“Just trust God.”
“Have more faith.”
“You’ll be OK.”
“This, too, shall pass.”
These two encouragements and two promises are absolutely right and true, but what if your circumstances are so dire that you are having trouble remembering or even believing these statements?
What if you’ve experienced tragedy, sorrow, loss, heartbreak or betrayal that runs too deep? Or what if you find yourself depressed and overwhelmed while navigating a global pandemic? These have been long days. For some, this season has been a time of personal reconnection, a time of discovering new skills, hobbies and delights. For others, it has been a time of profound loss, anxiety, stress and frustration.
What do you do when you find yourself in a season of lament?
There is good news that most of us know but few choose to embrace: lament is a necessary and healthy spiritual condition, an exercise of faith that can lead to eventual joy and peace that words fail to capture.
Lament. This long expression of deep pain or sorrow isn’t a sign of a lack of faith or spiritual weakness. It’s a soul-strengthening exercise.
Our North American culture is very good at denying pain and suffering, so we often become accidental masters of denial, convincing ourselves that we need to be “strong.” Yet God can handle our sorrow, pain, fears and despair. He can take our anger, frustration, and even our doubt, and transform them into hope, confidence and even joy!
To lament is to cry out desperately to Jesus in the midst of our deepest suffering, simultaneously turning our hearts to trust in God’s power and provision to deliver us from despair.
It is possible to lament and still praise the Lord.
It is possible to lament and yet hold onto real hope.
The psalmist says in Psalm 42 (3,5):
“My tears have been my food day and night ...
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
This psalm is a prayer in the midst of spiritual dryness or profound spiritual depression.
The psalmist was isolated from “the festive throng”—those he once worshipped with and led to the house of God. Lonely, unable to sense the presence of God, what does he do? He preaches to himself. He cries out in desolation and then finds his consolation in the truth of who God is.
What do you do in moments when you feel discouraged or dissatisfied with your reality?
Jesus invites us to practise holy lament—an exercise that allows us to be wholly ourselves before a God who is holy. Allowing God’s truth to speak new life and transforming love into our desolations helps us to grieve well and surrender our suffering to the God who is Jehovah Jireh—the God who “sees” and is faithful to provide for all our needs.
Not learning how to lament creates heart clutter that gets in the way of our being able to serve the Lord in the fullness of joy that He’s called each one of us to.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?” the psalmist cries out in desolation (vv. 5,11).
Then, by preaching to himself, he consoles himself with this truth: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me” (v. 8).
And then he commands himself, “Put your hope in God” (v. 11).
For every desolation we experience, God’s promises carry consolation that will take us from a place of loss to a place of trust.
Every Christ follower needs this gift of lament. Without it we are stunted in our ability to process pain, and that’s when bitter silence, stealth, cynicism, and even anger can come to dominate our spiritual lives. Without our own lament, we won’t know how to help others when they walk through their valleys. Instead, we may offer trite solutions, look for quick fixes, become impatient in our responses, and sometimes become deeply frustrated at how long their lament lasts.
Lament is how we grieve, but not in a way that allows the grief to win. Instead, lament brings us in our brokenness to a place of wholeness; from fear to a place of trust and security; from a place of defeat to victory in Christ Jesus. Our pain can become our platform for more authentic worship.
This is why we need to embrace and practise lament. How can we be a people of true praise if we don’t first understand lament? How do we celebrate a victory unless we’ve identified the battle?
Jeremiah pleads with God in the Book of Lamentations over the suffering and evil in the world.
Habakkuk cries out to God over the judgment that is to come for Israel. The Psalms are filled to bursting with songs of lament. Even Jesus lamented in Mark 14:36 when He cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”
But then ….
“Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
There is tremendous joy in this life, but we would be liars if we said that life was always easy. Rain falls on the just as well as on the unjust. When we are doing everything as well as we know how but our lives feel like a series of painful blows, we need a deeper sense of the reality of God. Intentional lament helps us to relocate ourselves into the reality of the grace and sovereignty of God.
Especially in times of sorrow, turbulence and uncertainty, let’s embrace the spiritual practice of lament. The honest confession of our desolations will be met with the sweet consolations of Christ that can only deepen our faith and strengthen us for the journey. Praise God that as we learn to live more honestly in the tender, healing embrace of Jesus, we can more fully serve and encourage others toward the same.
Kaarina Hsieh has served in pastoral ministries for over 20 years. She is the former dean of students at Tyndale Seminary and has served as lead pastor at Parkway Forest Community Church, a vibrant and diverse church in Toronto, Ont., since 2012.
This article appeared in theJuly/August/September 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo by Luis Alberto Sánchez Terrones on Unsplash and istockphoto.com.