Was it last week or the week before? It doesn’t matter. I was on a call with some friends and we were praying. We had all been greatly saddened by George Floyd’s death, by some of the activities that then followed and by the people who tried to then take advantage of the situation. We were lamenting, but I don’t think we were doing it particularly well. That changed when my friend Sara started to pray. To lament.
In her prayers, although she didn’t scream, I could feel her soul screaming. Through her tears and her repeated, “How long?” prayers my heart was torn. Her anger and frustration in such quiet, raw, and strong form took my breath away. I didn’t utter another word during that prayer meeting, I just sobbed with my mic on mute.
But through it all there was a stream of hope in everything she prayed. She knew God could bring change, she relied on Him, demanded of Him and laid everything on the table. My prayer life will probably never be the same again.
I’ve come to realise we need to lament more. There is healing in the tears, there is healing in voicing the pain together, there is healing in inviting God’s presence into our pain. As Mark Vroegop says, “Lament is the language of loss as we grieve together.”
The first step in any lament process is to turn to God. We don’t have to be happy with Him, in fact the opposite is completely OK. If we don’t pray we bottle our pain, our frustration and / or anger at God. As highlighted by the 24-7 Prayer movement:
“Pain is pain. Pain needs to be expressed, for pain that is not expressed can never be transformed [by God], and pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.”
During seasons of pain it is very important to turn to God in prayer. If you are struggling with the words to say over one third of the Psalms are songs and prayers of lament. No holding back. Full pain. Use them. Turn to God and let Him know what you are experiencing.
Complaining is so important. Like my friend Sara’s, comments: “How long must this go on?” are vital for the process of lamenting. The writers of the Psalms often ask God questions and blame God for His inaction. For us, in our pain, we need to “express our hurts in blunt but humble ways.”
This part of the prayer is where our hearts and souls cry out to God. If you’re leading you will probably need to make space for a huge range of emotions. Those involved will need time to process their anger, sadness, frustration and in general a lot of negative emotions with the situation. All of these are valuable. All of these are necessary.
What did I do to deserve this? … I expected good but evil showed up. I looked for light but darkness fell. My stomach’s in a constant churning, never settles down. Each day confronts me with more suffering. I walk under a black cloud. The sun is gone. I stand in the congregation and protest. I howl with the jackals”Job 30:24-29 (The Message)
The promises of God are hugely important to Christians the world over. During this time of our lamenting prayer we may find ourselves reminding God of who He is, what He has done in the past, what He should do again. Asking helps us to understand we have limited control.
God has full control and although He may feel distant from the situation we are asking Him to get involved. To bring change. This is the start of healing for us. Sometimes a very small step in that direction but a start never the less.
You see this part in the Psalms time and time again. Sometimes when reading them it feels like someone else took over writing. The Psalmist will go from “woe is me / where are you God”, to “I put my trust in you God” in a heartbeat.
One moment they are complaining that they are about to die, the day is dark and the world is about to end and the next line trust becomes paramount, the sun is shining. This is where we must end up.
Even when we are still struggling through the issues. Putting words to our heartfelt trust in the Lord, no matter the situation, changes things inside us. The pain lifts. Even if it is ever so slightly. It lifts.
The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.Lamentations 3:22-23
Lament is an important part of our Christian heritage which needs more of the limelight. So many of us skip over the lament passages when they are here to sit with us in our pain. Lament is a God given means of vocalising complicated and loaded pain. Lets embrace this gift.
- God on Mute: Engaging the Silence of Unanswered Prayer by Pete Greig & Brian McLaren Apple Books | Amazon | IndieBound
- Lament Toolkit by Faithward
- The Prayer Course, free resource for churches to download.
- How to Pray, A Simple Guide for Normal People: Apple Books | IndieBound | Amazon