Ways to Pray : Lent 2017
Thank you for joining me on this journey through different prayer practices during Lent. This is something you can do on your own, with your family, or even a small group. You can do it as often as is helpful for you – I am suggesting you try the same practice once each day during the week if you are able. I am sending a new “Way to Pray” each Monday morning leading up to Easter.
Prayers of Lament : 20-26 March
I had intended to share a different prayer practice this week, but I spoke on Lament yesterday at church and felt like it would be helpful to write about here.
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?
That is the beginning of one of the Psalms of Lament. Do you relate? Are you comfortable crying out/complaining to God like that? Do you prayerfully kick and scream and throw things about what is wrong in your life or in the world?
Not me. I’m not personally inclined to voice my grief to God. I think it comes from believing that complaining doesn’t change anything. Or that dwelling in the negative just reinforces the negative. And honestly, I have always wondered if complaining shows a lack of trust in God, betrays my limited perspective on things, and is just childish. Maybe you feel the same?
Or perhaps you are one who already knows that lament allows us a good way to acknowledge the reality of pain, suffering, and injustice in our life and in the world. It allows us to connect hearts with God’s uniquely, and provides an acceptable and necessary means of working through our grief. It’s not pretty, but it is very health and important.
People in our world complain (don’t we all know it?!). Music, movies, fb all tell us what’s going wrong. In the Bible, people complain too (Daniel, Job, Jesus…). There is an entire book – Lamentations – describing the state of the destroyed nation. Of the 150 Psalms, nearly half are Psalms of lament (I counted). Some are personal, some are corporate.
In doing my research, I came across this very good explanation:
The function of a Lament is to provide a structure for crisis, hurt, grief, or despair; to move a worshipper from hurt to joy, from darkness to light, from desperation to hope. This movement from hurt to joy is not a psychological or liturgical experience only, although it includes those. And it is not a physical deliverance from the crisis, although that is often anticipated. The movement “out of the depths” from hurt to joy is a profoundly spiritual one… A lament arises from an immediate crisis or emotional state that faces the worshipper. This can range from physical threat either externally (an invading army) or internally (physical illness), to interpersonal conflict with others in the community, to betrayal or injustices perpetrated by friends or family. All of these can be referred to metaphorically as “the enemy” or “foes,” even when the crisis is physical illness. This becomes a stereotypical way of describing any crisis that threatens or diminishes the vitality of life. In this same vein, “death” is a frequent metaphor for this crisis, whether or not the crisis is physically life threatening. The theological significance of a lament is that it expresses a trust in God in the absence of any evidence that He is active in the world. Through a sequential and deliberate structure, the lament moves from articulation of the emotion of the crisis, to petition for God to intervene, to an affirmation of trust in God even though there has been no immediate deliverance from the crisis.
How to Lament
Different cultures lament uniquely (closing the curtains and staying inside with only family visitors, holding a wake, public displays of mourning or displeasure). Different personalities lament uniquely (wanting to be alone or with others, being quiet or being loud, being busy or staying still). I would suggest that any way in which you express your frustration to God is an acceptable form of lament. Therefore, my “how to do this prayer practice/try this” is a little different than in our previous posts in this series.
For now, we’re just dealing with the personal lament. If you, like me, struggle with doing this, you might try using the pattern found in the Psalms:
- Address God [This is a prayer. We are talking to God, not just complaining to our friends or shouting into thin air]
- Say what is bothering you. What is wrong? What needs rescue or help or God’s intervention?
- Remind yourself that you trust God [use your own words]. I think this is important to keep us from being overwhelmed by the problem.
- Say what you would like God to do
- Praise/thank God in advance, or commit to do so [a bit of faith needed here]
When we did this at church, we wrote our prayers on crumpled hearts (image above) to remind us that this prayer is a hurting heart prayer – ours and God’s.
That format may or may not resonate with you, but at least it is something if you don’t have your own way yet. One thing about lament taking a particular form (did you know, for example, that the Book of Lamentations was written as an acrostic poem, not just a long dump of complaint?): when we are at our lowest, many find it helpful to have a little guidance in how to do something.
I am not telling you that you need to be upset about something in particular. But I’ll bet there is something in your life that isn’t all that it should be, that angers or hurts you, that you can pray lament to God. I am encouraged that God is a God who allows us to complain – nothing is off limits. God hears, holds, and identifies with our travails.
Lament is an important part of a healthy prayer and spiritual life.
- It helps us find ways to articulate what is bothering us
- It reminds us to call on God rather than our own wisdom and strength in times of trouble
- It keeps us humble, real, honest, and relatable
- It is part of processing our individual and collective pain
- It manifests in creating: writing, drawing, singing, building…
Therefore, may we be all people of lament.
That’s it 🙂 Go give it a try and please send me any feedback or questions. It is especially helpful for me to hear/see what you’ve done with this yourself. You may need a few attempts to get the feel for it or you may not find this particular practice to be one you love or want to add to your ongoing prayer life. Or you may! Either way, may you find yourself connecting with God through this unique way to pray.
The Ways to Pray series for Lent 2017:
1 March – Praying in Colour
6 March – Prayer of Examen
13 March – Praying in Nature
20 March – Prayers of Lament
27 March – Listening Prayer
3 April – Praying through Service
10 April – Kingdom Prayer Pictures