The power of lament

But God heard Jesus cry

Hebrews 5:7-9 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.

Matthew 26:38-39 Jesus told Peter, James, and John, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Psalm 116:10-11 I believed in you, so I said, “I am deeply troubled, Lord.” In my anxiety I cried out to you.

Have you ever felt your soul crushed with grief?

I can’t compare my experience with Jesus’s. But in the months following Karis’s death, these counter-cultural verses from Hebrews were lifesaving for me. They gave me permission to express my anguish, rather than just confining it inside and going into the death of long depression. They add so much color and sound to the Gospel accounts of Gethsemane that I wonder whether the anonymous author of Hebrews might have been in the olive grove that night.

Oklahoma City National Memorial, Shutterstock: angie oxley

When we give expression to our heartbreak, voicing lament at the same time helps us define and contain it. It seems the entire world has lost its moorings, but no: I realize I am torn up inside about this and this and this.

Lament is like releasing pressure from a pressure cooker, so the contents can be dealt with safely. We can lament privately, but it’s effective in a different way when someone we trust hears and feels with us and to some extent at least understands our anguish, feelings too overwhelming to deal with alone. I’m grateful for Luke 22:43, which tells us an angel came to Jesus in Gethsemane to care for him when the disciples failed to do so. In my experience, feeling alone in grief compounds its impact many times over. Compassionate people can help anchor us and give us the safety of boundaries when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

What happens when we don’t lament? The pressure inside us can come out in anger and mistreatment of others. It can generalize into paralyzing fear leading to irrational beliefs and actions. It can freeze into chronic depression. It can manifest in illnesses.

I called the verses in Hebrews counter-cultural because somehow in some Christian traditions the idea took hold that expression of emotions is not godly or decorous; it reveals a lack of faith and maturity. We admire people who are “strong,” meaning they bear their sorrows stoically. At all times they wear the demeanor of a “victorious Christian.” They keep their masks firmly in place.

Until, if they are like me, they simply can’t anymore. And then they may hear words like, “I’m disappointed in you. I always thought you were a woman of faith.” This anti-biblical culture, I believe is changing. I’m glad.

Jesus, the perfect, sinless, Son of God, lamented with loud cries. And though his Father could not remove the cup of suffering from him, Jesus walked into the betrayal of Judas and all that came next as he was mocked, scourged, slandered, and nailed to a cross knowing his Father had heard him and walked with him. Though his own disciples fled, Jesus knew he was not alone. David, the man after God’s own heart, expressed lament through the psalms. Jeremiah wept over his people. The great apostle Paul told the Corinthians some of what he had been through for the sake of the Gospel.

Lament is a gift we all need. I’m grateful for the biblical characters who model it for us. Beginning with Jesus, our Lord.

My friend Timmy introduced me to the sung Psalms of The Corner Room. Here’s an example. They are helping me give expression to the feelings stirred up by the launch of Karis, só vejo a graça in Brazil. Maybe they will help you, too, in your own need to lament in faith.

And this website might help as well.

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