Lament is not a whinge, but the heart poured out to the one who knows you

Thriving, not just surviving in seasons of ache and loss  //  Written specifically for St Christopher’s
Anglican Church, during the Covid-19 Physical Isolation Season 2020

Thriving, not surviving through lament is not something we’re accustomed to.

Today as we grow weary of the reality that we’re in this historic global pandemic and the flood of media diatribes over this situation, & the news dribbling out. 

Our streets and work places remain empty, and in a moment of celebration we now recognise and appreciate the little person – the grocer, stocker, lorrie driver, and clerk.  We praise the medical professionals in hospitals, clinics and front line responders – ambulance, police and fire.  We admire teachers innovating and finding a way. 

Yet, as it wears on, though we’re making huge progress in NZ, we find the novelty wearing off and grief entering in.  We lament. 

At the end of this experience, will we lament for no purpose, for no transformation.  I am convinced that in our lament, God is transforming us.  In enduring this, we are forced to awaken and reflect and it “can” change us – lift us to new levels of understanding ourselves, each other and God.  It burns away the dross that builds up over time. 

Jeremiah, the crying prophet who made vain attempts to do a last minute aversion for Israel as she rebelled and mocked God, even at the approaching demise, became the prophet known for simply crying.  He wept bitterly at the destruction and death, the pillaging and stench of death after Jerusalem fell & was carried away into slavery in Babylon. 

He knew lament.  But let me pause and get us to ask a question.  What is lament?  It is a good ole whinge?  An angry indictment made in raging grief?  Is it venting?  Is it grief repackaged?  Let these questions guide our conversation.

Pause now and read Lamentations 3, focusing on verses 16-33.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not cast off for ever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.

Did you pause and read it?  I want to – in context of all of the book, and the chapter and this passage, these verses:

  • We hear these words in our liturgy almost every weekend, “22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  These words of comfort are such because the context of which they are promised – at the at the depth of lament.
  • The depth of his grief is in the opening words of this passage, 16”He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; 17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; 18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”
  •  The key Jeremiah teaches us is the still posture of accepting, waiting, hoping, 26 “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
    27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
    28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;
    29 let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope”

This week, I read an article by Bishop NT Wright, where he resisting the temptation to explain and even the futile act to understand the present situation.  +Tom invites us to remember that Christians through history has offered us a way to lament that leads to hope, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain and to lament instead.  As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.” 

Jeremiah’s prophetic words give us a guide to entering into lament, and the Psalms are in its five books, complete with gritty disharmonious bitter lament – but never the whinge or the indictment, but the authentic pouring out of real emotion and grief.  And in it always reminding themselves – and us – of a hope and trust.

So later in this week, I came across a helpful article written by Rev Dr Glenn Packiam, at a New Life Church in Colorado Springs.  He received his doctorate from Durham in the UK.  He gives five clear hopeful lessons regarding “Godly Lament.”  I unashamedly take up this five and recast them for us here…  in university, it is plagiarism, but in our context, it’s ministry!

  1.  Lament is a form of praise
     The Psalms are defined in Scripture as “tehillim” (praises), while two thirds are lament!  Reconciling this reality is the key.  Lament & complaint are interchangeable.  The Psalms teach us that our complaint in light of His character, His unfailing love & covenants with us.  A complaint maligns God’s character, but a lament is an appeal based upon the confidence in who God is, in trusting, knowing He is for us!
  • Lament is a proof of relationship

Because they knew they were/are God’s children, the appeal is made directly to the Lord.  Ever noted the small caps in our English translations?  That’s where the original text reads YahWeh, God’s most intimate name for His people to call upon and address Him.  They are not begging some distant deity to notice them, but appealing to the one who made covenants (unconditional oaths & commitment) with them.  When my children even as young adults need something or hurt, they turn to their imperfect dad.  One calls “Da” and another calls “Dad” and the other rings “Daddy.”  They are terms of endearment from ones who know they are loved unconditionally.

  • Lament is a pathway to intimacy with God 
    The very act of turning and unburdening one’s self to God is an act of living in and building and exercising intimacy.  I remember shortly after the USSR collapsed.  There were stories of orphanages (for many reasons) having babies, toddlers, who never cried or longed for anything… they suffered deep attachment disorder.  I wonder how those adults are faring now.  When one has no expectation of need being met, one gives us crying for it.  This is not the activity of a people with abandonment issues, but a people with expectation within relationship that their God WILL respond. 

  • Lament is a prayer for God to act

This expectation leads us to the lament prayer asking (trusting He will move) to act on our behalf!  While crying out and venting is part of relationship, there is a prayer in these laments that are calls to action, pleading with God to pay attention and hear them!  God tell us in the prophets that “He is close to the one who cries out to Him!”  In the Old Testament, the word for hear, “shema,” is used repeatedly, a few times for people to “hear” and more often, calling God to hear…and act!  God tells Moses that He hears the cries of His people and is intervening.  Paul’s letters often include his prayers for them and proclaiming God within the letter…  they are not anecdotal, but actually the foundation for his letters to the churches and leaders.  These prayers are for God to act, and for us to act in partnership with Him (1 Cor 3). 

  • Lament is a participation in the pain of others

Many of the Psalms are applicable all the time, some some of the time, and a few do not match our experience.  They seem so far from us.  We’re not hunted or martyred, nowhere near what our friends in the persecuted church face.  But when we choose to pray these Psalms, these laments “with” them, we’re not just acting, standing and being solidarity, but with the hosts of heaven, the saints who went before us and with these sisters and brothers we’ve never met.  When we lament with those suffering now – financially, health fears, dealing with the virus, having lost some one, lonely with no close support – have not been even touched by another person in this lockdown in the most subtle gentle way, we are transformed and united.  We’ve got widowed, an orphaned, we’ve got people who’ve lost children – including to mental illness & suicide.  We’ve got those who lost marriages, estranged children, lost careers, and never made it in careers.  We’ve got people who simply hurt and can’t fix it, depression always knocking at the door.  When we pray the Psalms, we learn to lament.  When we pause and read Lamentations slowly, digesting each bite and keeping the whole in perspective, we understand Christ more.  When Jesus was crucified He prayed Psalm 22… check it out.  This was a Psalm for Jews and then Christians being martyred.  He was praying with them…  giving them the confidence that He understands and enters in and participates with us in our Lament. 


Lament is not the end – it is not our final prayer.  It is, quoting Rev Dr Pakiam, “a prayer in the meantime.”  Jeremiah laces his laments – many and for good reason – with reminders for himself and for us that there is yet hope (e.g. Lamentations 3.28) and that God does act, love us, knows us, & evidences we are human in caring for the welfare of others.  There is the promise that we will return to thanksgiving for God acting and delivering us (& He will in this event as well!).  Because as we celebrate Christ’s sacrifice AND resurrection, His sending the Spirit and His promise to return for us, that we sorrow will not be our end, our eternity.  Rev Packiam writes this in his conclusion, “The song may be in a minor motif now, but one day it will resolve in a major chord.  When every tear is wiped away, when death is swallowed up in victory, when heaven and earth are made new and joined as one, when the saints rise in glorious bodies…then we will sing at last a great, “Hallelujah!” 

But the hardest part of lament is the depth we experience it now, the depth of waiting and silence.  Taking Jeremiah’s wisdom from God for us – let us be still, be silent, not grope and wait in trust… for His mercies are new every morning.  He is WITH us. 

~ Michael

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