Reclaiming the Lost Language of Lament

Spiritual maturity does not mean living a lament-less life; rather, it means we grow into becoming good lamenters and thus grow in our need for God.

The songs of lament are the very songs we need for healing and wholeness, yet how many of us are singing them in our church services today? We often call worship music “praise songs” — and these are good and necessary songs guiding us to praise God for who He is and what He has done for us. But where are the songs asking God for help? Where are the songs expressing the harsh realities of the world we live in, while looking to the only Savior? If we begin to believe God only accepts “happy” songs, our perception of God and the life of faith will be skewed. There were times I had to awkwardly walk out of church because I could not honestly sing “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”

My silenced cries prevented me from seeing a clear picture of God.

Throughout Scripture, we see that God Himself is deeply emotional; each member of the Trinity has experienced grief.

God the Father grieves:

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. — Genesis 6:5–6 NASB

The Holy Spirit grieves:

Yet they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. — Isaiah 63:10

Jesus grieves: He grieved over His friend Lazarus’s death, even though He knew Lazarus would live again. The shortest verse in the Bible is rich with theological insight:

Jesus wept. — John 11:35

In just two words, we are given a glimpse into the depth of emotion of our Savior — who entered into our suffering to be with us out of incredible love.

If we don’t allow painful emotions to surface, then we are setting expectations for ourselves that even God cannot meet.

Nobody laments more than God Himself.

And we are called to be like Him.

What a kind God we have, who has warned us that pain in this life will come and has given us a language to relate to Him in the midst of it. We are not abandoned in a lament; we are being refined, renewed, and held. When we begin to understand God as a God who weeps, we begin to see Him as someone safe to run to in the midst of our pain.

Lament is not a common word in our churches today, though it is a language woven throughout Scripture. A lament is a passionate expression of our pain that God meets us in. It’s real talk with God about the ways we are hurting. It’s an honest prayer to God about where we are, not where we are pretending to be. A lament may take the form of a plea for help in a time of distress or a protest over injustice. Strong’s Hebrew concordance says that the word lament has the same root word as “to mourn” and “to wail.” Isn’t that amazing? Lament doesn’t have to be a formal, structured prayer. This prayer is not about being polite or restrained or holding it together. No, lament is about our most honest expression of pain.

Lament is about tapping honestly into our emotions in a deep and primal way that sometimes transcends words. I am comforted to know that God meets us here, any way we choose to cry out.

But in my experience, Christians are not exactly known for being a lamenting people. Too often, we suck it up instead and prescribe a misguided interpretation of how to live with loss. How many of us mistakenly believe that our strength is what God wants from us, when it is our brokenness that actually attracts Him the most?

It was never meant to be this way.

God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.

It takes only a peek at Scripture to challenge our misconceptions. Did you know that Abraham lamented? Joseph lamented. David lamented. Ezekiel and Jeremiah, Rachel and Hannah, Peter and Paul all lamented. The majority of the psalms are laments, and the Old Testament even has a book called Lamentations, written by a weeping prophet.

What would we miss if we removed laments from the Bible? We would miss entire books; we would lose stories of people we can relate to; we would miss out on receiving and knowing God’s presence, comfort, and provision in the midst of our stories. We might even miss our Savior, because Jesus Himself lamented the brokenness He encountered in our broken world.

To know God is to need God. So where are all the needy Christians? Every church in America dedicates a portion of the service to worship — with happy, upbeat music and key changes that rise with electric emotion. Where is the time dedicated to lament? Too many of us affirm happy emotions while neglecting painful ones.

People are leaving the church because they are being told their pain isn’t welcome, that there’s no place for their pain when they rush through our doors. It appears we are keeping disappointment and heartache inside the counseling offices instead of expressing them in corporate worship or even from the pulpit. What would happen if our pastors opened up about their unanswered prayers? What if our leaders shared with us their hurts and fears so we would not feel alone in ours? The church is at its healthiest when it is a safe place to lament, to heal, and to worship, and it is most unhealthy when we don’t allow heartache and disappointment to be expressed. If we are operating this way — as churches or small groups or disciples of Christ, do we recognize that even Jesus Himself would not have found a home in our presence?

I’m not sharing these things to put one more thing on your to-do or to-be list; I am simply saying it because faking fine almost killed my faith. I’m not saying this to dishonor the church either, because I love the church. I am merely trying to pose the question:

Where have all the lamenters gone? To be the church that Jesus hoped for, we need this language in our life together.

But it seems to me that lament is the prayer we have forgotten. I’ll be the first to say I forgot it myself. We are so quick to get to the beauty that we skip over the brokenness or have a hard time seeing beauty arise amidst brokenness. This has led us into some dangerous and unbiblical theology. And if we are going to recover a healthy, biblical understanding of how God meets us in our pain, we need to recover the lost prayer of lament in our churches. Authentic praise flows from honest prayer, unrestrained lament, and trusting dependence. And this is when brokenness becomes beautiful.

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Faking fine is hurting us, and it’s time to break our habit. A lament, on the other hand, is a cry that God can work with, because it keeps the conversation going just when we need Him most. In fact, learning to lament saved my faith, and I have written this book for no other reason than I want it to save yours too.

Almighty God, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1). There are so many aspects of You we have yet to learn, and so much of You still left to discover. Will You reveal Yourself to me through this book? I am worn out from my groaning (Psalm 6:6). Will you meet with me? Save me, for the waters have come up to my neck (Psalm 69:1). Hear my cry for help (Psalm 5:2). Have mercy on me, for I am faint; heal me, for my bones are in agony (Psalm 6:2), and answer me when I am in distress (Psalm 20:1). Amen.

Excerpted with permission from No More Faking Fine by Esther Fleece, copyright Esther Fleece.

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Your Turn

Have you ever faked fine? I have. And, like Esther, it nearly took out my faith at the knees. If we can’t be honest about our pain, our complaint, and yes, our loud wailing, wordless cries, then we’re just wasting our time. Are you faking fine right now? Who are we faking for? Not Jesus! Sisters, let’s drop the act and get real with God! He wants our sad. He wants our real. He wants the authentic us. Come join the conversation today about bringing our lament to Jesus. We want to hear from you about your true heart! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece is an international speaker and writer on Millennials and faith, leadership, and family, recognized among Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” As founder and CEO of L&L Consulting, she works to connect influential individuals and organizations to their mutual benefit. You can follow Esther’s global adventures on Twitter @EstherFleece and at www.estherfleece.com.

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