Lament: WHAT IS THE DISCIPLINE OF LAMENT?
We live in a society that spends a great deal of time and attention on the idea of avoiding pain. The most profound proof of this is the multi-billion-dollar pain-killer industry. There are also more subtle ways we try to avoid pain through numerous other “remedies,” such as overeating, overspending, overcommitting, and dozens more overdoing behaviors. All these attempts are only a temporary fix as the pain always resurfaces.
Pope John Paul II was the international head of the Catholic Church from 1978 until he died in 2005. In 2001 he was diagnosed as suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In his later days, he was seen sitting hunch over while strapped into his seat atop the “pope-mobile,” with body trembling, unable to wave to adoring pilgrims lining the streets. Despite difficulty speaking, trouble hearing, and severe osteoarthrosis, he continued to tour the world. Through this journey in declining health, he showed, in a very public way, suffering and pain can be the spiritual discipline of lament.
There is no getting around it…in this world, we will face suffering of all kinds, and we need those who model how it is to lean in on God through the time of pain. Jesus encourages us, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus didn’t circumnavigate suffering, he embraced it as part of this life on earth and therefore met every situation in the power of his Heavenly Father. If we want to be like Christ, we must do the same. “I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death.” (Philippians 3:10, VOICE)
The Discipline of Lament
Lament is not only an outdated word in our vocabulary but a lost art in the Christian community. We come together as a body of Christ on Sunday morning with bright, shining faces when there quite possibly is pain and suffering on the inside. Why is that? Is it that we believe we are not representing Christ well when we express pain and suffering? Maybe we feel a bit too vulnerable when we reveal a struggle to someone else. Possibly you have said one or more of the following:
- “It’s not a big deal.”
- I’ll never make myself vulnerable to getting hurt (again).”
- I’ll just put the past behind me and move on.”
- These feelings are not to be trusted, so I will suck it up.”
- Fake it ‘til you make it.”
Have you ever found yourself using one of the above phrases or any others to not dwell on pain and suffering? What is your go-to phrase?
this is a hard time,
a season of confusion,
a frantic rush
to fill my closets,
and my mind,
only to find myself empty.
Give me hope, Lord,
and remind me
of your steady power
and gracious purposes
that I may live fully.
Renew my faith
that the earth is not destined
for dust and darkness,
but for frolicking life
and deep joy
that, being set free
from my anxiety for the future,
I may take the risks of love
When we train our hearts not to lament, we begin to see ourselves as the protectors and keepers of our hearts instead of leaving that responsibility to God.
When our knee-jerk reaction is to “stuff down” any feelings that are contrary to joy in the Lord, we misrepresent God. Our souls become burdened with unresolved pain and suffering, which eventually becomes a reservoir so full that it overflows into all areas of our lives. When we do not lean into lament, to wrestle with God over the difficult circumstances and feeling of our experience, our impulse will be to play the “blame game,” and we blame ourselves, blame God, or blame others. Suffering makes us feel like we’ve lost all control in our lives, so finding a scapegoat is appealing because it feels like we’re taking back control. This pattern does not allow unresolved pain to surface, so that we can get to the root of it.
written by Major Lauren Hodgson, USA East SLD