The Lost Art of Lament (2 Ways to Recover it)

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My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Psalm 22:1-2

If I was to make one observation about the Church in the West these days (and I could make many, but this is pertinent to something that I am thinking through at the moment), it would be that we seem to have lost the ability to enter into lament.

We cannot be sad.

And that is sad.

I lament the fact that we cannot lament.

I’m not saying this as someone who has mastered it at all. I am a typical New Zealand man when it comes to sharing my emotions – I don’t. You will almost never see me cry, or be sad, or affected by anything. In fact to look at me going through a tough situation, the word that would probably come to mind is ‘stoic.’

Let me just say – for the record – that is not a good thing! There is NO WAY that I should be going through some massive personal crisis and be able to say “I’m doing good.” To do so is to ignore my feelings, and to bottle them up for too long is not healthy at all. We think that we can avoid feeling these things, but they are sneaky, they find ways to come out, to come and influence our lives in other ways. It may be anger, it may be detachment, it may be a constant anxiety, or something physical – a twitch or a tightening in your chest. These are signs of emotions that you have not entered into and dealt with fully.

The good news is that the bible is full of example of how to do this properly. In the Psalm above we see the psalmist crying out to God – WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!!!

I can imagine that this was either screamed at the ceiling, or coughed out between deep wracking sobs. There is no middle ground to say these sort of words, these are the cry of someone at the end, someone who is feeling like they have been abandoned by the ONLY ONE who was supposed to be there for them – now their prayers are hitting the ceiling and they are truly alone!

At least that’s how they feel, and they need to be able to feel and express that. Here are two things (that have helped me immensely) that you can do to recover the art of lament in your own life.

caveat lector – you may want to practice these either alone, in the presence of God, or with someone whom you trust implicitly, a spouse or close friend/family member, you do not want to make your situation worse by inviting unwanted feedback from those who neither know nor care about you.

Don’t Over Think

Often, when we are confronted by something like the psalm above – a feeling of abandonment say – we want to push it away by saying something like, “Don’t be silly! You know that God is ALWAYS here, there in no where you can go where He isn’t! Just get over it, you can’t feel this way when you know what the truth is!”

But that is what you are feeling, that is what you actually need to go through, to vent in order to process how you are feeling. If you don’t give vent to this, then, as I said earlier, it will not simply go away, but may come out in a feeling of deep loneliness that you can’t explain.

FEEL THE FEELINGS! Don’t let your head get in the way of the work of the heart! You will be much healthier for it.

Take As Much Time and Space as You Need

Often these feelings can be uncomfortable, and unfamiliar, especially if we haven’t given ourselves space to feel them before. So make sure that you don’t rush through, give yourself time to feel all of the feelings that you need to in order to move forward. Don’t set a timer, don’t say that it’s only for today, and then you can ‘get over it’er tell yourself ‘That’s enough! Harden up now!’

These are all responses that are UNHELPFUL and will make you emotionally immature. You NEED to be able to work through your feelings and come out the other side better equipped to handle them the next time. If you have to spend weeks feeling something then take the time needed. It’s okay, you will get through it, there is hope.

Bonus! Pray Constantly

I can never seem to limit myself! But this is a foundational one. Even if you don’t feel like doing so, often one of the best things you can do is to cry out to God. You may feel that nothing is happening, or that your prayers are not being heard, but it is more effective, and has a greater depth than you can possibly imagine!

May we all learn to lament well in this intellectual age!

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