What exactly is Lament?Alison Haynes
During an extended period of grief in my own life, I found myself in the Psalms - like, a lot. There are large sections of my journals where all I did was write out the Psalms. I had nothing to give. Yet these sections of scripture were a balm to my weary soul. At a pivotal moment, a friend handed me a book called Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop. After reading the back cover, I was hooked. As I started learning about “lament,” I realized I’d been practicing this all along without even realizing it. Vroegop says, “Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.” (Vroegop, 26) This description resonated with me. In my head, I knew God was good. I knew and believed his promises. But why had he allowed me to go through so much? What was I to do with that? And how in the world was I supposed to process it all?
Deep down, every Christian knows that walking away from God in our pain is not the answer. We know that he is love and he is our comfort. Vroegop says,
"You might think lament is the opposite of praise. It isn’t. Instead, lament is a path to praise as we are led through our brokenness and disappointment. 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." (Vroegop, 28)
And our theology matters. God has given us a tool to help us in our grief: Lament. Our theology of God, of sin, and of salvation all play a role in lament. If I don’t believe God is good, then why would I struggle when it seems that he’s not being good? If I’m uncertain of the role sin plays in the brokenness of the world, why would I complain about it? If my confidence isn’t in Jesus and his saving grace on the cross, then why should my worldly problems even have a resolution? “It takes faith to pray when you are in pain” (Vroegop, 39). To lament is something only a believing Christian can do because of how this expression brings you - eventually - to praising Jesus.
I can remember my own grief journey - in a desperate moment, laying face-down on the floor in my room, as helpless and probably as hopeless as I’ve ever felt in my life - the words of Jesus coming to mind: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:43). Nope. I can’t say that, Jesus. That’s too much. I want you to take this away! And as gently and as suddenly as the Holy Spirit tends to move, he gave me the grace – lying there, on my face - to voice just that: “not my will, but yours, be done.” And that was a turning point for me, from desperation to trust. Did my circumstances change? No, not then. What changed was my heart.
Grief is un-tame. I want to control it. I want it to bend to my wants and wishes. I want to control when and how it hits me, and I want to control my reactions to it, but it comes in huge, often unexpected, waves that can leave me weeping, from a song, or a smell, or a story, or a fleeting memory. My grief and your grief won’t look the same, but this tool of Lament is a gift from the Lord that we can all use. He knows our weaknesses and knows that we cannot handle the grief of this world without him. Trusting God is active patience. We move forward, with confidence, knowing that He is with us, he sees us and he knows the outcome already. Vroegop says, “We know that the ultimate lament cry—“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)—led to the greatest moment of redemption” (Vroegop, 79).
Remember the command in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” As you think through your own story, and as you process the recent earthquakes and the immense loss in Turkey and in Syria, remember that everyone around you has a story to tell, a grief they are carrying. God sees them and knows them. But he has put you in their lives for a reason. Seek to be the one who listens, who climbs down in the metaphorical hole and lovingly, gently points that friend to Jesus. The brokenness in our earthly lives isn’t going anywhere. But thankfully, God isn’t, either.
Next time, we will talk more practically about the steps involved in Lament, and how you can apply this in your own life, as you process and grieve.
- Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop
- Scripture verses are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.