ləˈment - noun, a passionate expression of grief
We can think of nothing more important than beginning with lament. Where private lament has served to rend our hearts, we also pray for a flood of corporate, congregational grieving for the damage that has been done to women within the church. This pain and harm is not something that can simply be corrected, avoided and addressed with new policies and structures. We are facing the need for deep change that can only begin with feeling the pain and suffering that runs through every church, a silent and raging multi-racial river of suffering. Such suffering is both individual and institutional. In our expressions of grief, we invite the world to grieve. Lament gives depth, nuance and clarity to the story God is telling— his people willingly surrendering long held beliefs, prejudices and defenses.
Choosing to lament the violence women experience in our world requires a change in the narrative that has largely shaped the evangelical church until now.
As we enter into Lent, it seems appropriate that we enter into lament. Not applause. Not standing ovations. Not polite silence. We are invited by God to grieve, wail and mourn the injustice of this world. And in doing so—privately and as congregations—we will become the change we seek.
Laments are prayers for help in times of trouble — threats of violence, drought, disease, and treachery, for example. Sexual harassment, abuse and resulting trauma are threats of their own that can set waste to our health, in body and soul. In this third week of Lent, we call all those who lament the darkness of sexual violence against humanity to break the silence between you and God—making your own heart break known to God personally.
Our lament recognizes that our relationship with God has been damaged by the realities we and those we love have experienced. Lament is an honest attempt at reconciling on many levels with our God. The basic structure of the following psalms can guide us into discovering truth, a progression from complaint to confession of trust has sometimes been explained as a hindsight realization that God has indeed acted. Yet God’s deliverance is often experienced in the midst of suffering, not apart from it. By asking God to allow you to stand “in the GAP” between suffering and response, you can gain trust that God is engaged and NOT far away.
Laments sometimes begin with a short invocation but often skip the niceties and launch directly into complaint: “God, why do you let evil things happen? Why don’t you answer my prayers? Why was I even born? Why didn’t I die in my mother’s womb? Why don’t you destroy my enemies in the same way they’re trying to destroy me?” These complaints allow us to give words to our experience and the thoughts and feelings we have towards them, and can anchor our complaint to God in a place and time-- an integral part of the healing process.
By becoming quiet and listening to God for an answer to our complaint, we can turn from the language of complaint to the language of trust, and our petition for help becomes grounded in faith in God’s attention, attunement, and mercy.
Choose one of these Psalms of Lament and read it aloud to yourself:
- Psalm 10 deals with corruption and the arrogance of power.
- Psalm 13 deals with an enemy.
- Psalm 38 recounts an illness.
- Psalm 69 refers to persecution on account of religious faith.
How do these Psalms sound? Do they sound “religious” or angry? Could you speak to God this way? What kind of relationship do you need to have to have with God to be able to speak to him this way?
Will you risk writing your lament?
- Invocation (very brief and sometimes omitted) or to call on God.
- Description of the situation that is the focus of the lament/complaint.
- Confession of trust or confidence in God, or willingness to wait for hope.
- Listen in quiet and peace for God’s response to your cry in your mind, heart, scripture or image.
- Petition for God to act in justice and righteousness.
- Offer the sacrifice of praise to God even in the midst of suffering.
Laments are made real when shared, from the heart, in safe places, and sometimes in corporate spaces. We challenge you to share your lament with someone you trust as safe. And if you desire, you have the opportunity to share your lament on social media with the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual and #LentenLament as a sacrifice of your work, complaint and cry, up to God.