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.
Psalm 13 (NIV)
I was in my teens when I first came across Psalm 13 in my student Bible. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing words in print in my Bible that matched the swirling of emotion I felt going on inside me during a particularly challenging season of life. I had not been taught this in Sunday school; I thought surely that my questioning of God’s presence – or, more accurately, what felt like an absence of God – in my life was somehow outside the bounds of what a “normal” Christian experienced. Yet I knew that these words were written several thousand years ago by David, a man after God’s own heart. Maybe God could handle my questioning after all. Maybe by having these psalms of lament included in our Bible, He was in fact encouraging me to cry out to Him in times of trouble with what was actually going on inside of me, not with what I thought He wanted to hear, which at the moment would have been fake Christian platitudes.
I believe engaging in the practice of lament is essential to our formation into Christ-likeness. Lament is more than complaining to God but rather is an active process of bringing our true hearts before Him, crying out to God for His intervention, surrendering ourselves to His care, and then remembering God’s faithfulness and provision. We don’t authentically get to the end – singing about God’s goodness – without moving through the lament. When we try, all we end up doing is stuffing down our feelings, which always seem to find a way to leak out elsewhere; in my case, I discovered years later that, while I still believed in God, maybe I didn’t really believe in a good God who had done right by me.
There is more to lament than personal lament, however. The Bible also contains numerous examples of corporate lament. We live in a liminal time – a time between the kingdom of God being ushered in and not yet being brought to fulfillment. There is suffering in this world – marriages are falling apart, children are dying, systemic injustice and greed lead to the oppression of whole people groups. The list goes on and on. What is to be our response as God’s people? Do we bury our heads in the sand and wait for Jesus’s return? Do we rush in and try to fix or explain away every problem? Or do we listen to the stories of suffering, cry out to God for His intervention, and in doing so remember the hope we have in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior?
This is why lament is such a great practice during Lent. Lent is a time where we intentionally remember our need – both personally and communally – for a Savior, where we ask the Spirit to examine our hearts and show us where we need to repent, and where we cultivate within our hearts a longing for Easter morning.
How can we practice lament?
Maybe you’re going through a desert season in life. Give yourself permission to write your own version of Psalm 13 to God. Be honest about how you feel, remembering that God is able to handle all of it. End your lament with a reminder about who God is, maybe a time in your past where He was faithful or some characteristic of God that you’ve experienced or know to be true. Whatever you do, don’t rush through to the end, but give yourself time and space to pour your heart out to God.
Another great way to practice lament is to walk your neighborhood or even to simply go about your normal day, praying that God would give you eyes to see the brokenness around you. Pray that God would show you the things that break His heart. Maybe it’s the homeless man you encounter or a person making a racist joke or a child who looks like she hasn’t had a decent meal in a few days. Seeing and noticing the brokenness is the first step. In the same vein as Jesus in Matthew 33:27 longing to gather His people together as a hen gathers her chicks, allow yourself permission to feel the way God feels about this vandalism of His shalom and then cry out to Him for His intervention. Lastly, remember who God is and the hope that we have in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Lament is also a great practice to engage in together as a faith community. Pick a day together alongside other believers to lament over a natural disaster, refugee issues, childhood hunger, sex trafficking, etc. Commit to fasting and praying as a group of believers for God’s intervention and follow up with one another throughout the day: What is God stirring up in you both personally and communally?
However you chose to enter into this season of Lent, may the Spirit stir up in us an even greater desire to have hearts that increasingly mirror the heart of our Father as demonstrated to us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and may our hope be in Him alone.