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.

Do you practice lament?

But Jesus grieves

Matthew 23:23; 37-39 “What sorrow awaits you hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. … O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

A new month. Are we any wiser? Or just older, continuing in our same patterns of behavior as we conclude Lent and prepare for Holy Week … We still have time, time to sit before the Lord and ask him to reveal to us our own hearts and his. Time to soften our resistance to his still, small voice of love, inviting us to be freed from our selfishness and blindness. Inviting us into his care.

Matthew 23 is a chapter we tend to skip over, except for verse 37. Jesus pours out a blistering rebuke of the leaders of his day, repeating the phrase “What sorrow awaits you” seven times. It’s an anguished cry of lament. “They don’t practice what they teach … They crush people and never lift a finger to ease the burden … Everything they do is for show …”

The last line I quoted refers back to Jesus’ “triumphal entry”–after which the Jewish leaders, indignant, began to plot how to kill him.

I find most shocking Jesus’ declaration to these leaders that they will be held responsible for the murder of “all godly people of all time,” beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel. “This judgment will fall on this very generation,” Jesus says, before launching into his lament over Jerusalem. We know he would shortly bear on the cross the penalty for all the sin committed for all time.

Can you feel his anguish over innocent people who are killed by others with evil motives? It’s the lament of the Old Testament prophets, a revelation of God’s tender heart. “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies” the Lord said through the prophet Amos after decrying those who oppress the poor and crush the needy. “Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living” (Amos 5:21, 24).

And then comes the phrase Jesus appropriated: “What sorrow awaits you …” (Amos 6:1). “How foolish you are when you turn justice into poison and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness” (Amos 6:12).

Lord, you see our nation. You see all that’s going on in our broken, weary, bleeding world. And you see my heart. Take the blinders from my eyes so I can see it too. Let me find refuge beneath your wings.