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Where Have All the Lamenters Gone?

No one laments more than God, so why do we as leaders feel pressure to keep a happy face?

Would King David be hired as your church’s worship pastor?

Would you share the pulpit with the weeping prophet Jeremiah?

How would the church staff respond to Nehemiah’s public display of sorrow during a staff meeting?

I don’t know how it happened to us, but somewhere along the way we lost all of our laments. We traded in our sorrow and forgot we will be sorrowful while we are rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10). We have sung the happy songs in church, prayed the happy prayers, and told ourselves to always be thankful, at the expense of silencing the grief left unresolved in our hearts.

Lament is a passionate expression of grief. It’s the cry of our heart that is usually full of anguish, sadness or heartache. We know God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) yet we have forgotten how to be broken ourselves. We know that God inclines to hear our cry (Psalm 116:2), but have we let our disappointments be heard within our communities?

It’s hard to find a person in the Bible who was without grief. And from them, we learn that lament is a passionate expression of grief that God meets us in. From Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, to Esther and Mordechai, God’s children were full of laments. Sarah lamented, Jeremiah was a weeping prophet, and Habakkuk lamented even after receiving an answer from God.

Only Happy Faces Allowed

As a woman, I find it particularly hard to lament sometimes. Maybe it’s the pressure to have things all together, or the praise I receive from multitasking, but I am losing an intimacy with God when I rid my life of laments. Throughout the Bible, God uses emotion to accomplish his purposes, and so it is good for me to realize that I am not doing God any favor by withholding my own.

What would happen if we removed laments from the Bible? We would lose powerful testimonies, we would lose an entire book (Lamentations), and much of the psalms—and we would lose a powerful way of communicating with God when life does not go our way. Lamenting is an essential spiritual discipline that we cannot forsake on this side of the Fall, because it offers us a way to keep the conversation going with the only One who can save us when life gets hard.

Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirt can be grieved (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Jesus let us into his laments on several occasions, and Scripture teaches us of a God who experiences emotion and lets us know about it.

No one laments more than God, so why do we as women leaders put pressure on ourselves to keep a happy face?

We begin our services with upbeat songs in the church. We attend Christian conferences where we hear a motivational message. We tune our radio to a “positive and encouraging” Christian station, and our kids attend schools where they are told they are “lights of the world” and “conquerors.” But where are our laments?

We champion messages of joy and stories of overcoming in the church today. Yet look at the book of Psalms, or the books written by Jeremiah, or Paul’s ministry of tears—these giants of the faith weren’t afraid to get honest with God when life was falling apart. We are in good company, biblically speaking, when we lament.

Reclaiming the Lost Language of Lament

It’s time to recover this lost language. And I believe to find our way back to this essential, life-giving practice, we do it together.

The Jewish people lamented in community, and I can’t help but wonder if our churches ought to look like this today. What if we opened a door to the singles in the community who are lamenting their singleness, instead of just telling them to start an online dating profile? What if we hosted support groups for the widows and widowers who are longing for heaven after losing a spouse, instead of reassuring them that everything happens for a reason and expecting them to “move on”? How about the foreigner, the orphan, and the refugee? What if, instead of outsourcing them to counseling ministries, we took the time to hear their cries?

Can you imagine what our church would look like if we practiced lament, in addition to our expressions of joy? What if we made the decision to walk together through both aspects of life?

If David had not demonstrated lament, we might have a hard time relating to him. Most of us are not anointed to be king at a young age. When we think of David, it’s not his king-ship that we relate to—it’s his laments.

Yes, David lamented his sin, but David also lamented while he was following God. Lamenting prayers were always part of David’s communication with God:

“I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.” Psalm 142:1–2

“I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” Psalm 142:5–6

Are we polishing our prayers from the pulpits, or are we giving ourselves permission to be a lamenting people? We know that the world around us is lamenting and all of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). It’s time we quit faking fine and let our laments out, too.

Because God meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be. And that’s the kind of church I want to be.

Esther Fleece is an international speaker and writer recognized among Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” Esther shares her story in her first book, No More Faking Fine: Ending The Pretending. Stay in touch with Esther and share your own lament on her website at www.estherfleece.com.

April13, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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