How to Lament Well

Are we nearly there? As we hopefully endure the last couple of weeks of extended lockdowns, one could not be blamed or criticised for feeling as though their hope and optimism levels were waning. We still wonder what the next few months will hold? Will we be able to be together with family for Christmas? Will we be able to go away to our usual summer holiday destinations? Will we be able to resume our normal work? Why hasn’t this all blown over by now?

As a fairly positive person, the concept of ‘lamenting’ is somewhat new. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like we aren’t supposed to really give permission for those feelings of sadness or sorrow. It almost feels like a shameful thing to allow ourselves to lament, particularly when we look around us and see that we have healthy families, faithful friends who check in with us regularly, and a warm, safe home in which to be ‘locked down.’ There are people who are suffering way more than I am; what right do I have to express sadness and sorrow at the circumstances we are walking through?

Mark Vroegop, a pastor from Indianapolis in the United States says, ‘To cry is human… it continues because the world is broken. While tears and sorrow are part of our humanity, there is an often-neglected prayer language in the Bible for our travels through a broken world: lament.’ (Source) There’s a prayer language called ‘lament?’ That almost sounds like there is some legitimacy and permission from God to be sad?

We all know that something is wrong with our world and COVID-19 is just another example of brokenness in our world. It is jarring, dislocating, frightening and difficult to understand, let alone contain. It is invisible too, which means it is even harder to avoid or protect ourselves from. And, it doesn’t seem to have a simple solution to make it go away, it is dragging on causing major disruptions to the way we usually live. We can literally ’groan’ with each new virus-related obstacle and subsequent ‘pivot’ we need to make in our schools, churches and families. It is not how it is supposed to be.

It turns out that the Bible is filled with songs of sorrow and lamenting and this is because it is a type of prayer. There is even a whole book devoted to ‘Lamentations!’ It is not wallowing in self-pity or self-indulgent grief at the loss of daily conveniences, it is a deep, heartfelt cry to God, an expression of grief and sorrow at the disorder of the world we live in, with the understanding that we cannot yet experience His ‘Shalom’. Mark Vroegop also says that it has a ‘unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.’

N. T. Wright recently wrote in his book ‘God and the Pandemic (2020)’ about possible ways we could process this distressing event using biblical thinking. He likened this period of lockdown to being a little like ‘exile’ and used the example of Daniel choosing to thrive and ‘live well’ in the midst of exile, taking care of the needs of the land he was currently occupying. He also spoke about the long-held tradition of Christians in previous pandemics and plagues; the ones who held such eternal views of life that they continued to minister to the needs of the sick and broken, even though many of them also became ill and lost their lives. The kindness and selflessness of Christians made a tremendous impact and opened the doors for great moves of God as hopeless people sought to know what kind of love would motivate Christians to put themselves in harm’s way with all the risk and no reward.

N. T. Wright also finished by encouraging the prayers of lament, that it is a biblical way to respond in a crisis such as this — but that after the lament or even in the midst of it, it is about looking around to see what needs to be done in the communities we are placed. Who needs help? In what ways can we as Christians be the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world? How can we ‘infect’ the world with the love and kindness of Christ?

So, let’s take the time to use the prayer language of lament, but also continue ministering to the needs of our communities and allowing Christ to be seen and experienced through us. Whether we are over the worst of this pandemic in Australia, or still well and truly in its’ grip, let’s never give up on the hope we have in Christ.

(Adapted from a devotion recently shared by Karen Hooper, State Executive Officer for CEN schools in Victoria.)