The Hebrew name for the Book of Psalms is Tehillim, a word that means “Praises.” Which is interesting because of the 150 prayers in the Book of Psalms, 60 of them are laments. That works out to 40%. In other words, nearly half of the prayers in a book called “Praises” are not, in fact, what we would normally think of as praises. They are instead gut-wrenching, angst-filled cries of the heart. Cries like:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1), and
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1), and
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears.” (Psalm 6:1).
What does this tell us? A few things. It tells us that lamenting is part of the human condition. It tells us that lamenting is good for the soul. It tells us that God can handle our laments. It tells us that laments are a “holy and acceptable” (Romans 12:1) way to pray, every bit as worthy as our joyful celebrations of thanksgiving.
We are in a season of lament. Right now everything feels wrong. Torn apart. Heaved up and out and all over the place. Things are a mess. They are an absolute mess. We are scared. We are exhausted. We are fed up. We are anxious. We are overwhelmed. We are discouraged. We are confused. We are at each other’s throats. We are at our wits’ end. We are on our last nerve. We are done. D-O-N-E done. Well, maybe I shouldn’t speak for you. I am done. D-O-N-E done. Do you feel this way? If so, let me suggest that we all take another look at the psalms of lament. There is good wisdom for us here.
Our ancient brothers and sisters just let it all pour out. Grief. Frustration. Anger. Disappointment. Some really, really dark thoughts. (Take another look at Psalm 137, if you don’t believe me.) You see? They let it all out. Nothing held back. Nothing off limits. They prayed their hearts out; they prayed their grief out. Because they knew—they knew—that if they held it in, if they swallowed it and shoved it down, it would only destroy them from the inside. It would only make them bitter, and eventually the pressure would make them explode once they couldn’t hold it in anymore. Laments are good for the soul because they get the darkness out of our insides and into the hands of God so that God can release us from these burdens.
It is a season of lament, so let me suggest that we get on our knees or flat on our faces or put a pen in our hands, if writing is your thing, and let it all out. Just pour and pour and pour until there is nothing left to pour anymore. All your griefs. All your frustrations. All your anger and disappointment and fear and impatience and anxiety. Pour it all out. Get that darkness out of your insides and into the hands of God.
But we can’t stop there. As a people sent into the world to be the Body of Christ—a people sent out among, in the flesh—this cannot just be about our private laments. As Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “Where one member of the body suffers, we all suffer.” We carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). We weep when others weep (Romans 12:15). With the Spirit, we bear silent witness when the groans are too deep for words (Romans 8:26). In other words, we open our ears and our hearts to the laments of others. This is what Christ did, and he expects us to do the same. We are, after all, his disciples, his followers.
This is a season of lament. In fact, the lamenting within the African American community has been going on not for a season, but for generations, centuries. Have we been listening? I will confess that I have not been listening as carefully as I ought. I have not understood. I have not seen. I have not heard. And this makes me ashamed.
But rather than dwelling in my shame—or worse, seeking to be consoled in my shame—I decided to educate myself. I decided to open my eyes and learn how to see what has been happening around me all my life, going all the way back to my earliest days in a southern town quite literally divided by race. (Wichita Falls had—probably still has—a white prom and a black prom for crying out loud. “Nobody” went to the official high school prom; “everybody” went to Mayfest held at the Wichita Falls Country Club. These dances were, of course, divided along racial lines, but I didn’t put two and two together until just a couple of years ago. How did I not know this? How did I not see this? I was there. I participated.)
If you are struggling to understand the laments we see being poured out all around us, I recommend starting with a book called Waking Up White by Debby Irving. Several of us read this as part of our “Let’s Talk About Race” Fearless Conversation last year. It changed me. It opened my eyes to my past and our present.
Indeed, it opened my ears to the gut-wrenching, angst-filled cries of the heart we are hearing now.
~ Rev. Jennie