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.

But Jesus got up

John 13:1-17, 34 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him… After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet… So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

Philippians 2:5-7 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave u his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave.

Maundy Thursday got its name from this new commandment, or mandatum, Jesus gave to his disciples at this last dinner with them. Don’t just love your neighbor; love each other as Jesus did. He knew as he spoke that he would soon offer his life for them.

This reminder comes at a time we may all be feeling some degree of compassion fatigue (see from the ongoing battle with Covid. Right now, South America and Europe are being hit hardest. Some of those who are suffering and dying include people we know and love. Hundreds of pastors have died across Latin America, giving all they can for their people where medical care is unavailable or inadequate.

In some places such as Venezuela, where the health system is broken, God seems to be performing miracles. In hard hit San Cristóbal, for example, though many people in Otto and Idagly’s church have gotten very sick, not a single person has died of Covid. “We pray and we do what we can, mostly caring for the families of the ill ones,” Idagly told me. “There are no medical resources, yet God keeps bringing people back. We’re careful, but it does seem God is honoring our care for one another. Death is not the ultimate enemy. The enemy is fear.”

She laughs. “When every resource is scarce—food, clean water, transportation, etc.—we focus not on what we can’t control but on what we can. We invest in love and trust, in worship and celebration of God’s faithfulness. We’ll all die one way or another. The question is, what will be the quality of our living? We can choose joy, no matter what.”

I’m encouraged to get up from the table. To serve however I can today. One day at a time.

Kendrick Adams: Shutterstock