Earlier this year, God whispered to me: “Lament.”
Honestly, my response was, I’ve heard of that before but I don’t really know what that means or how to do it.
This process was forced by the sudden passing of two friends at the beginning of the year. Then the loss of multiple people around me who were transitioning out of their roles. Followed by listening to some really hard stories of suffering from the kids and families I work with. And feeling very overwhelmed by the violence and killings happening in this country. Different forms of loss, yet the pain and grief accumulated as a heavy weight on me.
God’s whispered invitation led me on a journey of discovering what lament truly means. Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah says, “Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble.”
Which brought me to asking myself, How do I respond to pain and suffering? My answer: avoid or keep moving forward. But this year I felt the consequences catching up with me.
Which led me to asking God, “How do You invite me to respond to pain and suffering?”
In time I discovered that God’s invitation is to cry out to Him in prayer. Scripture give us many examples. The Book of Lamentations and many of the Psalms are filled with heavy, honest words acknowledging great suffering and voices crying out to God. Jesus himself, the Suffering Servant, shows us how to lean into our human suffering and cry out to God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Just like any new practice, I am finding lament takes time and intentionality to acknowledge the pain, to sit, and cry out to God in prayer.
We have a great need for this. Being human is hard. As part of the human experience, we will continue experiencing suffering until the day we meet our Creator. Being an ambassador of Christ, and salt and light to the city of Los Angeles is hard. There will always be a need to lament.
And that’s exactly what my prayers have been… God, this is hard.
Lament does not ignore or minimize the suffering. Rather, it gives us a healthy space to sit with our Father in the midst of brokenness or to ask Him to intervene.
I also discovered lament is a language – the language of suffering. It is saying, “This is not the way things are supposed to be!”
David embodies this in the Psalms. I have found it comforting to read his words that give me permission to come before God with my own honest words. Psalm 13 has been particularly helpful. David directs questions of “How long?” to God multiple times. He tells God about the sorrow in his heart. He describes how he feels crushed by the enemy, to the point of death. Have we, too, not felt this way, crushed by despair?
Rah also says, “The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering that is wholeheartedly communicated through lament.”
There is hope within suffering, within lament. In Psalm 13, after David’s questions, acknowledgement of suffering, and expression of despair, he makes a bold declaration. “BUT I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.” (vv5-6. Emphasis added.) He knows he can still trust God in the suffering because David knows God, he knows His character. David’s example shows us lament builds a bridge, and moves us between suffering and praise.
Jesus wept for Lazarus, even though he knew he would rise. His hope of the resurrection is our hope too.
We need to be a people of lament and who know the power and necessity of lament.
We need to acknowledge the reality of suffering and pain. And we need to know our Good Father intimately—for the sake of our spiritual health, to love others well, and engage in the fullness of the Gospel.
Alison is the Area Director for Young Life Hollywood. Young Life’s mission is for followers of Christ to build meaningful relationships with adolescents, introduce them to Jesus, and help them grow in their faith. YL Hollywood has been one of FPCH’s urban ministry partners for 14 years.