Lament: The Bridge Between Despair and Hope

Everyday of our lives we encounter a series of choices. Some are easy “no brainer” types of choices like putting on a jacket while heading out the door during a harsh winter. While other choices are not so easy such as what career to pursue or who to marry. Other decisions involve the stance we take in extremely difficult and often uncontrollable circumstances. What comes to mind in this latter most category are the many faceted crises that invade our lives and tempt us towards despair. The death of a loved one, the loss of a home, a relationship that falls apart, a dream or hope shattered are just some of the ways that we are pushed into an experience of feeling adrift in the world.

When feeling lost due to loss I want to invite you to choose to find help in lament.  Throughout this blog series many good definitions of lament have been offered. Before I go any further, I wanted to offer another helpful definition. Mark Vroegop describes lament as, “. . .the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness” (Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, 25).  Vroegop emphasizes that lament fills the space between our pain and God’s mercy (28) and invites us to “Think of lament as the transition between pain and promise” (28). This way of looking at lament is a reminder of the importance of creating a bridge between two seemingly opposing forces in such a way that can produce emotional and spiritual healing.

Pain and promise, suffering and redemption. These do not have to be mutually exclusive and if we bring our pain to God through lament, He will lead us through the exhausting strain of trying to hold onto promise while affliction tries to break hopes grip.  But how do we do this? How do we lament when stuck in the in between? The Psalms are often a reference point and for good reason.

The Psalmists model for us how to express the nature of our pain while holding onto the promises of God. While God’s promises can be explicit or implicit in the Psalms, what is also important is that the Psalmists know God and His proven character. Let’s take one example out of many, Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

Space does not permit a full commentary on this Psalm but a few important comments. First, notice how descriptive David (author of the Psalm) is about the nature of his suffering.  David feels as though God has left him by himself to rely on his own inner resources to battle a troubled heart, mind, and encroaching enemy. David knows better than to think he has the inner resources to handle adversity, yet his patience has grown thin with God. Where is He? What’s taking so long? Have you ever felt helpless, overwhelmed, out of your depth for what life has thrown at you and wondered why God has not yet come to your rescue? David teaches us to be honest and detailed about our pain and disappointment before God.

Yet, he does not stop there. To stop at this point would be a great way to allow despair to have the final word. David refuses to do this and chooses to declare in faith the “unfailing love” of God. He knows that God’s love is unfailing because “He has been good to me.” Remembering the goodness that God has shown toward us can help in approaching Him in our times of distress. The cross is the greatest example in my mind of His goodness. From there, I invite you to consider how He has personally blessed you. Perhaps, make a gratitude list of all the ways you have experienced God’s grace, compassion, mercy, and generosity in your life.

Mark Vroegop again is helpful as he comments in reference to another Psalm, “Does the Psalmist really believe God isn’t loving, doesn’t keep his promises, and is unfaithful? I don’t think so, and the rest of the psalm will bear this out” (34). Mark here is referring to questions asked in Psalm 77. However, the same principle applies. The Psalmists may feel a certain way about God in very trying times but ultimately, they know that God is not the kind of Person to abandon us in our time of need. It seems then the tone of the Psalms is not so much about doubting God (though that can and is often part of the human experience) but not understanding why God has not shown up yet as they expected. Without faith in God, it’s hard to expect much from Him and without at least some faith in God we probably would not pray to Him in the first place.

Lamenting is a God inspired path for our cries of pain to delivered up to our Great Deliverer (2Sam.22:2, Psalm 18:2). In addition to a gratitude list, it can be very powerful to pray the Psalms that you find resonate with your experience. Beyond practical application is the hope that the avenue of lament, the gap it can fill between sorrow and salvation will prove itself out as you wait in hopeful expectation in the God who is in the business of transformation.

-Ken Grano, MDiv., CFBPPC – learn more about working with Ken here!

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