorientation are wounds that require time and patient care to heal. And so, the psalms of lament describe a process that is necessary to move through. Taking the necessary time, not insisting upon an accelerated pace of our own choosing.
We don’t jump to hope, we more often slog our way there. However long it takes.
Let lament be lament. Don’t rush through where too many Christians fear to tread.