Living through the loss of a spouse is like taking a ride on an extreme emotional roller coaster! One day we laugh with friends and family; the next day we spend overcome with grief, sobbing our way through it. Some days we may see glimpses of hope, and even joy, in the future ahead; and other days we’re surrounded by darkness and depression, unable to even take the next step. Emotions are extreme, fluctuating, and unpredictable.
One day, as I pondered on this phenomenon, I realized that all these emotions are part of the image of God that was created into us! Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin.”
There’s some really good news in this verse! First, there is Someone who completely understands every emotion that we experience. When we feel weak, He is there beside us. Second, nothing about experiencing these emotions is sin! Emotions are not right or wrong, in most cases. They just are, and we must learn to manage them.
Grief is one of these powerful emotions that sometimes sweeps over us. I recently discovered that God has given us a tool called the “lament” to help us express our grief. At this point, you’re probably asking, “What in the world is a Lament?” So, let’s start with a definition:
Noun — a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. “His mother’s night-long laments for his father”
Similar words: wailing, moaning, groaning, weeping, crying, sobbing, howling, complaining.
Verb — mourn (a person’s loss or death). “He was lamenting the death of his infant daughter”
Similar words: mourn, grieve over, weep for, sorrow, wail, keen, howl, pine for
The lament is a means of vocalizing grief, a complaint, anger, or even an accusation in the presence of God. In a lament, we can pour out our complaints to God in hopes of persuading Him to act on our behalf, while at the same time reaffirming our trust in Him. (Ps. 62:8)
In a lament, we do not carefully hide our grief, but rather express it openly to God. Laments encourage people to be honest with God, to speak the truth about their feelings and doubts. We understand that our thanksgiving, love, and adoration needs to be laid at the feet of Jesus and have become very good at doing that. However, we have lost the art of doing the same with our disappointments, our pain, our questions, and our grief. In fact, many times we have been taught not to ever question God or express our emotions to Him.
Without the ability to vocalize our grief in the presence of the Lord, to lay what is too heavy for us to carry or even understand at his feet, there is no other way to cope. Our pain remains locked within us. The result is that we carry in to church our personal pain and often take it back out again. We must begin to learn that Jesus can help us carry life’s burdens only when we express them freely to Him. To lament to God is a sign of faith, not of doubt.
Primary Biblical examples of laments are found in the Psalms, the book of Job, the book of Lamentations, and in the last words of Christ on the Cross. More than half of the Psalms are psalms (or songs) of lament. If you’re still feeling a bit unsure about this, take time to read these scriptures and identify the various parts of the lament.
There are basically two types of Psalms: Psalms of praise and Psalms of lament. Over half of the Psalms are laments. The Psalms of Lament are given to us by God to allow us to legitimize our questioning and disappointment with God, as in the life of faith we often find ourselves in this place. God encourages us to tell him of our questions and disappointments and to lament our grief and loss.
A Lament generally consists of seven parts, as demonstrated many times over in the Scriptures:
- An address to God (Oh, God….)
- A review of God’s faithfulness in the past
- A complaint
- A confession of sin or a claim of innocence
- A request for help
- God’s response (sometimes not stated)
- A vow to praise, or a statement of trust in God.
Not all of these parts are always present, but a lament must ALWAYS include a complaint. In a lament, people do not attempt to resolve the problem; they simply cry out to God for help. They look to him as the one ultimately in control of the situation. They make a request of God that He take action to bring justice on their behalf. (Psalms 28:3-4)
A Lament can be expressed in many ways: writing, art, poetry, or song. Most of our hymn books contain no laments, and while we have an abundance of worship songs, they also contain no laments. Poetry put to music has an ability to draw out from our hearts the grief over suffering we’ve been exposed to.
Every true lament is a love song. We only lament because we love, because we have lost something of great value and it demands that we pause, reflect, weep, and grieve. If we do not, then what was lost does not have much value.
Anguish and questions are central to the life of faith. Instead of the problems being put aside, as though worship should really be just a matter of praise and thanksgiving, these problems are made central to the very act of prayer and worship in the psalms. The Psalms teach us that it is possible to talk and sing to God even while experiencing difficulties and questions. The central problem of those who suffer often is not that of why God is allowing it to happen. The struggle more often is where God has disappeared to while it is happening. Those who go through suffering often feel abandoned by God.
Expressing our lament in the presence of God is one of the primary steps of healing our hearts and building the resiliency that is so necessary to continue living an abundant life. We lament to bring closure to our grief so that the most delicate fruit of the Spirit, joy, can flower more profusely in our lives.
Understanding and creating our own lament can be a powerful way to move ahead on the path of healing. If you have never felt you could freely express your complaint to God about losing your spouse, take a few moments to begin to create your own lament. You may use a poem, a song, or just write your heart’s expression to God. Allow yourself to give voice to your deeper emotions and questions that you may not have expressed in God’s presence before. The Father who loves you and understands the deepest emotions of our heart will touch you and move you to the next step of healing.
As always, your comments are welcome, and you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.