The Healing Power of Lament
In the aftermath of the deaths of Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, I finally gave myself permission to become conscious of the growing shadow that began to consume me. I decided to sit down with my grief and anger and simply embrace them. I snuggled up with my fury and a cup of tea while I held my pillow close to my aching heart and let my fevered tears scald my face. I breathed in deeply, heaved, and exhaled. Very deliberately. Bit by bit. I cried like this for days.
I was so angry, I yelled at God. I let God know that I was tired. Tired of taking the high road in this matter of race relations. Tired of being responsible for educating well-intentioned whites allies. Tired of taking it on the chin. Tired of participating in organized discussions on racism in America. Tired. I was finished with peaceful protests. I thought perhaps Black folks should begin to take up arms and speak the language of the oppressors, but violence satisfies nothing. Violence simply begets violence. Instead I cried out, “How long, Oh Lord, how long”? I was overwhelmed with grief. I needed time and space for lament. I was weary, too, of this modern Christian culture that erases lament as a legitimate part of the Christian experience. A culture that rushes us past mourning into worship. Right past our pain and into praise. I was depleted by well-meaning church folks rushing me to the resurrection when I needed to sit at the foot of the cross. So, I took up a wailing in the presence of the Lord and in between my tears, I cried out…
1 Lord God Almighty, you are the God who takes vengeance on your enemies. It’s time for you to punish evil! Let your rays of revelation-light shine from your people and pierce the conscience of the wicked and punish them. 2 It’s time to arise as judge of all the earth; arise to punish the proud with the penalty they deserve! 3 How much longer will you sit back and watch the wicked triumph in their evil, boasting in all that is wrong? 4–5 Listen to them bragging among themselves, big in their own eyes, all because of the crimes they’ve committed against your people! See how they’re crushing those who love you, God, cruelly oppressing those who belong to you. 6 Heartlessly they murder the widows, the foreigners, and even the orphaned children. 7 They say to themselves, “The Lord God doesn’t see this. Their God, the God of Jacob, he doesn’t even care!” 8 But you’d better watch out, you stupid fools! You’d better wise up! Why would you act like God doesn’t exist? Do you really think that God can’t hear their cries? (Psalm 94:1-8, TPT)
My wailing lasted for days and in the process, I found that I was comforted and quieted. Soon, my hope was restored. I was ready to face the world with all its cruelty, evil and its merciless malice. Perhaps we must learn to grieve again. Lament is a necessary part of soul care. I have most often chosen optimism, even in the worst of circumstances, both personally and professionally. I coach others to re-frame situations to glean the good and move forward. I am a “lemons to lemonade” kind of girl. I do my best to find the light at the end of every tunnel, but I could not this time.
What I gleaned from my experience is through lament, we can bring our mourning, perplexity, pain, and displeasure to the altar as a sacrifice. We can bring our tears as an act of worship and in doing so, we are restored. When we acknowledge that our grief is beyond our ability to reconcile; when we admit that our loss is more than we can bear, we bow before a Holy God and trust God for the outcome. In that process I was quickly reminded that God, not guns, is our hope. I found healing and assurance in my lament. I also found three key benefits to lament.
1. Lament is a way to express the deepest sense of loss. Tragic events come like swift winds that startle and toss us. Lament allows us to bring our bruises and brokenness to the Creator where we find comfort. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”.
2. Lament is a way to process pain. We are often troubled within and without. As we lay our complaints before the Lord, we can eventually move through our pain in the presence of the Divine. Lament is a walk of faith. We must step into the darkness of despair with the belief that we will get to the light of hope. Psalm 30 reminds us that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. It reminds us that even in the trial, we can find times of joy.
3. Lament is an act of worship. It expresses our dependence on God and our submission to God is our offering. In it, we position ourselves to receive an outpouring of grace that will form something new in us. Lament is a vital part of our spiritual journey and I believe we must learn to embrace it again.
As I took up a wailing and sat at the foot of the cross, I was reminded that killing brown bodies is nothing new. It was on the cross that Jesus endured a violent, government sanctioned murder for the sake of the broken and oppressed. Jesus endured a bloody cross and died to comfort those who mourn. My lament helped me to remember that there is beauty for my ashes and joy for my sorrow. It brought me life and hope. James Cone said in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, “The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair.” Now as I reflect on the state of this nation and my own heart, I am more keenly aware that as God was present with Christ in his persecution for our sake, so Christ is present with us in the trauma we bear. An old hymn of my childhood reminded me, “Jesus knows all about our struggles. He will guide us till the day is done. There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No not one. No not one. There’s not an hour that He is not near us. No night so dark that his love can’t cheer us. No not one. No not one”. * It is so. It is so. Amen.
*(No Not One, Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1895)