Sometimes, it feels like life is happening with us and for us and it feels full of joy and freedom and love and goodness.
Other times, it feels like life is happening against or without us and it feels full of grief, sadness, being alone, feeling rejected or left behind.
The unexpected twists and turns, the best laid plans falling apart before our eyes, and learning to navigate a world that we have limited control over can lead us to a desire to cry out to God with questions, tears, and deep sighs of exasperation over the suffering we are experiencing.
During times of heartache, hardship, suffering and grief, the spiritual practice of Lament can feel like a balm to your soul.
Lament means a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. At first reading, you may wonder where the place for lament is within a faith that may often, when you expressed grief and hardship, spoke at you statements of ‘God has a plan for everything’, or ‘Just hand it over to Jesus’, or ‘God works everything out for His good’. These statements often do more for the person saying them, who doesn’t want to sit in the discomfort with you, as it offers them a way of glossing over the reality of a world where things don’t always get tied up in neat little boxes with bows as we go through our days, weeks, months, and breath by breath moments of living. Or, maybe the faith culture or movement you’ve been surrounded with says if something isn’t going how you’d like, you need to pray more, or ask God where you went wrong because if you were walking in faith bad things wouldn’t happen. These ideas are harmful and aren’t reflected in the pages of scripture or reality of our human experience.
Lament gives us space to give words to what’s being held inside, to bring out from the depths what we are feeling and name it so we can understand our experience, and it gives us the chance to welcome the Divine into our suffering with us in a very real and expressed way. It builds our trust in God’s ability to hold all of you. It creates deepened intimacy with God as we express honestly, and it gives us space to be real… like how as we cry, we remember Jesus wept.
Below is a simple practice to write your own Prayer of Lament.
You don’t need to be a writer, or a poet, or one who journals often to engage in this practice. All you need is to gather a writing utensil and a piece of paper (or even a blank note in your phone or a document on your computer). Then, follow the four movements below to write your Prayer of Lament.
- Movement 1 – Address, Invocation or Calling
How do you call out to God? What name of God feels most fitting during this time of Lament? How would you like to address God as you begin your prayer? Write it down as the way to start your prayer.
- Movement 2 – Complaint or Venting
Describe your experience of pain or suffering. Give expression to what you are going through. You don’t need to ‘sugarcoat’ anything here, or logic away your pain.
- Movement 3 – Petition or Asking
What do you want God to do for you? What do you desire from God at this time? This is a space for you to be open and honest. Ask for big things or small things, express authentically.
- Movement 4 – Praise or Expression of Trust
Offer a movement of thankfulness, worship, or love of God to close your prayer. This doesn’t mean a platitude of trying to let the logic of Christ take away your pain, or inserting one of the unhelpful statements of ‘But I know you work things out for my good’ at the end as a means of ‘resolving’ the prayer. It can be as simple as ‘Thank you that I can pray and that you hear’ or ‘Thank you for your presence everywhere I go’.
If you’re feeling wary about expressing such heartache, suffering, or disappointment to God, take a read through this variation of Psalm 13, a Psalm that expresses Lament, below:
How long, my Beloved?
Will you forget me forever?
How love will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear this pain in my soul,
And lie with sorrow all the day?
How long will fear rule my life?
Notice my heart and answer me, O my Beloved;
Enlighten me, lest I walk as one dead to life;
Lest my ego fears say, “We have won the day;”
Lest they rejoice in their strength.
As I trust in your steadfast Love;
My heart will rejoice, for in You is freedom.
I shall sing to the Beloved,
Who has answered my prayers a thousand fold!
Come, O Beloved, make your home in my heart.
My prayer for you is that this practice of Lament feels like a balm to your soul, a way to express authentically with God and feel their presence with you during a time of hardship, and to remember that God is so fully loving of you and wants to be invited into your deepest depths by you to be with you there. God isn’t a ‘good vibes only’ kind of god, God is Emmanuel, God With Us, God with you through every moment, every breath, every feeling, every experience. Forever with you.