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Learning to Lament

August 18, 2020

I am learning to understand a prayer language that for many of us as western Christians has all but been lost.  My guess is that many of us only used the term “lament” as we read through the book of Lamentations, if we read through the book of Lamentations.  In fact, my guess is, that like me, many of us only know one small portion of Lamentations and that is the portion in chapter 3 verses 21-26 that has the words “…for his compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”   It is from these verses that the favorite hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness was inspired.  I have nothing against Thomas Chisholm’s hymn.  I love to sing it. It has been one of those hymns that has offered hope and a promise of God’s presence for many. But if this hymn is our experience with lament then we have missed the depth and the power and the soul searching reality of this prayer language.

This morning, I am still processing the somewhat sudden death of a friend and colleague that Charlene and I had worked with nearly every Thursday evening during the school year and on Monday evenings during the summer.  Our common goal, our common passion was to connect with and resource educationally an underserved community in our affluent city.  On Thursdays we worked together in a tutoring program that our late friend started over 30 years ago.  We considered ourselves the “newbies” having only been part of the program for the past 11 years.  Today, due to the pandemic and changes in the policies of the subsidized housing authority and now the loss of our friend we don’t know the future of the program.  Lament is the prayer language that grapples with compounded loss in any form.

Am I grieving?  Yes.  But I find that grief is only part of the process. In fact, this morning the Spirit reminded me that grief is the emotion of loss and lament is the language of loss.  We need both.  I need to hurt, and allow myself to feel the loss, and experience the hole in my heart, and wonder what then next step is.  I also need to believe that God is big enough, and loving enough, and caring enough, and patient enough, as I cry out “Why?!?”   And sometimes that is an angry cry.  While I know in my heart that the “Why” questions are largely unanswerable; I also know that God gives me the space to ask them.  Quite frankly this is an odd place for me to be, because as a pastor, I am in one sense required to be the strong, compassionate, listener with the words of comfort.  But today I can’t shepherd myself and I again cry out “Why?”   I tell myself that it is okay to not be able to shepherd myself, but it really isn’t.  And I keep crying out to God.  And I believe that it okay for me to ask God the why questions; because it was okay for Jesus when on the cross he quoted a lament psalm and cried out to his Father, “My God, My God why have your forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1).  And like me he did not get a response.  God gives us the space to lament, to cry out, to wonder why and to cling to the hope that his presence is enough for the moment.

The loss of our friend is compounded by the losses we have faced universally due to this global pandemic. And all loss is significant to the one who is facing it.  Lament, as a prayer language gets that.  Lament gives each person room to tell their story and the God who gave us lament listens. Because He knows your story is important, especially to you, and it needs to be heard.  Sometimes I don’t need anyone to fix it or me, I know I don’t need that now as I grieve and express my heart.  I just need to be heard.  My story is important.  So is yours.  My loss is real.  So is yours.  The loss of walking across a stage and receiving a diploma is real.  The loss of getting family together for a celebration is real.  The loss of joining together and sharing in the grief of a funeral, because of social distancing is real.  The loss of power after a storm is real.  The loss of not having our school year start that way we had envisioned is real for students, parents, and teachers.  The loss of a friend who had a passion to see underserved children educated for 30 years is real.  And lament is the prayer language that gives us the opportunity to express our story and our loss in real, raw, gut wrenching terms, because that is what we feel.  It is real.

One final thought as I am a neophyte in learning this prayer language.  Those who have faced loss and without maybe knowing the term have entered the prayer language of lament know a fact that may be hard for some to accept time does not heal.  Lament is the prayer language that helps us understand that.  As we move beyond the loss, as we recycle through the various elements of grief, as we learn to adjust to new normals, we find that it is through lament that we can express to God our frustration with the changes that we did not choose.  It is the prayer language of lament that gives voice to our hope that somehow God will make sense out of this fog we find ourselves in.  It is in lament that we express our desire for things to be different. 

I have a long way to go before I have an understanding of this prayer language called lament.  But for today, just pouring out my heart on a computer screen has been a good first step.  I am learning to trust God enough to tell him what he already knows, how I really feel.  And I find from the exercise of that gut level honesty with God, there is in some unique way an inner strength that helps me just get through this moment of today. 

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