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But First, Lament.

April 6, 2020

Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar on Unsplash

This is getting old. And for some of us, increasingly scary.

Weeks ago, COVID-19 was for most of us national news but a faceless disease. Today, almost everyone can name someone they know who has tested positive. And with the disease’s spread, layoffs increase, schools and businesses extend their closures, and plans are constantly being canceled. There’s a collective sense of loss and frustration.

If you’re anything like me, your first reaction to these kinds of situations is to try to “do something.” Anything. And that’s not entirely bad. Love moves us to action. But there is very little tangible action that one can take right now beyond staying at home. And so our primary action only feeds our sense of frustration and loss.

But what I’ve discovered for these situations, when everything is so far beyond my control, is that my first reaction isn’t always the most helpful one. Sure, it’s important to do whatever we can. But first, lament.

As I mentioned briefly in last week’s post, the Psalms are full of lament—the kind of songs that give voice to the pain, grief, and frustration we’re experiencing, and bring those cries to the Lord. They’re honest and raw. For instance, Psalm 13 begins: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”  (Ps. 13:1-2 ESV)

Elliot Grudem, a friend and mentor, recently wrote about the importance of lament in this current crisis. He writes:

We moved from New Orleans to Raleigh two months before Katrina destroyed the areas of the city we spent the most time in and around. One of the high school students we were closest to posted a message to the state high school athletic association asking if the destruction meant his football season was canceled. A writer turned that question into a story for Sports Illustrated.

I thought about that story Sunday night as my daughter lamented the CDC news that seemed to put an end to her rowing season. Other friends texted the sorrow there were feeling for their kids whose school and activities were brought to an abrupt halt.

Like the Sports Illustrated writer did for my friends from New Orleans, I want to honor my daughter’s sadness and help her hope for something better. The best way I know to do that is to help her pray a prayer of lament.

My friend Paul Miller in his book on prayer calls lament prayers the nuclear option. It’s the often messy, loud, unfiltered prayer we cry out to God when we are out of other options. It asks God to fix the seemingly unfixable situation. . . .

Praying a lament helps you embrace your limits. It puts you in your right place, a human being with limits, praying to the omnipotent God. Cry out to him, asking him to fix the situation only he can fix. Teach your family to pray similar prayers, allowing them to pray for the things that are important to them. Teach your church to join you in those prayers.

Elliot has provided a guide to writing a lament, including a section on helping your children write a lament. It’s important to grieve what we’ve lost, as we fix our hope on the Lord above.

So, yes—don’t just sit there during this crisis. Do something: pray, give, encourage, share, serve, help. I’ll share more ideas on this soon. But first, lament.

Related Posts:

Being the Church in a Day of Social Distancing

4 Ways to Pray for Your Church during Self-Isolation

5 Conversation Topics for the Church in Quarantine

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2020 6:22 pm

    We should lament for the violence in our nation, human trafficking, abortion, etc.

    • April 6, 2020 6:43 pm

      Yes, and amen. All that falls short of God’s vision for life in this world is worth bringing to him in lament.

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