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?

 

The Ugly Nature of Spiritual Abuse

A few of decades ago, my family sat under a pastor who was a wonderful teacher of the Bible. However, sadly, he became more controlling as his tenure increased. It was gradual, and like a frog in water that comes slowly to a boil, we almost didn’t jump out in time. In fact, our eldest eventually left religion completely.

This is the ugly, insidious nature of spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional and psychological abuse. It is characterized by a systematic pattern of coercive and controlling behavior in a religious context. Spiritual abuse can have a deeply damaging impact on those who experience it.

Indeed. Trusting spiritual leaders continues to be a challenge for members of my family, despite earnest effort to do otherwise.

Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse

There are several lists of characteristics available, so I am borrowing from a couple and condensing them. Furthermore, if you have been in this painful situation, you could likely add one or more aspects to the list.

  1. Abusive leaders have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not demanded or granted.
  2. Abuse of power is always at issue. Abusive leaders misuse their authority to coerce people to do what they want, all in the name of God.
  3. These leaders push performance-based religiosity in order to ‘please God’; they mandate attendance at all church functions.
  4. No one knows the unspoken rules until they break one, i.e. don’t question the pastor; don’t talk about church problems.
  5. Abusive leaders label as rebels anyone who questions him or his policies.
  6. Exhibits black and white thinking
  7. Use exclusive language: “We’re the only church following Jesus.”
  8. Create a culture of fear and shame, often using Scriptures about not touching God’s anointed.
  9. Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader or protecting the church they have built.
  10. There is often a charismatic leader at the helm who starts off well, but slips into arrogance, protectionism and pride.
  11. Abusive leaders are often a narcissist.
photo by Samuel Martins

The First Step To Recover From Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is talked about mostly in psychological terms. But there is also a spiritual dynamic to it—a dynamic of the spirit. Spiritual abuse is not just something that comes about in a spiritual way…[it] is like physical abuse, which is not something that comes only in a physical way. When physical abuse happens, something physical is hurt. And when spiritual abuse happens, your spirit gets hurt. And that has long-lasting consequences.

photo by dnk-photo

Unfortunately, the first step to healing from spiritual abuse is removing yourself from the church or organization where it is occurring. However, choosing to leave one’s spiritual community or, in some cases, one’s entire set of religious beliefs, can lead to post traumatic stress symptoms. We are seldom prepared for the loss of security we had known.

And nothing prepared us for the loss of our complete friend group who remained part of the church we exited.

Staying, however, will only cause further anger and bitterness. It’s OK to be angry for awhile; God gave us emotions for a reason. Nonetheless, remaining in the situation could eventually direct those feelings toward God. About now, finding a counselor or someone to talk to would be very beneficial because these wounds are deep.

They are not going to simply disappear.

photo by Karl Frederickson

Next Steps to Healing

Grieve…the loss you are experiencing is akin to a death.

No one told my husband and I that we should give ourselves time to grieve the loss of our friends, the comfort of our ‘home church’, or the investment of 25+ years of our lives to this body of believers. Consequently, the grief continued to bubble to the surface for decades afterward, triggered by various situations.

While we grieve, we need to give ourselves permission to rest. Rather than resting, my husband and I were remodeling a home we had just purchased. In addition, we were dealing with grieving teens who had lost their youth group, and seeking to find a new church, thus a new church visit every Sunday.

We were exhausted. Therefore, our recovery took much longer.

In time, forgive the abuser(s). I’m going to be honest here. This. Was. Very. Difficult. For. Me.

Maybe because I erroneously thought forgiveness was a once and for all transaction, as with Jesus for me. I repeatedly felt guilt if I saw the abusers in public and felt the pain and anger rise up, again.

Thankfully, in time, I learned that forgiveness is 70 X 7, Matthew 18:21-22, ESV. Each time I was presented with the sin of the past, by God’s grace and mercy, I chose to forgive. This freed me from bitterness. It will free you, too.

photo by Joshua Eckstein

Learning to Trust Again

When trust is violated at a spiritual level, it creates an extreme hardship on the abuse survivor to trust anyone in a religious leadership capacity, again.

I think that recovery from spiritual abuse is in some ways the most difficult of recovery journeys. One reason is that the person who has the greatest potential for helping us recover from spiritual abuse is the person we feel most alienated from….

Let me explain that a bit. When someone gets physically abused, they don’t necessarily distrust the Department of Social Services. The abuser wasn’t acting as a representative of the Department of Social Services when they abused the person. Similarly, when a woman gets abused sexually, she doesn’t necessarily distrust the person from the women’s shelter who offers to be helpful… In the case of spiritual abuse, however, there is always a major problem with the “agency” that is specifically “designed” to be helpful: God. The fear is that if you go to God, you will get hurt even worse than you have already been hurt. Spiritual abuse always does damage to our relationship with God…It’s a wound of the spirit. It’s a wound right down at the core of who we are.

Three decades later, my husband and I continue to struggle with trusting spiritual leaders.

photo by Allen Taylor

God’s View of Spiritual Abusers

Be assured, God doesn’t look with favor at shepherds who abuse their flocks. For example, in Jeremiah 23:1-4, Jeremiah pronounced woe on the evil shepherds who had driven their people away. Their harsh ways and fearmongering had scattered the flock, but God would restore His people, again.

In the New Testament, Jesus spends nearly an entire chapter of Matthew berating the Scribes and Pharisees for their abusive leadership. In Chapter 23, Jesus pronounces woe after woe upon them because of their hypocrisy and the high standards they set for others, but not themselves.

Paul addresses false teaching in several of his letters. For example, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul begins in verse 6 expressing his astonishment that they could turn so quickly to desert him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. 

As Paul noted in verse 9, if anyone attempts to distort the gospel – Christ alone through faith alone – by adding other conditions, let him be accursed.

That, my friend, is how God looks at spiritual abusers.

Is there room for their repentance? Always.  Do they repent? Not often.

I’m not pessimistic about recovery for anybody, for anything. I’m hopeful. That’s why I do what I do. But I am aware of the track record and of how difficult it is for spiritually abusive people to see what’s real and to change that pattern.

God, have mercy…for us all.

The truth is, however, even at our lowest point, we were never alone. God was with us; we were not forsaken for a moment.