I don’t know about you, but I feel like 2020 just keeps throwing punches and I don’t know how many more I can take. This year has been unprecedented in so many ways, with a Global pandemic, historic number of fires and hurricanes/tropical storms around the world, and the growing political division in our country, where it feels we have lost the ability to see beyond differing opinions and treat one another with dignity, respect, and kindness. There is so much more that I am struggling to even find the words to express. Like the way we still treat those we label as “other” as though their lives do not matter, whether that be immigrants, indigenous peoples, or people of color. I find myself wanting to throw my hands up in the air and cry out “How long, O Lord, how long?” and “Kyrie eleison.” Not having many words beyond these to express all that I am feeling inside as things keep seeming to happen or come to light that deal another blow to my heart about our climate or how we treat each other as human beings.
This past week I have been feeling this again after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday. The weight of the loss of someone who championed fighting for justice and equality for so many marginalized groups of people. The wonderings of how we can follow in the footsteps of the notorious RBG and of John Lewis (a great leader for civil rights who died this year too), and continue to get into good trouble as we work for a tomorrow where we all treat one another with dignity, respect, and kindness.
As all of these things were, and still are, swirling inside of me struggling to find the words to get out, I realized I was swimming in a pool of lament. Lament is a form of prayer that we find all throughout scripture, particularly in the book of Psalms, the book of Lamentations, and even in the words of Jesus on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” If you read through some of the Psalms of lament you will see that lament is not just about complaining or crying out to God.
Here is an example: Psalm 13
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Laments tend to have four core pieces, those being: Addressing God, Raising the Complaint, Asking God for help, and Choosing Trust. What I find helpful about these core pieces of lament is that they remind us that God is big enough to handle all of our complaints, questions, anger, and frustrations no matter how big they may feel to us. Second, that we are invited to hope in God’s promise to hear us when we ask for help, though God’s answer often looks different than we think it should. And lastly the cycle of a lament moves us to remember that even as we navigate the brokenness of life that God is there with us through it all. Trusting in the promise that God remembers us and abides with us always. This cycle comes to us in the psalms, but is also something we can use to pray or to help process our own feelings and experiences. If you look I am sure you will see this cycle show up in music and poetry, and in other places too where others have used it to express what is on their hearts.
Whether you find a psalm that speaks to what you are feeling or you use the cycle of lament to write out what is on your heart, I pray that you can use this form of prayer to raise your cry of lament, and to connect deeper with yourself and with God.