An Exercise in the Art of Lament
The title of this post is drawn from a line by William Shakespeare— “The winter of our discontent.” I used the word “simmer” to point out that for many of us, there can be a constant feeling of discontent that quietly simmers in the background, hardly noticed, but still leaving us feeling that we need something, even if we can’t quite put our finger on it. After all, in America we are constantly bombarded with messages that we need more of this, more of that, or less of this, less of that. Any way you look at it, we need something other that what we have.
The thing about a simmer is that it can quickly become a full boil by just turning up the heat a little. In contrast, a simmer will cool quickly by simply turning off the heat. But, if we remain in a state of simmer indefinitely, it will slowly ruin us.
I often find myself confessing to foibles and imperfections on my blog posts. This a less offensive way (at least, to me) of saying “sins.” There is an old Scottish proverb that says, “Open confession is good for the soul.” This is actually a biblical concept.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.“
The purpose of this post is to do just that—openly confess some of my faults and pour them out in prayer to God who alone can cleanse them.
Although I will be making a personal confession, I used the word “our” in the title, because I know that I am not alone in my struggles. I invite you to join me on this journey into confession and lament.
I have come to a realization that I have a disease. Not in the normal sense of that word, but in the sense expressed in the definition below.
noun: lack or absence of ease; uneasiness; pain; distress; trouble; discomfort.
from The Century Dictionary.
This disease stems from a persistent state of discontent.
noun: lack of satisfaction with one’s possessions, status, or situation: lack of contentment:
a: a sense of grievance, dissatisfaction
b: restless aspiration for improvement
from The Mirriam Webster Dictionary
Why am I discontent? Why should I, who have had my sins wiped away by the precious blood of my Savior Jesus, be discontent or diseased?
Could it be because of the ever-present awareness of my proneness to sin and my constant struggle against it that often leaves me restless for improvement? As the apostle Paul said so well in Romans 7:24–“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
I constantly confess my sins to the Father and feel so unworthy to come to Him daily with the same confession. As long as I still inhabit this earthly body, I will fight against this. My merciful Father lovingly welcomes me into His presence again and again simply because of this: the covering of the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross and His great love for me.
There are, of course, many things to cause discontent besides personal faults. The world we all find ourselves living in right now greatly stirs feelings of discontent. Pandemic, politics, unemployment, financial distress, depression, separation from loved ones…The list goes on and on. Perfect conditions for discontent. Perfect conditions for lament.
The Language of Lament
In February of 2021, I participated in a study of lament with a small group of friends. The study was A Sacred Sorrow—Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament by Michael Card.
During this study, I realized that I have been engaging in lament for many years without knowing it. A lament is simply pouring out your sorrows to God. Being real before Him and saying what is in your heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly—wailing and railing and all. When we encounter these laments in the Bible (Think of Job, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jesus) at some point in almost all cases there is a shift from anguish, despair, anger, etc. to hope, relief, mercy received. It is a beautiful thing once you know how to see it.
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, shows us what lament looks like. Chapter 3 captures the turn from despair to hope beautifully and poignantly. In the course of five verses, he goes from this—
“And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD”
“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
The Challenge to Lament
My Bible study leader asked our group to try writing a lament during the four weeks of our study. I resisted, not knowing where to start or what exactly to lament. Actually, I think I was just afraid of what would come out since there are plenty of things to cry over, to rue and rage over, and certainly to confess. So…
The day before the final session, I just put my thoughts on paper. A few minutes later, a full blown lament was on the page and my state of mind had shifted. I finally understood that the laments I had been engaging in for years were largely incomplete (probably because they were mostly just pity parties!). I had rarely, if ever, arrived at the crucial point where lament turns from despair to hope, from anger to peace, from guilt to mercy.
Sharing my Lament
I have struggled for many months with this particular post and whether or not I should share it. My personal lament feels very dark. It is intensely personal. Should I share it? What will you think when you read my ragged thoughts? I have decided to share it because my particular battle with discontent may not be entirely unique. Someone else may find a hint of themselves in it. We all have dark places that we try to keep hidden from our Father, rather than bringing them out into the light of His loving and redemptive gaze. I share it here in the hopes that you will find a place to begin your own journey in to the language of lament and, in that place, find that God will always welcome you with mercy and forgiveness.
Bitterness of Soul
Father, Yehovah, the cause of my lament is ever before my face.
It stares at me daily and growls at me in the night.
It lurks in the corners of the rooms I walk through in my mind.
I have cried to You, time and time again,
to release me from this painful dis-ease that plagues me
and seeps out of me onto those around me.
Do not allow me to infect them with my bitter dis-ease.
I crave Your forgiveness.
I “know” in my head that You give and have given it,
but my heart still feels walled off to its reception.
I beat myself up, and in the process, I beat up those around me
with angry, frustrated, callous words and attitudes.
I feel tormented day and night.
I am afraid to speak of it except to You
and to only the rarest of trusted friends,
because if people know the depths of my dis-ease,
they would certainly find me a fraud, a fake, a charlatan.
I try to find the exact source of my problem.
I try to place a name on it.
For now, I will name it “Bitterness of Soul.”
Its sources are many and varied.
Some obvious, and some obscure.
When this began is hard to say,
but when it began to grow menacing is more easily pinpointed.
My shame prevents me from even recording in words
the nature of this ugly dis-ease.
Perhaps this is what keeps me locked in its grasp.
Father, give me courage to lay it out fully,
so that I can see it—see the ugliness of it—so that I can let go of it,
as it has become a security blanket that I am afraid of dropping
lest I be laid bare and defenseless.
(Oh! How stupid that sounds at this moment!)
God! Please take that which I hang onto like a stubborn child,
and wrest it from my grasping hands,
so that You can wash it (and me) clean from the stains all over it.
But You have already washed me clean.
I was already clean before all of this began,
but I went and wallowed in the mire.
Each time I have come to You to wash my feet
from the muck I have walked in,
I return right back to that pit, sooner or later.
Deep in my soul, I know that You love me,
in spite of my proneness to wander.
It is why my lament is so strong.
My guilt so overwhelming.
My sadness and regret so profound.
I fail the One who loves me completely;
Who loves me anyway.
This knowledge brings joy.
Yet, it also brings shame.
You, and You alone, Father Yehovah, are the lifter of my head.
You continually wash me with the pure water of Your Word.
You set my feet upon the Rock.
Therefore, I will continue to come to You
when my flesh inevitably stumbles.
I will bring my pride, my stubbornness to You again and again,
because You allow me to come crawling back to You
and to climb upon Your holy lap
and bury my face in Your strong shoulder and cry,
“I’m so sorry, my Father! I have messed things up again!
Please, forgive me afresh and cleanse me from all unrighteousness!”
I marvel at Your grace that bids me come to You
and You never, never, never turn me away or look away from me!
Your mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!”
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Yehovah will command His hesed (lovingkindness) in the daytime,
and in the night His song shall be with me—
Bless Your holy name, Yehovah! Amen, Amen.
If you, like me, suffer from the disease of discontent, or if you are struggling with anger, or something entirely different, I encourage you to do your own exercise of lament. Don’t be afraid to lay yourself bare. Spill out all that is in your heart. The Father knows it anyway. He is moved by our tears, our fears, even our angry outbursts. As you do this, allow Him to wash over you with His mercy, lovingkindness, and grace and bring you to a place of restful peace and hope. Let us make this a part of our prayer life in the days to come.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this language of lament and for allowing us to come before You with our whole hearts. Even the ugly parts we think we keep hidden. Even the discontent that simmers in the back of our minds. Wash us clean according to Your great mercy and love. In the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen
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