Lament: The Freedom to Feel

 

We are wired to avoid physical pain. Just watch any toddler touch a hot candle after being told not to. Chances are, he won’t be in a hurry to do it again. Yet physical pain serves a purpose, helping us to focus on the part of our body that needs our attention.

We’re also wired to avoid emotional pain. It’s uncomfortable. But like physical pain, emotional pain exists for a reason, drawing our attention. And just like ignoring physical pain can harm our bodies, we do ourselves a disservice when we experience feelings such as grief, anger, hurt, despair or discouragement and don’t allow them to be acknowledged and processed.

In reality, we can learn a lot from emotional pain and suffering. One of the ways we can do this is through the oft-neglected journey of lament. When we lament, we cry out to God, allowing ourselves to feel and verbalize our pain and sorrow in a raw, unfiltered way. Pastor Dave Lomas calls lament a “prayerful response to the reality of suffering that engages God in the context of pain and trouble” (Lomas, “The Reality Daily”).

There are many biblical examples of lament. Almost one-third of the Psalms are songs of lament. There’s even a whole book called Lamentations. We often skip over these chapters in search of something more encouraging to read. But the journey of lament is a necessary part of our emotional and spiritual health, as we bring our whole selves to God, not just the pretty parts.

Lament has several key components:

Cry Out
Lament begins with a plaintive, desperate cry to God. Many biblical laments start off complaining to God about His seeming absence or indifference, as in Psalm 13:1a, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Or Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus as He was suffering on the cross, which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Lament then moves into pouring our heart out to God in a raw, honest way. In Psalm 6:6, David cries out to God and is unashamed of his anguish, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Verbalizing our emotions, our disappointments and our anger is a critical part of lament, whether we are feeling our own pain or feeling outrage on behalf of someone else.

A number of years ago, my husband and I went through a difficult season where our faith in God was severely tested. We’d felt called to step out in faith and pursue a dream, only to have it come crashing down around our heads a short time later. I spent months crying out to the Lord. But I found comfort in the fact that I was still on speaking terms with God, even if I was mostly shouting at Him in rage.

Lament allows us to continue our relationship with God, even when He is the perceived source of our pain and disappointment. We can find comfort in the many examples throughout the Bible of this honest dialogue with our loving Father.

Petition
The next part of lament is where we ask God for help. In the Psalms, we see the writers asking God for help, deliverance, strength or even just a listening ear. Where are we needing God’s intervention in our trouble? Maybe we desire justice on someone’s behalf, or we need strength. Perhaps we are asking God to simply hold our head up so we don’t drown in our sorrow. Bring God into your pain and ask Him for what you specifically need today.

Trust and Praise
Lament is more than just expressing pain and sitting in it – it’s different than wallowing. Most biblical laments have a crucial turning point, a moment where the writer shifts focus from their own complaint to stating their continued trust and hope in God. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)

Expressing our hope and trust in God may be difficult if we are in so much anguish that all we can see is our current trouble. But this is the beauty of lament – it helps us to tie our present hurts into both the past and the future. We look back and praise God for how He has been faithful in the past. And we look forward and declare our hope in Him for our future.

Worship leader and author Stacey Gleddiesmith describes biblical lament as “an honest cry to a God who is powerful, good, and just—a cry that this situation is not in alignment with God’s person or purposes. [Lament is] a cry that expects an answer from God, and therefore results in hope, trust, and joy rather than despair” (Gleddiesmith, “My God, My God, Why? Understanding the Lament Psalms“).  Lament is a journey, with movement – it begins with honestly expressing everything we are feeling, but it ends in a place of hope. In lament, we find our freedom to feel.

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