Lamenting in Lent
Dear refuge of my weary soul, on Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll, my fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief, for Thou alone canst heal
Thy word can bring a sweet relief, for every pain I feel
On March 27th, a group of people gathered in Wellspring's sanctuary for a lament service. As people arrived, they found the space completely transformed. Instead of the usual arrangement of chairs facing the front, the chairs were set in the round, a cross on a table in the middle, the band off to one side, the lights low. Around the circle of chairs were a number of sitting areas, armchairs and end tables and rugs pulled from every corner of the church. The whole room was designed to invite in, to create space to engage a form of worship few of us had experienced in community before that night.
Even though lament services are rare, lament is a surprisingly common and acceptable way to speak to God in Scripture. Elijah lamented his perceived failure as a prophet in the wilderness. Jeremiah lamented the atrocities he witnessed in the destruction of Jerusalem. Job lamented the extreme personal losses he suffered. David lamented his feelings of abandonment in the psalms. Even Christ lamented on the cross when he quoted Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Lament is about honesty. In lament, we tell the truth about our pain to God. Is there disappointment in our lives? Longing? Frustration? Grief? Lament is an avenue for laying these things bare before our Father. It is an opportunity for us to remind God of his promises and admit our doubts and confusion about his plans as we journey through the valleys of this life.
Even though I know lament is an appropriate practice, I tend to avoid it. Lament feels like something I shouldn't do until I've hit absolute rock-bottom. I would much rather tell God I've got things under control than tell him I'm frustrated. I have this deep soul conviction that, if only given enough time, I can figure things out. That minor (or major) setback? No big deal. See this struggle? I'm managing it as part of my self-improvement plan. Why lament when I could put that energy toward fixing my life? I'd rather earn God's congratulations on a life well put-together than receive his compassion when I can't move past something.
Maybe that's not your struggle with lament. Perhaps lament feels too risky to send God's way. Perhaps you feel God has bigger problems to respond to than what you have going on. Perhaps your life is so full you don't have a second to spare on anything negative. Perhaps you are terrified of the Pandora's box your lament may open. Whatever the reason, this avoidance of lament (and really anything too negative) is often reflected in our corporate worship. When picking the songs for this service, we found that very few songs are true laments - there may be a sentence or two of grief and then we move on to joy. We love to rush to restoration, to hallelujah, before sorrow has even had time to settle. It is hard for us to sit well with any exercise, but lament most of all makes us itch for resolution.
But that is not true of our experience and I can tell you it's not honest to where I'm at right now. There are things in my life that remain unresolved no matter how much energy I put toward fixing them. I cannot avoid the brokenness of the world and the truth is, I don't control very much. The sick do not get better, the infertile do not have a child, the marriages continue to falter, the jobs do not get offered, the finances don't come through. There are ways God’s kingdom seems absent that our hearts yearn to express.
And that's the beautiful thing about lament. As lament gives us a voice for our pain, we find a God who doesn’t smite or judge us but is able and willing to receive it. In telling God the ways we feel he has failed or forsaken us, we find a God who is faithful, present, and near to the broken-hearted. It is in these fragile moments that God speaks and I am reminded that despite my pain, there are ways in which God’s character and promises withstand my suffering. Lament is not just an expression of sorrow, it is also an act of holding onto God in the midst of it.
On March 27th, we pressed into the discomfort of lament and waited on God together. There was emotion, there was questioning, there was space for the experience of disorientation in our faith and the desperate petition for God’s healing presence. And you know what? I need experiences like this that lead me into honesty in the safety of community. I need my pain witnessed, respected, and honored by the family of God. I have spent too much time crying alone instead of on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ. I want to yearn for God’s kingdom alongside those who share the same ache for restoration.
Is there pain in your life this Lent? I’d encourage you to use the prayers below as a starting point for expressing that pain to God. Then I’d encourage you to find someone you trust at Wellspring and tell them. As you lament, I believe you will find a God who is able to bear your heaviest burdens and a community that is willing to walk alongside you in the valley.
Prayer of confession
Most merciful God, I desire to serve you and yet I do the things I hate and do not do the things I should. I confess that I have sinned against you. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and restore unto me the joy of my salvation. I rest in the sacrifice of Christ on my behalf, knowing I have died to sin and been raised to new life. Give me strength in the battle against temptation, that I may be true to you, my God and my King.
Prayer of lament
The whole earth groans for redemption - how long must I wait for it? How long must it seem the darkness has prevailed? How long must there be sin and sorrow? Give me hope, O Lord, even when things seem hopeless. Give me eyes to see your light in the darkness. Give me courage to wait for the day of the Lord. Give me a taste of your goodness that I might praise your name.
Prayer for those struggling with doubt
O God who sees me, I wish my heart were always steadfast, my confidence always firm. Yet, there are times when I doubt your nearness, provision, and love. Be patient with me in these times of doubt. I beg you reveal yourself to me as the steadfast Rock that weathers every storm, the sure salvation that depends not on me but Christ, the unchanging God who loves me even now.
Prayer for healing
Father in heaven, I believe you created this world for goodness and trust you will one day restore it to wholeness. While I wait for that day when tears shall be no more, I long to experience a foretaste of Christ’s renewing kingdom in my life on this earth. I humbly ask you to be my great Physician, restoring heart, mind, soul, and body, that I may praise your name.
Prayer for those experiencing loneliness
Creator God, I know you have made me for community but I despair because I feel alone. I long for friends who know me, for confidants who support me, for a companion who loves me. Still, I trust you are my greatest Companion and your presence alone does satisfy my deepest needs. Help me trust the plans you have for me all the days I walk this earth.
Prayer for wisdom
God of wisdom, I want to follow you and yet I feel the path is dark before me. Light the way with your truth and give me your Spirit as a guide. I trust that the work you started in me you will also bring to completion. In these next days, may the decisions I make bring me closer to your heart and may they glorify your name, for my good and the good of this broken world.
Amy Carr is a worship leader at Wellspring Englewood and the Director of Admissions at Denver Seminary. She loves spending time with her husband Jonathan, surprising people with homemade baked goods, and participating in authentic conversation. More than anything, she wants the Spirit to speak in and through her life.