I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
None of us need look far to find situations or circumstances that are not ideal. We each can see realities of life, difficult circumstances, things we wouldn’t choose. We see these in our personal lives, in our families, in our church, in our community, country, and world. These things can be overwhelming. And, sadly, some of us have learned that these have no place in a life of faith. We have been taught, either directly or indirectly, that either once we follow Jesus, either hard things shouldn’t happen to us or we should skip past them, not express them, and simply claim our “victory in Jesus”. The truth is that we do have victory in Jesus. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus do empower us to live purposefully and abundantly in the Kingdom, here, now, and forever; however, we don’t get there by denying reality.
So, what do we do with these circumstances we wouldn’t choose?!
We turn to the biblical practice of lament. We learn to lament.
We are actually given numerous examples in scripture that a walk with God does not require a denial of reality. (Over 60 of the Psalms are psalms of lament!) We are allowed to bring it all to God. Life in the God’s Kingdom allows space to name and notice reality AND experience God’s sustaining presence in all aspects of our life.
So, what is lament?
Lament is not a laundry list of complaint. It is an invitation to bring our reality to examine it before and with God. It is an invitation to name and remember with God and to find God in the middle of our circumstances and grief and sin.
Lament is anchored in our hope in God. It acknowledges that life is not as God initially created it to be. It allows us to bring the realities of life, the difficult circumstances, the things we wouldn’t choose, the things that grieve our hearts to Him. Lament makes space to acknowledge our sorrow and let God exchange it for hope. It creates a space where we can come in honesty and vulnerability and be reminded of who our God is and find a trust that lets us keep our hearts and heads turned towards God.
“Prayers of lament are not emotions, hopelessness, or weeping. These kinds of prayers hold particular power that led the people of God towards trust in God. Faith and lament are not antithetical; they are actually two sides of the same coin. To embrace our grief and sorrow is to be human—to lay them at the feet of Jesus in prayer is to lament. Lament wholeheartedly involves surrender and postures of ‘I don’t know.’ Lament involves all of us, our emotions, and situations—but offers hope rather than fear.” –Karley Hatter
While there are many ways to practice lament, we lament from a posture of faith in God. One way is a 2-part lament pattern found in Lamentations 3. We begin with a remembering - a bringing to God our “affliction and our wandering” (Lamentations 3:19). We name them specifically. And then we enter part two, the “yet this I call to mind” (Lamentations 3:21), where we recall the things we know to be true of God. This is where we find our hope; it's not lament without hope.
Let’s practice lament together:
Remember. Prayerfully name your reality. We do not have to “pretend” in the presence of God. Share honestly with God whatever this is for you at this time. There is no right or wrong thing to bring to the Lord, bring whatever you are experiencing, grieving, or seeing in your personal life, your family, your church, your community, country, our world. Is there a pain, heartache, anger, or sadness that may need to be discussed with God? Talk to God about what you would like Him to do about what you have named.
Recall. Choose to also remember truths about God’s character and His activity in the past. Name ways you have experienced his love or compassion. Ask Him to help you see where and how He is working in the situations you have identified. Is there a promise of praise you can make or an attribute of God you can thank Him for? (examples: I dare to hope because God you are good. God’s mercies are new every morning. God’s faithfulness is great. Jesus sympathizes with me (Hebrews 4:14-16),… )
While this lament guide contains two parts, it isn’t necessarily two steps. You will likely find yourself in a rhythm of remember – recall – remember – recall as you practice your lament. And know lament is a practice to return to; it isn’t something we do once and never do again.
Other options for practicing lament:
Involve your body as you pray your lament. Take a walk (or a “stomp”), kneel, or even lay on the floor as you express your lament to God.
Use a psalm as a guide to write your own lament. Put the details of your own sorrows or questions into the psalm and personalize God’s attributes or actions. There are many psalms of lament to use as a guide. You might use Psalm 10, 13, 22, or 80.
Create a list of God’s attributes. Create your own list or compile a list from scripture. (Choose attributes from your favorite scriptures or consider reading Psalm 91 and 95). Pray these attributes back to God, thanking Him for who He is in the midst of your pain.
Focus your lament on your need for a Savior and God’s provision through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Especially during the season of Lent, take “the time in the season before Easter to lament and hold in our hands and hearts the weight and cost of sin so that when we celebrate the resurrection, we celebrate it with this brand new awareness that we are free from the curse of sin and death.” –Brian Hardin, Daily Audio Bible, March 3, 2021