I’ve started re-reading the New Testament, and I’m in the Gospels. I love to read the teachings and life of Jesus. Jesus grieved and lamented often. Twice he laments over the fate of Jerusalem. He wept when he was in the presence of those mourning the loss of his friend Lazarus. His heart was heavy and grieving at the last supper with his disciples. He was in deep agony in the garden right before they arrested him. On the cross, he quotes part of one of the Psalms of lament (Ps. 22)
Lament is a key part of our spiritual journey. 42 of the 150 Psalms are considered songs of lament – that’s almost a third of the Psalms! There’s a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations (over the destruction of Jerusalem). A good portion of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were statements of lament over the sin of Israel and the destruction and hardship that came or was coming due to their disobedience.
We have long lost the ability and even the understanding and language of lament. Our culture implies that we are to avoid anything that might bring lament. But our Bible says differently. James 1:2 says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Then James goes on to say that we grow and mature through our difficulties.
What does it mean to lament? We lament as we face our emotions and verbalize our grief, sorrow, or heartache. We don’t avoid it. We face it squarely with God.
Right at the beginning of Matthew are what we call the Beatitudes. One stood out to me like never before recently. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Blessed is a place of deep joy, contentment, and satisfaction, and that place is found through mourning. It seems so contradictory, doesn’t it? When we suffer or struggle, all we want is for it to pass and go away. But Jesus is letting us know that rather than avoiding loss, pain, hurt, or grief, we need to see it as an opportunity to invite God into our sadness. Rather than trying to avoid grief, we learn to find God in the deepest ways in the lowest parts of life.
The best way we can approach loss, grief, and pain is to let it teach us. Mourning is a path to a deeper experience with God, which creates a deeper soul and character in us.
This Sunday, I’ll finish our series Summer Playlist, and we’ll look at one of the Psalms of lament. We’ll also be remembering and honoring some of the folks we’ve lost this past year. And, I’ll be sharing how communion is a time of lament where we weekly reflect over our sin and what it cost Jesus. You don’t want to miss this special service.
I’ve been feeling, dwelling on, and thinking a lot about loss and grief these last few months. Every one of us has experienced a ton of loss through this COVID-19 season. We’ve lost freedoms. We’ve lost interpersonal connections. We’ve lost jobs or income. We lost our routines and “normal.” We’ve lost peace. Many of us have lost people we know and love to the virus. So much loss. Sadness has been almost a daily experience for me.
One of the things I’m trying to learn is to embrace sadness. It has been a feeling I’ve tried to avoid and move past as quickly as I can. That is not healthy.
All this sadness has been compounded for me. A guy I mentored and loved passed from this life to live forever with Jesus. Bryan Lee, the pastor of Elements City Church, died from an injury from a fall. He did not suffer I am told. But oh, how his family, church, and friends will suffer. Grief can feel overpowering.
I invited Bryan to join our staff a long time ago. We had Bryan start Elements as a service at Pantano on Sunday nights. Finally, we were able to launch them in 2014 to start as a church in midtown. I’ve had the privilege of being the chairman of the Elements City Church board and work with Bryan all these years.
Grief is a part of life. And we need to lament. Lament means to express our grief and sorrow. It’s vital that we express it. When we hold it inside, it finds its ways to disrupt our lives – almost never in a good way.
The Bible records many laments. We have a whole book of lament called “Lamentations.” About one-third of all the Psalms are categorized as laments. Here are the first few verses from Psalm 13 in the Message version:
Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
God can handle our lament. In fact, he wants us to share our grief. What do you need to lament? What grief do you need to verbalize to both God and others? What loss do you need to recognize inside you? In the end, we journey through the grief better as we learn to own the sadness and express it in lament.
As I write, I’m hurting. I feel the sting of the loss of a good friend. I have questions about so many things that I’ve lost. And it’s okay to lament and it’s necessary to grieve openly.
By the way, if you missed our Deeper Dive this week where we talked about loss and grief, you can watch it here. You are not alone in the grief you are experiencing during this season.
Sunday I watched the Super Bowl. The Chief players and fans celebrated. The 49er fans suffered in their loss. I watched the camera show some of the 49ers players after the game. You could see in their faces and body language how painful the loss was.
Loss is a part of life we can’t avoid. The list of losses is unending. We experience the loss of those we love through death. Divorce is an ugly loss. Friendships and close relationships are lost through conflict, betrayal, and hurt. We can lose the love and respect of those who are important to us. We lose things like a career or a dream. We lose our health or physical and mental abilities. We lose money and possessions that were valuable to us. Losses are non-stop. With each loss there is pain and it is added to the previous pain.
With a loss that brings pain, we face a critical option. Will we engage the pain and grieve the loss, or choose to neglect the grieving process in order to avoid the pain? Some try the John Wayne approach and just push through the loss and pain and focus on other things to avoid grieving. Others find ways to mask the pain. We might do that through drugs, alcohol, porn, cutting, eating, spending, video games, workaholism, and more. These hide the pain for a while, but they can never remove the underlying cause of the pain, so it keeps coming back.
Eventually, if we don’t face the pain and grieve our losses, the fruit of dysfunction will cause even more damage to us and those we love. Our unresolved grief can manifest itself in so many ways: addictions, worry, fear, anger, depression, chronic complaining, relational isolation, or excessive control, as well as a host of emotional, health, and physical symptoms of ungrieved losses.
I’m learning from my own experience that our ungrieved losses are silent killers. Ungrieved losses continue to have a powerfully negative effect on us. We have to find a way to grieve our losses.
Jesus openly grieved in a garden called Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-44). When you read the story you see that he is clearly in pain and sweat like drops of blood. Because he had foreknowledge, he could feel all the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain before it happened. So, what did he do? Ignore it? Hide it? Medicate it? Fight it? No, he cried out with deep emotion, begging God to take the current and impending pain away. Jesus was grieving! He faced and brought out what he was feeling inside. He faced his pain and brought it directly to God.
Jesus modeled how we grieve. We face the pain that’s inside and bring it to our outside world. We express the pain of loss in words. We express the emotion of the loss. We share the pain with God and with safe people who can listen and not judge or try to fix us. We join a group like GriefShare. We talk to a counselor (call our church office for a referral). The point? Don’t let ungrieved losses rob you of life. Don’t face the pain alone.