Lament: Another Way To Deal With All The Loss

 

photo by Liza Summer

Like you, my family hears news every few days of friends who are being impacted by the Delta variant of Covid-19 or some other tragedy. A mom in her 40’s died from Covid-19. A teen is fighting for his life. One local family lost their 6 year old to a rare form of meningitis.

How do we deal with all the grief and loss we have experienced in the past eighteen months?

It just keeps piling up…like the bills from lost jobs and higher prices due to inflation.

photo by Nathan Cowley

What is Lament?

Mark Vroego, the author of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy, (https://amzn.to/2VWbTNY), explains that we enter the world wailing. Truthfully, tears and sorrow are part of being human. Yet, lament is more than crying.

But lament is different than crying because lament is a form of prayer. It is more than just the expression of sorrow or the venting of emotion. Lament talks to God about pain. And it has a unique purpose: trust. It is a divinely-given invitation to pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows for the purpose of helping us to renew our confidence in God.

Furthermore, more than a third of the Psalms are laments. Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations is entirely written as a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. In addition, Jesus lamented in the Garden at the end of His life.

Ultimately, lament is based in trust in the character of God. It is a form of praise and prayer with the intent of drawing close to God in times of great suffering and pain.

photo by Cheron James

Steps of Lament

To be honest, the practice of lament is not natural for us. Why? According to Vroegrop, because every lament is a prayer, a statement of faith. Moreover, we are also wrestling with the paradox of suffering and the promises of God’s goodness.

Taking our direction from the Psalms of lament, let’s look at the main elements of a lament.

  1. Call on God – We don’t direct our words to our pain, our suffering or our enemy, but to God. Examples: Psalm 13:1; Ps. 22:1; Ps.77:2-3
  2. Tell Him your complaint – be honest and open about your anger, frustration, or pain. Ps.3:1-2; 57:4; 86:1, 14
  3. Request help from God – be clear in your request. Ps. 6:2-4; 25:2, 16-17; 28:1-4
  4. Express trust or praiseThe destination for all laments is an affirmation of trust in God. Gut-level, honest prayers provide a pathway for hurting people to move through their pain. Laments are not cul-de-sacs of sorrow, but conduits for renewed faithPs. 6:8-10; 28:7; 57:7-11

To make it easier to remember, let’s break it down into four words:

  • turn
  • complain
  • ask
  • trust

To pray in pain, even with its messy struggle and tough question, is an act of faith where we open up our hearts to God. Prayerful lament is better than silence. (Vroegop, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy.)

photo by Inzmam Khan

Avoidance of Lament

Sadly, during times of trial, we often turn away from God rather than toward Him. The circumstances of our lives feel overwhelming. We don’t understand why this thing is happening. In anger and frustration, many sink into silent despair.

Despair lives under the hopeless resignation that God doesn’t care, he doesn’t hear, and nothing is ever going to change. People who believe this stop praying. They give up. (Vroegop, pg. 32)

Actually, I think our reasons to turn away in times of pain go even deeper. In 1993, Dr. Larry Crabb wrote Finding God, (https://amzn.to/3xL8e2Y). In the book, Crabb pointed out that our natural inclination is to doubt God’s goodness. Like Adam and Eve, deep within, there is a gnawing kernel of belief that God is holding out on us. Therefore, when suffering enters our lives, many rage against God for not doing enough to protect us from it.

Perhaps God isn’t a good God, after all.

However, that false belief is completely contrary to what the Bible tells us. Throughout Scripture, God invites us to bring our complaints, our sorrows, and our pain before Him. The Psalms, in particular, are full of examples. In Isaiah 1:18, God invites Judah to a conversation, in spite of their sin: Come, let us reason together. He often pleaded with Israel to return to Him so He could restore them.

Silence before God will kill your soul. Therefore, we do not need to fear lament. Run to Him; pour out your fear, your anger, your pain. In addition, pray your questions and your struggles. He invites it.

Discomfort of Lament

The full-throttle cataloguing of pain sets the context for the call for God to remember. However, it has been my experience that many Christians are uncomfortable with the tension of the long rehearsing of pain combined with the appeal to God’s grace. We tend to hush the recitation of sorrow. However, restoration doesn’t come to those who live in denial… (Vroegop, pg.144)

As a culture, we have become strangled with an oversized political correctness that has leached into the Church. Unfortunately, we have mistakenly placed the nice pc language onto God and His image. However, a read through the Old Testament or Paul’s letters to the churches would soon relieve us of that notion.

Jesus wasn’t nice when He threw the moneychangers out of the temple. Nor was Paul gentle when he wrote of the sexual sin in the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians chapter 5.

As a result of our distorted beliefs concerning God, the raw language of lament is uncomfortable to those who see Him as unapproachable or unconcerned. Lament invites boldness, questions and honesty about everything we are feeling. Therefore, lament is challenging if you’re not accustomed to being genuine with God or others concerning your thoughts or feelings.

In fact, despite our societal love affair with violence in entertainment, we don’t know what to do with people who are truly suffering or grieving a loss. Moreover, we would rather they simply move on as quickly as possible due to our discomfort.

What if, instead, we offered the valuable gift of talking to God about their pain?

photo by Liza Summer

The Gift of Lament

Lament is seeing and trusting that God enters our pain with us. It is, as Vroegop wrote, the song we sing in the space between pain and promise. At times, it is a raging song. At other times, it is a song of sorrow and tears.

I have sung these songs in times of pain and darkness. Sometimes those songs lasted for weeks, months. Thankfully, my Father never left me, but rather held me close and let me, metaphorically, beat His chest in anguish. In the end, however, I know He is who He says He is…whether I understand it all or not.

