Within our Christian cultures we do not often leave room for lament. The ability to lament may have been lost in our excitement over the saving of our Lord and yet, lament still holds an important place in our daily lives and in our walk with God.
To begin with, lament reminds us that we are hopeless without Jesus Christ.
It brings us to the end of ourselves and it is deliberate validation of the pain in our lives; this is key to a healing and releasing of our lives. In order to loose off the pain of our lives that pain must be acknowledged, recognized and spoken for what it is; only then are we are free to go on to forgiveness and the new things that God would have for us.
We read that Jesus was a man of sorrows, and that he wept.
“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” Isaiah 53:3
“Then Jesus Wept” John 11:35
Lament brings us past being wounded, to being broken.
In order for God to shine through us we must first be broken; broken over our self concern, broken over the hurts of others, and broken over our own hurts. Broken is different than being wounded.
Broken allows the Lord to shine out through our lives. Wounded keeps God from entering. Wounded we build up hardness, scabs, barriers to God’s love. Broken we are opened to the love and touch of God.
For instance, when we are physically wounded our skin builds up scabs and toughens to protect itself; it is the same with our wounded hearts.
The only way beyond our wounded hearts is to invest in lament both on our own behalf and on behalf of others. Lament brings compassion and the oil of the Lord to our wounds. This softens our self-protection to the point that the Lord can break in with His presence and touch. The Lord wants to heal and restore us at our most vulnerable and hurting selves.
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
“They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.” Matthew 14:36
We can in fact differentiate the broken from the wounded by their ability to lament. Wounded we do not have the ability to lament, but when we are broken, lament becomes ease to our hearts.
The Psalmists were powerful in lament. They were in touch with their sorrow and loss and spoke of it freely. We too must have room for this in our own lives and within the body of Christ.
“Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles. My enemies shout at me, making loud and wicked threats. They bring trouble on me and angrily hunt me down. My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking. Oh, that I had the wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness.” Psalm 55:1-7
It is part of the ministry of Christ to increase our sensitivity to others and to make space for lament.
While it may be true that God will do great things, heal all things, and make us glad, the person in the midst of great sorrow does not need to hear this, not at first.
To be healing agents of our Lord Jesus Christ our first response to those in great pain is to simply acknowledge the pain, “Yes, this has been very bad for you.”
“I’m so sorry that this has been your experience.”
As we sit in the pain with them we do not rush them out of the pain nor we do not sweep it away too quickly. To brush away the hurt and pain is to disregard the harsh realities that many have faced; it is to disregard the person.
We do not rush people out of their pain in order to find Jesus, but we in fact enter Jesus into the pain; this is, after all, what He came to do.
He did not come to put on a happy face per se, as though sadness is wrong, just the opposite. He came to enter in and to inhabit our sorrows and to find us as companions in grief and loss. Paul described it this way,
“To the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by some means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22
There is much in this world to be sad about. Your life and my life, we have things that have gone horribly wrong. Our lives contain things that cannot be fixed. To allow honesty about this is part of the ministry of the saints one to another.
Do we want to rejoice? Yes. Do we want to experience God’s healing and hope? For sure. Do we want our days to be a little lighter and with more gladness? Certainly.
But the path to this is not in putting on a happy face in a false way, but in bringing our honesties and hopelessness to God. It is imperative that we remain in the authentic emotions of sorrow in order to find God tucked in right beside us in the very midst. One of the gifts we give each other is the freedom to lament.
And as we invest in lament our joy increases. This is why Jesus could say,
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
I was in Mozambique last year to a number of churches over a fairly wide area. In one place the land was hard and the people exhibited a toughness that mirrored the land in which they lived. With heat and a land of scrub-brush, where the people worked double time to eek out a living, I wondered at their resilience and strength in such a place.
I found the answer when we came to worship. While they had the traditional songs of praise, with upbeat tempo and dance, the song they chose to open our teaching time was one of lament; it was a slow, mournful, longing poured out in song.
The women led the way and it is truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. It contained a special fragrance that wafted to our Lord and I learned in an instant the secret of their resilience in such a hard land – they easily and regularly entered into lament.
I don’t know why we are afraid of lament. I don’t know where we learned to avoid sorrow or to consider it bad and wrong. I don’t know why we rush at people’s pain with ‘God will fix it’. I suspect it is because we cannot bear their sorrow, for we have not yet found God in the midst of our own.
Yet, Jesus lives to intercede for us. We read,
“Therefore his is able, once and forever to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.” Hebrews 7:25
We can courageously enter into lament because God is already there.
In contrast, when we are fearful of pain we dismiss one of the most powerful tools by which to reach the lost and to minister to each other for the ability to lament alongside others brings us into immediate fellowship and friendship and into the bonds of peace with both God and each other.
Lament enters us into the holy of holies where intimacy with our Lord increases, where we validate and honour each others stories, and where we find true strength as God comes near to us.
To understand and come alongside the man of sorrows we must come in the honesty of our own sorrows. We must engage them, cry them out, speak the losses, walk through the pain. Lament is holy work.
We must not push people away by too quickly saying, ‘but God will heal you,’ for before the healing must come the lamenting.
We must allow the infection of our souls to rise to the surface. As ministers of Jesus Christ this is one of our tasks. We first come into touch with our own lament, finding God richly in our lament, and then we are okay to enter into lament for and beside others.
“If one member suffers all suffer together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26
We cry with others. We sit in silence with others. We sorrow with others.
We need not be afraid of silence of lament. We do not need to rush to soothe it, or rush to throw God at it. A ministry of lament is part of a powerful healing process.
“Dear God, we bring to you the honesty of our hearts and lives. We carry many sorrows and sometimes the pain of our hearts is too great to bear. I am glad to read that you were also a person of sorrow and that you wept. Today I open my sorrow that it might mingle with your sorrow. Thank you for interceding for me before the throne of God. I bring you my pain, I bring you my loss, I bring you my sadness and I welcome you to carry it with me. I do not hide it from you, but invite you into it’s midst. Teach me how to lament in a way that washes the sorrow from my being; may I acknowledge the pain of this life and be freed from its grasp as I enter into lament. May I find you in the middle of the hardest parts of my life. Thank you Lord that you also give us this same ministry of lament alongside others; please grow me in this ability to sorrow with others and to bring your ministry to them in this way. May we together find your joy. Bless you Jesus, thank you for showing us how to be honest about our lives. Amen and Amen.”