"What grief, what sadness, what melancholy [Vincent Van Gogh] experienced in his difficult life. Yet what beauty, what joy, and what ecstasy he was able to embrace. Looking at his vibrant paintings of sunflowers, who can say where the mourning ends and the dance begins? They are never separated. Mourning calls for dancing, dancing for mourning. Glory is hidden in pain. And in this mysterious duality that has become a duet, Vincent celebrates life." Henri Nouwen "Lament is the antidote to denial." Walter Brueggemann "Sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that." Barbara Brown Taylor
It was difficult to name what was going on in my inner world.
I was in front of my computer, on a Zoom call with Judy, as she was leading a ministry team through a Lament exercise based on Psalm 3. She was sharing that we, as American Christians, many times do not have language around or permission to honestly express sadness, anger, doubt, or other feelings. She mentioned that less than 2% of the contemporary Christian music uses words or themes that would be considered lament. However, up to one-third of the Psalms, and the book of Lamentations, model ways of bringing difficult feelings and fears to God: Things are not as they should be. Why is life so difficult? How did we get here? As Judy shared Psalm 3 with the group, I saw David expressing with deep sadness his very real circumstance and life turned upside down: a father
fleeing his own son. How did things get this bad? A father/son relationship should be a place that both feel comfortable running TO not FROM. I began to relate to David’s sadness and anger, but with a different focus. My lament centered on the Church today. Why are people are leaving it? Why are many not experiencing it as a place of safety and connection? What narratives about God and community have I ascribed to that makes me want to run from others, myself, and God? What part have I played in all of this? So, borrowing David's model, I offered this prayer of lament to God: A psalm of Beth, when she and the Church desired intimacy, realness, safe places, and community but felt disconnected and afraid to reveal the true self, therefore fleeing any hope of true belonging. Lord, there are many lies that keep me from sharing freely my true self. Many fears rise up saying I won’t be accepted or loved for who I truly am. Many are saying that God and his people do not have a tender touch or soothing word--- But you, Lord, are a comfort and warm embrace! You are the One who lifts my head high, healing my shame, making me feel seen and welcomed. Your love makes me secure enough to ask for what I need and You answer me from your perspective and heart. I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord nurtures and sees me. I will not fear though the church is confused as to what true intimacy is Arise, Lord! Deliver Western stoic Christianity, my God! Strike all the enemies of joy-filled relational attachment on the jaw---break the teeth of those who say that God is not happy to be with us unless we perform or are perfect. From the Lord comes deliverance and delight in who we are, May your blessing and belonging be on your people! It felt good to write this prayer of lament to the Lord. I am trusting Him in new ways as a result of this practice. Here is the template for you to spend time crafting your own. And, if you're able, share your lament with a trusted friend. Find healing in their attention to you and your heart.