I feel haunted this morning as I reflect on our experience last night—the minor-key music still resounds deeply in my soul and the invitation to make my implicit anguish creatively explicit before God somehow triggers both anxiety and hope. When I walked through the chapel doors last night, I wasn’t sure what I would lament; nothing was coming to mind and I worried I would find myself sitting in silence unable to identify anything. Of course, this is not because I have nothing to lament, but because I tend not to allow myself to feel my pain, let alone voice it.
The opening liturgy, and especially the refrain we sang together (“Take my life and let it be all for You and for Your glory”), opened me, although I didn’t notice it at the time, caught up as I was in trying to think of the thing I would lament. So, imagine my surprise when one word came crashing over me within the first minute or two of Jenna Perrine’s prelude to her walking us through the process of writing our own lament: loneliness. I immediately wanted to push this word down and away. I have been lonely my whole life and there have been times I have been swallowed up by it. But not so much lately. To allow the word to crop up into my heart was to risk falling into loneliness again.
And then Jenna told the story of the video game That Dragon, Cancer. Those hot tears indicative of deep pain welled slowly and my throat tightened. I’m still not sure exactly what was happening in that moment other than that some buried thing was seeking to be released. Was this my implicit anguish? Could I make it explicit before God?
For the next half hour, Jenna walked us through a process of writing our own lament, using these nine steps modeled after the Psalms:
- Cry out to God (your address to God);
- Complaint (your anger, pain, heartache, or sadness);
- Affirmation of Trust (your remembrance of God’s presence in your past);
- Petition/Request (your deepest desire);
- Additional Argument (anything more, why God should intervene);
- Rage against Your Enemies (bringing your enemies before God);
- Assurance of Being Heard (what you need to feel heard);
- Promise to Offer Praise to God (the promise you can offer to God); and
- Assurance (the attribute of God you are thankful for in the moment).
You can listen to Jenna’s message and partake in the practice of writing your own lament here below or by listening to the Practice Podcast. We encourage you to follow along with Jenna’s handout as you listen and write, which you can download here.
As we began, everything in me resisted. I wanted to skip ahead to the part where we would thank God for His goodness and that all things in the end will be redeemed and restored. I wanted to hang on to my addiction to happy worship. But with the help of Jenna’s gentle coaxing and reassurance and the music, which my heart and mind grew increasingly in tune with, I allowed the anguish of my loneliness to become explicit before God. I presented the hurt, unfiltered; asked Him questions I hadn’t asked before; requested His immediate intervention; and got specific about the people and circumstances that hurt me.
I turned my heart to hope with the last three steps, but the greatest reassurance came as we joined together at the communion table. Never before have the Beatitudes felt more personal as they did when we read them as part of the communion liturgy.
This week as a community, we hope to continue our journey into lament and how to make it part of our lives so we can bring our full selves and every range of expression before God. We are not meeting in the Chapel next week, but instead around dining tables and living rooms. This feels slightly terrifying to me, but at the same time, I can foresee the healing that could come in sharing my lament and being present to my friends who long to be seen and known.
Imagine what God could unlock in each of us as we: (1) create holy space by praying the table liturgy (which you can download and print at home by clicking here) that we created specifically for this purpose; (2) share our laments with each other; and (3) pray for each other as we embark on this new practice.
I’ll end with the first line of the benediction that Jenna read over us last night as revised by Josh Spier:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.
Grace and peace,