In the sermon I preached this past Sunday, I said that learning to lament is one way to practice the Romans 12:12 command to “Rejoice in hope; be patient in tribulation; be constant in prayer.” My understanding of lament is that it is pouring out my heart and pouring out my complaint…to God. And the operative phrase there is to God. The orientation of my heart makes all the difference between sinful complaining and God-honoring lament.
I read a wonderful description of lament in a brand new book that I’ve been devouring in the last couple days since it arrived. Andrew Wilson, a pastor in the UK, along with his wife Rachel, have written an incredibly hopeful and helpful little book called The Life We Never Expected, reflecting on their still-very-raw-and-painful journey of learning to live and love in the midst of a regressive autism that has begun to affect both of their young children. This is what Andrew writes:
Lament is more than crying, of course, although it is certainly not less. It also involves putting into words the depth of feeling and sadness we’re experiencing: in prayer, in a journal, in a song, or whatever. Doing this forces us to give due weight to our emotions, which many of us (particularly the English among us) are not always very good at; articulating them carefully helps us understand them, as well as handle them wisely. But it also forces us to take our pain to God, first and foremost, before we take it to other people. Lament, you see, is about bringing your sorrows to God, in painful description, petition, and confusion, and throwing all your doubts and questions at him. Rushing to dump them on friends, on family, or on Facebook, without having gone to God with them first, is not lamenting but venting, and in the long run it doesn’t do nearly so much good. With the best will in the world, people aren’t big enough to absorb your grief. God is.
And so, less than an hour after reading those words, I found myself yelling at God in exasperation over the impossibility of breaking through my daughter’s institutionalized-stupor-made-worse-by-Down-Syndrome, which was being displayed in her bath time routine. No one else was in the house to hear me, and I’m not sure what my yelling accomplished, but it was a lament, and in it my heart was oriented toward God. Because He alone can awaken life and mindfulness in my daughter…and He alone can bring healing to my angry, hurting heart.