What about you? Will you lament your losses?

 

Good Grief – We Can’t Escape It, Yet It Need Not Consume Us

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Understanding grief

Anyone who has lived long enough has experienced grief. We can’t escape it. The late professor and Clinical Pastoral instructor, Wayne Oates once wrote, “Bereavement is the universal human crisis, striking everyone sooner or later,” (Basic Types of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Howard Clinebell). (https://amzn.to/3hTHuJt)

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Unfortunately, and to our discredit, too often our culture grows weary of a grieving soul. There becomes a growing pressure, although usually a silent one, placed on the grieving one to move past the grief. Moreover, this pressure isn’t for the griever’s benefit; it’s so that others no longer feel the burden of your pain while in your presence.

However, be assured; your grief is personal. It is healthy. There is NO universal time limit on grief.

Grief is personal and individual, and every person experiences its nuances differently. Your personality, your support system, your natural coping mechanisms and many other things will determine how loss will affect you. There are no rules, no timetables, and no linear progression. Some people feel better after a few weeks or months, and for others it may take years. And in the midst of recovery there may be setbacks — this nonlinear process can’t be controlled. It’s critical that you treat yourself with patience and compassion and allow the process to unfold.

Stages of Grief

Most of us have read or heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief listed below. Let’s refresh:

  1. denial- This can’t be happening to me!
  2. anger – Why is this happening? Who is to blame?
  3. bargaining – Make this not happen and I will _____
  4. depression – I can’t bear this; I’m too sad to do anything.
  5. acceptance – I acknowledge that this has happened and I cannot change it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this process was a neat, little package deal which we could make one pass through and be done with it? However, reality and experience has shown each of us that is not the case.

As noted earlier, we are individuals. Our grief responses are personal and individual, as well. For some, grief may last months; for others it may last a year. If the initial stages of grief are still in effect after a year, however, (continually feeling sad, hopeless; can’t function in daily activities,) it may have developed into complicated grief. If your emotional symptoms are coupled with physical symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Energy loss, exhaustion
  • Body aches and pains
  • Physical complaints similar to deceased

It’s time to seek outside help from a professional, a faith group, or support group. Seeking to walk this road alone is not working.

Ways to Avoid Complicated Grief

It’s not clear why one person’s grief develops into complicated grief and another person’s doesn’t. Nevertheless, there have been studies linking it to resilience, which is usually learned in – you guessed it – childhood. Regardless where we learned, or didn’t learn resilience, it’s never too late to begin implementing it into our lives.

Sadly, it is natural to want to isolate when we are grieving or depressed. However, that is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves. The following is a list of risk factors and protective factors for complicated grief.

  1. Having good social support, from close family or friends, can protect you from complicated grief when you lose a loved one.
  2. Being mentally healthy will also protect you, even if you have diagnosed mental illnesses. Untreated conditions, especially depression and trauma disorders, can put you at greater risk.
  3. Knowing how to manage stress in healthy ways makes complicated grief less likely. A great deal of stress that you can’t cope with puts you at risk.
  4. Trauma, including a very violent or unexpected passing of a loved one, can put you at greater risk for complicated grief. But, having processed trauma in productive ways can protect you.

Do We Only Grieve Death?

Whether we recognize it or not, grief encompasses more areas than the loss of a loved one. We find it much easier to heal when we can recognize that grief is what we’re feeling instead of (you fill in the blank).

For instance, when my husband and I left the church in which we had grown up, and raised our children, we were unprepared for the grieving process of no longer having that affiliation. We grieved our loss of identity.

A loss of identity occurs for a person

  • who loses a job
  • who has experienced divorce
  • moved to another city

It takes time to reestablish who you are in a new job, without your spouse, in another church or community.

Whenever a person loses a primary identity, they mourn a lost sense of self. They’re tasked with grieving who they thought they were and eventually creating a new story that integrates the loss into their personal narrative.

Loss, Loss, and More Loss

A second loss we grieve is a loss of safety. This occurs for people who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually assaulted. In addition, children of divorce grieve the loss of safety of an intact family, (though they may not verbalize it in those words.) Loss of safety can effect entire communities which have been mired by violence.

A third loss is a loss of autonomy. Examples of this include:

  • people with chronic or degenerative illness, grieving the loss of physical or mental abilities
  •  older adults no longer able to care for themselves who grieve their decline (this may also tie to a lost sense of identity as a contributing member of society)
  • someone experiencing financial problems and needing to rely on others for assistance, grieving the ability to provide for themselves

The truth is, every major life stressor involves some loss and therefore, some measure of grieving.

Laying Down The Burden of Grief

There is a story told in John 11:1-38, about the death of a friend of Jesus. His name was Lazarus. The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus that he was ill, but Jesus delayed His arrival, for reasons only He knew.

As a result, Lazarus died.

I don’t think Jesus was surprised by this, because…well, He is all-knowing.

Nevertheless, when He arrived and witnessed the grief of the sisters, Mary and Martha, and the weeping of all the gathered friends, Jesus was deeply troubled.

In fact, Jesus wept.

This verse warms and encourages me. His heart was broken over the grief of those who loved Lazarus, despite the fact that Jesus knew He would be raising Lazarus from the dead.

He is a compassionate God. He comforts us in our sorrow and grief, (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV). Never do we need to carry our grief alone…

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:17-19, NKJV

And even if He doesn’t, Jesus will walk with us through every loss. Sometimes, He even carries us.