In many parts of the world and states in the US, lockdowns continue. And the longer it goes on, with rising death counts and rising unemployment with losses of many kinds, words are getting scarcer. Are you tired of so many words? Too many well-meaning but at times necessary Zoom and Skype calls? Too many attempts at inspiration and encouragement that leaves us somehow still fatigued and lacking?
We need to learn a new language, a lost language for many. The language of lament, a crying out authentically from our souls whatever is within. As this global battle with an insidious pandemic goes on, (and on), we need to find words that are closely aligned with how we really feel inside. There are times for celebration and praise in worship or in our daily discourse, but there are also times to lament and groan with the ‘how longs?’ that the book of Psalms is filled with.
But we do not lament as without hope. As one of my favorite writers, Eugene Peterson says, perhaps up to 70% of the book of Psalms has at least some prayers and cries of lament. (Eugene passed away last year. How I wish he was still around now and could share his always unique perspective on the times we are living through!) But in all but one of these Psalms of people crying out like David or Asaph or Ethan or others, there is some kind of movement within the verses to the place of trust and hope in God. Even in the most dire circumstances.
Only Psalm 88 has no resolution of hope in the lament. It is one of the darkest portions of Scripture. I sometimes wonder if we need Psalm 88 there to remind us that sometimes it seems like in this life, in circumstances of pain we face, there seems to be no resolution. No happy ending. Only the darkness and seeming absence of God. We long for His presence. But sometimes as C.S Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed when his wife of later life died of cancer, God is like a house where all the windows and doors were tightly shut. No mystery solved, no questions answered. No certainty. No words.
To lament is to cry what is in our heart. Someone said once that we don’t need to be taught how to lament. We do it naturally because we were created in God’s image, and however broken and scarred we are, there is still a cry within. Even if we do not believe in God, we are still made with such incredibly beauty and longing. Actually we have to be taught, and usually we are even in our churches, how not to lament. We are taught to deny pain, to deny reality, to look on the brighter side and call it faith.
But the cries of lament, wrenched from the depths of our soul, take much greater faith than the shouts of victory in the easy times. Actually lament leads to hope and then to a more exquisite joy than we could ever believe. Some of the greatest pains of our lives can eventually become places not of bitterness and victimhood but of lament filled with hope. But we must not deny.
There is much to grieve in these months. We lament together lost opportunities, lost jobs, lost lives, lost hopes, lost dreams. But as we cry out our pain, not only for ourselves but also for our world, we find new hope, new life, new joy.
Out of the depths, I cry to you Lord. I am not afraid to lament, to grieve, to say where are you, and when will this end?
I come as I am today, Lord. Sometimes I don’t know if I even believe in you. I don’t know where your presence is, if it is anywhere. But somehow I hope, I trust. The lament of your absence leads to a sense of your presence.
Lord hear my cry from the depths of my soul today. In your lovingkindness (Hebrew word ‘hesed’) remember and act in your great mercy.