In July 2020, Karen, my wife, had a book published, “Jennifer: A Life Precious to God”; a series of recollections, reflections, diary entries through the pregnancy and short life (five hours) of our eldest daughter. Many people have made contact as a result. Two all too common features have recurred. One is the pain of those who have suffered such loss finding that those around them did not want to acknowledge or talk about what had happened. The other is those who were hurt by insensitive, judgmental or pat answers. Both of these have me thinking about the Church’s role in helping people grieve and lament.
Some Church circles are all about victory and overcoming – not wanting to acknowledge loss, hurt, doubt or confusion. For others, everything is so cut and dried that there are only simple answers, or the expectation of a ‘right answer’. For some, Church is so very formal and safe, there is no place for raw emotion or searching questions.
We need to be better at helping people lament. This is more commonly acknowledged and accepted than a generation or two back. It is a welcome change of emphasis, that in several ways gives faith more integrity.
It opens up a more honest way of dealing with Scripture, not only the Psalms but many other parts of the Bible too. This book is often far more honest about things than we are in the Church. The critical work that Biblical lament does is to place the reality of pain and suffering and the need for its expression within the context of a loving relationship with God. Lament gives a legitimate container for the expression of pain, grief and complaint. It is more than letting off steam, more than screaming into the dark.
Our humanity has integrity. We cannot escape the reality that this is a hurting, unfair world. We bruise and bleed. To refuse to cry out denies the reality of being human in this broken world. The first step towards healing is naming that which needs to be healed. Lament guards against the temptation of rushing to answers. When we gather for public worship we gather as people who are both sinners and sinned-against.
To overlook the place of and importance of lament leaves us with a less integrated view of God. Is God only interested in our triumphs and certainties? Can he not cope with expressions of hurt, confusion or anger? We can pray “How long O Lord” or some such, in public worship and God will cope.
Lament and the language of lament, are important if we are not to live in denial, or to unhealthily suppress all that we find hard. Our personal experience following the release of Karen’s book emphasised in a very emphatic way what we already knew, but did not realise the extent. Very, very many people hurt for many, many years because they were not helped, encouraged or allowed to express their pain and anger. In our soundbite culture, there is great missional opportunity, helping people to express, and giving a context in which to frame, lament.