When I was in elementary school, I learned that my great uncle had died. He was a wonderful man, compassionate, and he had a plum tree in his yard and a pool table in the basement. I remember looking forward to spending time at his house (and not just because I could eat plums straight off the tree and play pool). His death was my first up close, personal experience with deep grief.
I remember feeling alone. My heart felt broken and my eyes were overwhelmed with tears. I felt helpless because you can’t undo the loss. You can’t make the hurt go away. But that lonely, grieve-by-yourself feeling stayed with me, and I decided grief was a solitary journey.
Anne Lamott expresses similar sentiments when she writes, “All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly as possible and as privately. But, what I’ve discovered is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place, and that only grieving can heal grief. The passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it.”
I’ve spent most of my adulthood trying to undo that dysfunctional lesson I taught myself back in elementary school. As human beings, we need to grieve. We need to lament. And, we need to grieve and lament with others, not just by ourselves behind closed dooors. Though I’ve made progess in learning how to lament, I have found myself at a loss for how to lament all of the losses over the course of eighteen (or more) months of COVID-19.
As I watched a webinar entitled “Mourning Our Losses Together During COVID-19: The Good News of Biblical Lament” I felt overwhelmed by all of the things there are to grieve right now. Rev. Pamela Yoder listed just some of the losses caused by COVID-19. She listed things like cancelations of plans, postponing of important life events (funerals, weddings, etc.), loss of routine, lack of touch and connection, loss of concentration, stress and fear about the school year, major shifts in work, just to name a few. Any one of these griefs would be hard to express and deal with in a healthy way. Pile them all on top of each other and include every single person in the world among those who are grieving, and it is just too much to bear.
In response to this webinar, to the griefs I’ve seen in the lives of others, and to the grief and loss I have been carrying personally, I decided to create a resource list for lament. This list is far from exhaustive, and none of these resources will be the right fit for every person. My hope is that at least one thing on this list will help you give voice to the griefs you are carrying, and perhaps make space for healing to begin, in whatever form that might look like for you.
Ways to Make Space for Lament
Engage with the movements of lament
The webinar I mentioned above talked about the three movements of lament in the psalms. They listed the movements as 1) Argue with God, 2) Remember God’s Goodness, and 3) Praise God. One way to make space for lament is to engage with these three movements.
The first movement might feel shocking to read at first, but it might help to look at the psalms for an example. Take, for instance, the first two verses of Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.”
The psalmist felt abandoned by God, and in his lament, he expressed that. By verse 22, the psalm writer had arrived at a place of trust in God, but it took 22 verses to get there.
As you engage with the movements of lament, perhaps you will feel led to write your own psalm, or poem, or song. Or, maybe you will draw or paint something, or create something with clay. Use whatever style connects most with you. Don’t rush yourself through the movements. We do not know how many days, weeks, or months might have passed between the writing of the first few verses of Psalm 22 and the later verses that expressed faith and trust.
My former Old Testament Professor Dr. Carol Bechtel lists the three movements as 3 P’s: Protest, Petition, and Praise. She offered a brief video lesson on writing your own psalm of lament. You can check that out HERE.
I recently came across a prayer called “No Plans – A Prayer,” and I think it is a great example of a modern lament. In this prayer, Pastor Katy Stenta laments how out of control she feels. By the end she hasn’t quite arrived at trust and praise, but she has turned toward God and wondered if perhaps God was present in the midst of everything she was going through. You can check out her prayer HERE.
Name How Things Are, And Look for God-With-Us in the Midst of It
Another way we can make space for lament is by naming how things are, and then looking for the presence of God in the midst of it with us. Jesus did this for the crowd in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). In Courtney Ellis’s timely book Happy Now: Let Playfulness Lift Your Load and Renew Your Spirit, she writes about her realization that the word “Blessed” in the Beatitudes could also be translated as “Happy.” Really? Happy are those who mourn? Happy are those who are persecuted? Courtney Ellis wrote this about her realization:
“It turns out that God’s profoundly interested in the happiness of his creation; and the full spectrum of human flourishing includes not just goodness and obedience but delight as well. And as Andrew Peterson so perfectly puts it, ‘We’re not invited into this because God needs us, but because he wants us.'”
What would it look like for you to name your experience and seek God’s presence with you in the midst of it?
That question first crossed my mind when I read this blessing on Instagram, written by Rev. Jes Kast. You may not identify with each line in her blessing, but I wonder if you might see yourself in some of it.
Blessed are you who is exhausted.
Blessed are you who are wondering how to teach another year like this.
Blessed are you when family disown you because of who you are, the grief and freedom is not unseen.
Blessed are you who do not know what to do because the reality is that none of us actually know what to do and we all show up daily doing the best we can.
Blessed are you who mourn, may your tears baptize healing.
Blessed are you in recovery, the truth sets you free.
Blessed is your grief.
Blessed are you tired of mask and vaccine wars, we all want a healthier world.
Blessed are you who needs mental health support, that is most of us.
Blessed are you in your weakness and vulnerability, for there is where transformation is.
Blessed are you, grace and mercy is for us who know we need it. Who are not perfect. Who are both strong and tender. Enough mercy for today, enough love for today, you are blessed in this day.
Blessed are you, friends.
–Rev. Jest Kast
Allow the Arts to Guide Your Lament
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard over and over how dangerous singing was in potentially spreading the virus to others. Churches ceased meeting, and some that continued meeting did away with singing for a time. Into that environment, this powerful arrangement of “How Can I Keep from Singing” was released. You can listen to it HERE.
I also came across a Spotify playlist for lament. Perhaps this playlist will have some songs that guide you as you make space. You can find that playlist HERE.
On this website, there are some instructions for doing “Graffiti of Lament.” To explore what that might look like, take a look HERE.
Lament can be both personal and communal. Sometimes we need to make space for our own personal grief. Other times, there is profound healing in lamenting with others. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you will find space for lament, and in that lament may seeds of healing begin to grow.
Do you have resources on lament that you’d like to share? Please feel free to share those in the comments.