Psalms of Lament

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

by:  Elizabeth Lynn and Mark Ramsey  I  April 30, 2020

Recently we invited you, our readers, to tell us what issues you would like us to address in the area of church board leadership. Among the responses we received, one theme predominated:  the challenge of thinking together deeply about how to move through the next round of changes.

As one pastor put it:

I’m having a hard time moving my board past the logistical: they still want to talk about HVAC repairs and dates upon which we might resume worship…. Those are easier questions, of course, and they have the muscle memory for them.  They can think about them and not think too hard and long about how much is radically changing. 

We mentioned last week that, in times of grief and stress, we tend to double down on things we know best.  A corollary to this is that routine – or what we remember of routine – becomes both a comfort and a buffer against harder reality.  How often, upon entering a home where a loss has taken place, have you found the grieving survivor doing laundry or washing dishes, while bills pile up on the dining room table and unreturned phone messages clutter the kitchen counter? Washing clothes or dishes is a concrete act that has a beginning and an end, giving a sense of closure and control.  The desire to focus on those dishes (or those HVAC repairs) is totally understandable…and it can thwart good decisions.

In a follow-up to “Leading  Beyond the Blizzard”, Andy Crouch was interviewed by Fuller Seminary President Mark Labberton on this podcast.  The whole interview is worth a listen, but among several important notes, two stand out to us today:

  • Lament is a part of creativity
  • Leaders in crisis need to cultivate a relentless honesty about the present and the future

Lament is an honest expression to God about our experience of loss and pain and grief.  Psalms of Lament (nearly one-third of all psalms) are largely not about “private grief.” Rather, they are a communal expression of pain and loss, and ultimately also of trust in God.  That trust is spoken in lament in a way that does not look past the pain and loss but acknowledges it. The Psalms of Lament are marked by direct, clear honesty:

“Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 40:13)
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.” (Psalm 18:6)
“Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud….” (Psalm 27:7)
“Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help….” (Psalm 28:2)

A church board experiencing a challenge of moving beyond its “muscle memory” on operational details might consider having a meeting that begins with Lament.  It can certainly include reflections on personal pain and grief, but should also focus on what we have lost as a faith community and a society.  For fellow board members to be invited to lament together with speech about loss can be a doorway – and a propellant – to creativity.

“Lament is a part of creativity” is a hopeful, empowering message, because it helps us see our loss as part of something larger.  But only by being “relentless honest” can we begin to engage that creativity.  Speaking aloud together brings opportunity to begin to build a new type of trust born in this crisis.

A good example of an opening lament would be Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”

10 As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

No Comments

Post A Comment

mahjong ways 2