One of my professors shared this article called The American Church’s Absence of Lament on Facebook yesterday. It’s about how much the American church doesn’t lament. Lamenting isn’t a thing we talk about or schedule into our church services. But maybe we should be.
Believe it or not, I have experienced lamented myself – like three whole times in my life. And that individual time of lament with just me and God in my car or on my bed or in my shower sure didn’t solve any problems. I didn’t come away with any answers. But those three times when I can say I experienced lament were three times in my life when there was no other logical thing to do but to cry cry cry. To cry for the precious baby who clung to me with tears streaming down his face because being at daycare was better than whatever waited for him at home. To cry for yet another person I knew that had been diagnosed with cancer. To cry for spiritual attacks that felt more real than anything I’ve known. To cry for my own sin, my own sin, my own sin that I choose again and again over the realness and goodness of God.
No, I didn’t come away from any of those times with any clear answers. Except the only one clear answer – more Jesus. Oh Lord, we need more of you. In Springfield, Ohio and in Detroit, Michigan and in the Dominican Republic and in the Philippines and in me.
Sometimes our only choice is to lament or to become numb.
There have been times when I have been praying at the end of a bible study or at the end of a YouthWorks day and I just don’t know what to say except for something like this – “God, this isn’t what you meant. This isn’t what you had in mind when you created in the world. And I know that and I have to acknowledge that. Your plans did not include all of this crap and hurt and cancer and garbage. Your plans for us are good and perfect and we’re messing it up. The whole world is messed up because given the choice between a perfect God and our own fleeting will, we pick ourselves. God, please come back soon. Please come back. You’re the only one who can fix this. This isn’t what you meant. Please come back. Amen.”
Because what else is there to say when your grandma, who didn’t have to be your grandma but choose to be (like that Brad Paisley song) and who spends her free time crocheting blankets and scarves for the homeless and members of the military, is diagnosed with cancer for the third time? What else is there to do but to lament?
What else is there to do when 10,000 people (that we know of) are killed by a typhoon in the Philippines? What else is there to do when people surrounded by water will die for lack of clean water? What else is there to do but to lament?
When I was in college the same professor that posted this article in the first place taught a class called Contemporary World Missions. I ended up in the class because of a last minute schedule conflict. It ended up being the most important class I’ve ever taken.
Part of Contemporary World Missions is a Refugee Weekend simulation, which is just what it sounds like. For a weekend we lived like we were refugees. The one difference is that we knew what was coming (kind of) and so we were able to layer up (the simulation was in February) and pack a backpack (which was promptly taken from us). Also, we got a port-a-potty. We also got to walk for hours on end, pee in the woods, catch (and kill) our own food, anxiously sit around for a day not knowing if someone was going to point a gun at us or not, and muddle our way through a terrifying interview of which we could understand nothing. Among other things.
In the weeks preceding the simulation, we were exposed to different real life refugee experiences and other injustices in class. We learned about the Lost Boys of the Sudan, walking one thousand miles across the desert after watching their mothers and sisters be raped and killed. We learned about female genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision), the thought of which still makes me physically ill. We learned about women drugged on buses and sold as sex slaves. We learned about child soldiers and arms being chopped off and blood diamonds and a whole lot of other really heart-wrenching but really real things that have happened and are happening in this world.
And my immediate response was not lament, I’ll tell you what. I was freaking outraged. I couldn’t believe that the Lost Boys walked for thousands of miles and died and starved and ate mud and I knew absolutely nothing about it. I couldn’t believe that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change the fact that twenty thousand boys went through that hellish experience.
Just like there is nothing I can do about the fact that many women have experienced genital mutilation as young girls (you know, without any anesthesia or sterile tools on the dirt floor of their homes) only to have their bodies ripped open by men who have paid to use their bodies for a night. Or by the men who stole their bodies in order to sell them.
One of our first assignments for the class was to watch Blood Diamond and write a reaction paper. My reaction paper leaks out despair and anger at the injustice of the world and our helplessness.
Then enters lament.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you. – Psalm 42:5
I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” – Psalm 42:9
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. – Psalm 42:11
Then I realize that the only logical response to a world full of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain pain pain so much pain is to fall before a holy God who sees and feels it all and cry with Him.
But lamenting isn’t fun. And we’re supposed to be having fun following Jesus, right? I mean, that’s what John 10:10 tells us, right? And I don’t want to think so much about the sad stuff. Count your blessings, right? Hey, fellow humans, I get it, I’m a 7. Focusing on the negative is not my thing. In fact, I like to shove all of that negative stuff down until I can’t remember it anymore. I am all about seeing the glass as half-full.
But I don’t think you have to abandon hope and truth in order to lament. And I think that an abundant and full John 10:10 life includes lamenting. (I also think that Jesus say a bunch of stuff about how hard it would be to follow Him and was surprisingly mute about how fun and fabulous being a Christian is.)
For all of these reasons and many more I am making a conscious decision to lament more. Which sounds like a really sad decision. But it’s a really sad world and sometimes I don’t know what else to do.
More importantly, after I have lamented, I now realize what I didn’t realize during Contemporary World Missions – I can do something. You can do something. I am not helpless. We are not helpless. There are many people all over the world who heard about the awful things human beings were doing to each other and said, “Enough.”
Like Mack Avenue Community Church in Detroit who saw their neighbors and friends struggling to keep their heads above the water and said, “Enough.” Mack Ave is ushering in the kingdom to their neighborhood through relationship and discipleship, affordable and safe housing, and education.
Like the Women’s Ministry here in San Pedro, who saw women selling their bodies on the street and said, “Enough.” The Women’s Rescue Ministry of DR Vision offers women an education, job and job training, relationship and discipleship, and a safe community.
Like Wheeler Mission Ministries who saw people starving and freezing on the streets of Indianapolis, succumbing to addiction and other destructive patterns of living and said, “Enough.” For $2.25 you can feed one hungry person. And you don’t even have to leave your chair.
Like New Hope Girls Academy who saw “generations of bondage and sexual perversions” in their city and said, “Enough.” New Hope offers an education and hope for girls living in La Vega, Dominican Republic.
Like Women At Risk, International who saw a world full of women at risk with nowhere to turn. WAR, International has partnerships with organizations and women all over the world.
All of these organizations and the people they represent surely know what it is to lament. But they also know what it is to come out of the lament looking toward hope.
Until Jesus come back to save us from our mess there will always be reasons to lament. I’m encouraging you not to stuff down the bad and hard but to, at least every once in a while, take the time to feel the pain and suffering of the world. Because it is in lament that we find the only true answer to our problems – Jesus.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:1-5
What organizations and people do you see embracing the lament and then taking the new step toward hope?