Lament & Hope

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My unorganized, rambling thoughts on lament & hope:

The church where I am the Assistant Pastor, Quakertown UMC, is holding an Advent service called “The Longest Night” this year. Those of us who have been planning the service have been wrestling with a number of questions that have arisen about the role or place for grief in the season of Advent. One of the issues we’ve been wrestling with, the issue that has lingered with me these last few weeks is this: can lament (giving voice to sorrow, grief, trauma, etc…) be in and of itself hopeful?

As a part of the service, we will be reading and meditating on some of the Psalms that are rather uncomfortable—Psalms which contain language and images that may seem disturbing:

I’m battered senseless by your rage,

relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger. (Psalm 88, The Message)

I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;
my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal. (Psalm 77, The Message)

I’m on the edge of losing it—
the pain in my gut keeps burning. (Psalm 38, The Message)

God! you walked off and left us,
kicked our defenses to bits
And stalked off angry. (Psalm 60, The Message)

In some of our discussion, we hesitated to have these Psalms read and then say nothing more. We went back and forth trying to decide how to “offer hope” after such grueling readings.

I think in these discussions, we’ve been missing something of the nature of lament. We’ve placed lament at the opposite end of the faith spectrum from hope. We’ve created a dichotomy in which lament is something you do when you do not have hope, and hope is what you have when you are not lamenting. I’m not so sure this is an accurate (or helpful) way to understand the nature and function of lament.

Instead, I believe lament, understood as a voicing of pain, is incredibly hopeful. It is an alternative to despair. When we despair, we give up. We lose hope. We remain silent about the pain in our lives. Or, we altogether deny the pain in our lives. Lament, alternatively, acknowledges the presence of God and recognizes that the pain we experience is not aligned with the promises God has made to us. Lament is fundamental to Jacob’s wrestling with God, to the Hebrew people in exile, to Jesus’ time of prayer in Gethsemane.

Lament may lead us into difficult places—it may lead us into discovering that there are aspects of our lives for which we must repent. And repentance is a painful process. Lament may reveal to us ways in which we’ve been unfaithful. Coming to see ourselves as we really are is not easy.

Lament is so incredibly hope-filled. It is, in and of itself, an intimate engagement with God that eventually leads us back to praise. It is our way of saying to God, “Life isn’t what You promised us it would be, and we’re not letting go until you bless us.” It’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling of God’s presence with us, but instead is a confident, defiant insistence that God is present with us even unto death. And if that isn’t hope, I don’t know what is!