Engaging with Lament
‘Christian lament is not simply complaint… at its fullest, biblical lament expresses sorrow over losing a world that was once good alongside a belief that it can be made good again. Lament isn’t giving up, it’s giving over. When we lift up our sorrow and our pain, we turn it over to the only one who can meet it: our God.’ Josh Larsen, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings
“It’s fine, I’m fine…” These words have surrounded me for as long as I can remember. Where I grew up in the West Coast of Scotland, if you asked someone how they were doing, you’d be met with “Aye, am fine, yersel?” Only once you got to know someone well, could you tell if they were actually doing fine or not.
Growing up, I’d never seen pain expressed. The attitude was “do what you can to get by”. People didn’t really talk about their struggles, unless they had a happy ending.
I had been told “don’t bottle up your feelings” yet no one showed me how to express my feelings well, how express the pain in my heart. I’d witnessed people turn to coping mechanisms such as busyness, alcohol and self-deprecating humour; yet all that did was numb the pain for a little while. Even amongst my Christian friends, we’d share the things we needed prayer for on a surface level, but no one really talked about the pain underneath, the pain of the wait or the challenge of waking up each morning and not being healed.
I once broke down to a youth leader. It was over eleven years ago and I was frustrated with where I was in life, filled with confusion, hurt, living in pain and feeling distant from God. She asked if I’d prayed about it. I almost scoffed. I had, yes. I’d asked God to take it away and nothing had changed. But what I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t actually talking with God about the pain and the hurt itself.
Then one day, a friend recommended that I read God on Mute. And it was in that book that I came across the word lament.
In the book, Pete Greig says, “Pain needs to be expressed, for pain that is not expressed can never be transformed, and pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.”
It was a deep revelation that I could express my pain, hurt and the deeper, hidden parts of my heart to God. Before, I had skipped over the Psalms where David cried out to God and, rather than viewing these Psalms of Lament as an example of honesty and vulnerability before God, I had focused on the Psalms of praise. But when I discovered lament, I realised that I could express myself honestly to God just as David did. That Jesus actually invites me to share the pain in my heart, the struggles, the things that make me angry – to be honest with him.
Lament feels counter-cultural to me. It’s putting my head above the parapet, humbling myself to say, “I can’t control this, I don’t have it all together and actually, God, I’m not fine.” Yet lament has given me the tool I need to come to God with my whole self engaged, the bits I like and the bits I don’t.
It still isn’t always easy. It takes discipline and bravery to sit down with a pen or a plectrum, take down the guards around my heart and be honest with God. I’ve learned it’s a process and to enter into lament slowly and with vulnerability – pausing, sharing with God the parts of myself that I’d rather keep hidden or in my own control. And then continuing to praise Him for who He is.
In learning to lament I’m learning to trust God more deeply and slowly, I’m also letting go of control. I’m unlearning the language of “being fine” and I’m learning to sincerely say, “Lord Jesus, thank you for showing me love. I love you. Today, I bring to you my pain, my hurt, my frustration; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Rachel lives in Glasgow and has a heart to see prayer and justice flow throughout Scotland. In 2010, Rachel was given a copy of Red Moon Rising and God on Mute to read by her youth leader in response to her persistent questions about prayer and where God was in the silence. In 2017, Rachel first connected with the 24-7 Prayer Scotland Team after God set her heart on fire while in a prayer room in Austria to see unity in the church in Scotland! Rachel is married to Lal and in her spare time can be found playing music or watching Ice Hockey.