In their book about raising two autistic children, Andrew and Rachel Wilson talk a bit about learning to lament, about using the Psalms as a tool to help them express their deepest grief, anger and despair. They make the case that it’s OK to lament. The psalmist did it, even Jesus wept over Jerusalem and pleaded for the cup of suffering to be taken from him. Lament is allowed.
Last week I was on a prayer retreat – suffering for Jesus in a luxurious villa in Spain. It’s a tough life. In one session (by the pool…sorry, I’ll stop now!) we looked at the prayer of lament and it struck me that the ability to lament is actually quite a gift.
I find it hard to relate to the kind of lament found in the Psalms, where everything is just AWFUL, everyone’s trying to kill me! I wish I’d never been born! No – I wish I’d never been conceived! That was the blackest day EVER, and this is WORSE! As a buttoned-up Brit I just want to say ‘Calm down dear, get a grip. How about a nice cup of tea?’ That excess of emotion makes me uncomfortable and I want to pull away. Yet as we discussed it, I realised that far from being an extravagant, out-of-control performance, perhaps it is actually a sign of spiritual maturity.
Think about it. To rail at God like that you have to be:
It may only be a British thing, but my observation is that often we are only able to really let our feelings show when we feel safe and secure. We cry in the privacy of our own home, not out in public. We may sob on the shoulder of a spouse or best friend, but we try our hardest not to with anyone else.
I think the primary reason we are hesitant to lament before God is that we’re afraid he’ll tell us off, or think less of us. We think it shows a lack of faith, that if we were really godly we’d simply smile serenely and say ‘Thy will be done’, and carry on rejoicing. To rage at God demonstrates a confidence that he’s big enough to handle it, yes, but also that he isn’t going to judge us or reject us for it. It demonstrates absolute confidence in who he is and who we are in him.
It sounds a bit weird to say childlikeness is a sign of maturity, but that’s what we’re commanded to be like – and our wanting to come to God as adults is a sign of our arrogance and lack of humility. Do you remember how as a child you always thought you were utterly grown up? A friend told me the other day that her daughter’s answer to everything is “Well I am three and a half!” – oh, the dizzy heights of maturity! How God must chuckle (fondly) when we effectively say “It’s OK, God. I can handle it from here.”
When we lament, we revert to our childlike ways – and that’s good! Children cry and wail that it’s not fair and rage against injustice or not getting what they want. They are totally honest about their feelings and don’t try to package them in nice, polite ways. They get frustrated when they don’t understand, and let you know it in no uncertain terms. But when the shouting and screaming and kicking and crying is spent, they relax – sooner or later – into the comforting embrace of the loving parent.
Of course, once we get really mature, we also have the capacity to lament not only for ourselves but for others, and that requires compassion. This is the kind of lament that weeps for those who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. To feel another’s pain so deeply that it causes you to forget yourself and sob requires a deep love that – particularly when it’s for someone outside your immediate circle of family and friends – is a sign of spiritual maturity.
I rarely lament. I’m glad my life is pain-free enough that I don’t need to for myself, but perhaps I need to grow up and start caring for the world enough to feel the pain of others and bringing that to God with the cry of anguish that it is unable to cry for itself. What a gift that would be.