In 2015-2016, I was invited to be part of a small group of pastors and leaders connected with Fuller Seminary. We spent time in quarterly retreats together in some beautiful places like Malibu, Colorado Springs, and Austin. We gathered online in between retreats and shared what we were learning from the curriculum. This was a wonderful time of discipleship formation in my life. Yet, it was in Chicago that this Fuller Formation group was etched in my memory.
I recall a cold and dreary rain nearly the entire time we were there, which kept us indoors for most of our retreat. The weather seemed to go hand in hand with the week’s curriculum; Lament. We were invited to reflect on lament in the Scriptures, write our own lament, and share this with a few others from our group. I will never forget this process. As I shared what I had written, a couple of my colleagues came around me and prayed for me. It was like something was cracked open within me, in the presence of the kindness of my Savior. Since then, I’ve experienced Jesus continuing to work in my life through what I had written and shared. I know there is more work yet that he wants to do.
Now, when I look back over the past year during this pandemic, there is so much to grieve, both personally and corporately. Personally, some of my closest colleagues in ministry have moved away, and I miss them. Corporately, we experienced pain and loss as a church community wrestling with our Holiness and Leadership statement. Corporately, our country has grappled with a reckoning of racism, both in African American and Asian American communities. Corporately, our hearts break over the senseless violence of the mass shooting in Colorado. We have our own sin and brokenness to lament before God, along with all the pain we experience in the world today. In all of this, as we see in the Psalms of lament, we are not left to despair but are pointed continually to hope.
In this Holy Week, we are invited to bring our heavy and burdened hearts to Jesus, who is gentle with us. He carries our burdens on the cross and intercedes for us, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) Even then, we are not left in despair, because as God’s people, we believe in the hope of Jesus Christ and that he rose from the dead. Through Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness of sins, share in the saints’ communion, and have life everlasting. This is our confident hope.
This Holy Week, I invite you to engage in the resources below from the Fuller Formation group I was part of. As you reflect on the scriptures, you are also invited to write your own lament that points to hope. Consider sharing this with a trusted friend or small group. May God bless you this Holy Week.
WRITING A PSALM OF LAMENT
WHAT IS A LAMENT
A lament is a prayerful response to the full range of problems in the human condition. The psalms specifically name isolation, shame, despair, danger, physical impairment, accusation and death as cause for lament. Laments are one of the ways that we intentionally bring into God’s presence parts of our lives that are in pain, trauma or are disturbing.
In writing your own psalm of lament, it may be helpful to keep in mind these ideas that Walter Brueggemann outlines as salient elements in the prayers of lament.
- A protest, crying out about the incongruity of the promises of God and something in your lived experience
- Voicing a complaint as a way of taking initiative in the covenantal relationship you have with God
- Knowing that often, but not always, the complaints of the people of God will move God to answer and to save
Take time to sit quietly and reflect on a time in your life when you were experiencing some type of pain or protest. (The more recent the better, and if you are able something present). It could be an event, an experience, a season of your life, a pain or a loss.
- What are (or were) the feelings associated with this time in your life? If thinking about a past event, invite God to lead you to remember by His Spirit.
- What are/were the cries of your heart?
- What are/were your questions about where God?
- As an expression of prayer, write your own lament.
To help stir your imagination, three examples of laments have been included: A biblical structure of lament and two modern examples of personal laments. These are not meant to be models of what you are to write, but merely examples to help you pay attention to what might need to be expressed from your own heart.
The only essential element of this exercise is that you authentically express to God something that has been painful to you. Feel free to express your personality, gifts and temperament.
EXAMPLE 1: Traditional Structure of Biblical Psalm of Lament
Traditionally the psalm of lament has a definite structure with several elements:
- The opening address,
- The complaint,
- The confession of trust,
- The petition for help,
- The vow of praise.
While not all of these elements are found in every lament psalm, they are all present in Psalm 22, which has been described by some as the premiere lament psalm.
“My God my God… (22:1a)
“Why have you forsaken me? Why are you in so far from
helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (22:1b)
Confession of Trust:
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” (22:3-4)
“Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” (22:11)
Vow of Praise:
“From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” (22:21 a-22).
EXAMPLE 2: Personal Psalm of Lament
By Ann Weems from her book, Psalms of Lament
I am depressed, O God.
I see no end to this cycle of sadness.
People tell me: “Everything will be all right,”
But it isn’t, and it won’t be.
They quote Paul to me:
“All things work together for good for those who love God.”
Don’t I love you? Wasn’t I brought up in your holy house, O God?
Didn’t I memorize your words and sing hymns to you?
Don’t I bow down to you?
Isn’t that what I’m doing now?
No one can tell me any good can come from this moment!
Let them have their say if it makes them feel better!
But I don’t want to hear it! I know what I’ve been through.
I know what it is to have death walk the halls of my home.
What has happened can’t be undone.
What is done cannot be prettied up.
But you, O God, can stop the aftershocks.
O God, tear through the night
To rescue the one you have left too long.
Help me, O God, Out of this tomb of pain.
EXAMPLE 3: Personal Psalm of Lament
By Karen Goltz from her blog: Karen’s Take on Life, the Universe, and Everything
Accept me, O Lord,
because your people have not. A
congregation of your followers sought to
destroy my marriage and my faith.
Every day I live with the pain,
feeling their rejection, and my failure to
guide them back to your ways.
Have mercy on me, Abba.
Ignite my faith where it has dimmed, and show me your
Keep my family together.
Let those who have strayed from you but call themselves by your name
make right their wrongs, and
know that what they say and what they do matters.
Open my heart, O Lord, and heal the
pain that lives there.
Quiet my demons, and
restore my faith.
Show me your faithful, your forgiven people who remain
true to your path,
unable to be perfect, but
very loving, very giving.
Where are you, Lord?
Explain how this can happen in
Zeal is yours, Lord. I’m waiting for you to show it.