The other day, Vicar Matt and I were discussing how the long journey with Covid-19 is affecting people. Many of us seem to be sinking deeper into a funk that expresses the loss, loneliness, chaos, and uncertainty of each day. There seems to be a cumulative toll being taken as we slog forward, now hoping a vaccination will bring the nightmare to an end. Our discussion was about how we might help people deal with this accumulation of emotional plaque in our hearts and souls.
Perhaps it is because we don’t know what to do with the feelings of helplessness, the “dark night of the soul” caused by a global threat and a very personal interruption to our planned lives. Usually, a bad day at work or a health setback is temporary. If we feel angry or frustrated, we take it out on someone else or find a distraction that can give us space. Whether it be yelling at the dog (or kids, or spouse, or traffic) or a retreat (to our cave or a recreational activity) the “normal” of life returns and we move on. Rub a little dirt on our emotional boo-boo and pretend all is well. After months of pain, however, this doesn’t really work.
If we look to scripture, we find that our ancestors in the faith practiced a wisdom we seem to have forgotten. They practiced the art of lament. N.T. Wright, bishop and renowned Bible scholar, says of this time, “I have urged that we should embrace lament as the vital initial Christian response to this pandemic. Roughly one-third of the Psalms are lamenting that things are not as they should be. The words they use are words of complaint: of question, sorrow, anger and frustration and, often enough, bitterness.” (God and the Pandemic, 52)
To lament is to share the darkness of the heart, the complaints of the soul with God - honestly, deeply. I find that in my own prayer life, I am apt to, even in the quiet and privacy of my study, not pray what is truly roiling in me. Yet, time and again, when I do so after praying a psalm, reading a passage, my complaints reveal the truth about me, and then about God. My lament is framed by the story of a redeeming God. My dissatisfaction with the world is embraced by a God who is moving things forward.
You see, to lament is to be honest and transparent with a God who is always seeking my lost soul. To lament is to offer up the struggles within to the God who can transform them. Not to lament is to hide the dark, rotting pain in an emotional closet to fester, to accumulate; to become the hardened plaque of despair.
The laments in the psalms always show a pattern. (Look at Psalm 13) No matter how wrenching the lament (and some are pretty dark), the psalm always turns to God’s saving help and renewal. That is how the Spirit works within. Offer up your sorrow in the context of prayer and the story of God’s love, and you will find that offering received, and your soul blessed.
How do we deal with the pain of pandemic and every other struggle we face? Start by digging deep and offering it to God. Then meditate on the Lord’s Prayer. God will turn your mourning to dancing. That is my experience.
Tim Olson, Lead Pastor