Lament as a Spiritual Discipline

Dr. Sachi Nakamura,
JCFN Board Member, Christian Books Translator, and Spiritual Director

There are many sorrowing and trying things in this world. Maybe someone has done something hurtful to you, or you have done something hurtful to others or to yourself. Or, as unfortunate as they are, some things just seem to happen where there is no one to be blamed for. Maybe those are the result of systematic injustice . 

Sadly, there are more than a few things in this world that bring pain to our lives. What shall we do when we are feeling pain and sadness? We often taught on the topics of praising God and thanksgiving, but what about on lamenting?

Lament is a Biblical action. About a third of the Psalms are called Lament Psalms, which describe one’s pain and sadness. Michael Guinan, a Catholic priest said, “Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out to God directly because deep down, we know that our relationship with God counts; it counts to us and it counts to God.” We do not build up and despair at the sadness within us, but we cry out to God. We can do so because we know that God loves us and cares for us, hears our cries and is with us always. However, lament does not guarantee that God will give an answer to our cries and pleas. Rather, it may bring us to come to terms with the fact that there is no reasonable answer. In other words, to lament is to acknowledge that there is no one who can ease our pain, comfort us and ultimately fulfill us, other than God Himself. 

God sees our sufferings and pain. He hears our cries of sorrow. Crying out loud does not necessarily take away the pain. There is no guarantee that we will find solace about the injustice we are facing. However, God will meet us through the tears we shed and He will cry with us. Our tears and God’s tears will become like a stream that waters the dry land, from where a new life that belongs to the Kingdom of God will come to sprout. 

The Bible surely tells us to give thanks and rejoice always. However, I don’t think that it means that we should simply accept the evil and injustice of our world as something good or insignificant. Rather, we can give thanks and rejoice because we know that God will ultimately make things right and redeem what was lost and broken. Thanksgiving and rejoicing that keep out lament is like the false prophets saying, “Peace, peace!” Jeremiah said, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).” However, God is not someone who will treat our wounds in a careless way. Therefore, I would like to share about lament as a spiritual discipline.  

Lament is mentioned a lot in the Bible. One-third of the book of Psalms is composed of lament, and the entire book of Lamentations is about doing that. The book of Job also mentions lament a lot. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and his cry from the Cross can also be understood as lament.  

Let’s take a look at some psalms of lament (for example Psalm 6, 10, 13, 17, 22, 25, 30, 31, 69, 73, 79, 86, 102, etc.,). It is amazing how openly the authors bring up their cries and pleas to God. When we look at those Psalms of lament, we will notice that there is a basic format to them. 

 

  1. ProtestThe author starts out by bringing their current situation, a painful event in the past, emotional pain, or a plea before God. The author protests to God by saying, “This horrible thing or that sad thing happened to me. I am going through a really hard time now. I am in so much pain. God, what are you going to do about it?” If there is something or a complaint to state to God, the author does not hold back from bringing it up openly. 

  2. Petition:Next, the author brings forward his own request before God. What do we want God to do in the situation? What are we asking Him for? 

  3. PraiseFinally, the author confesses his trust in God. Because God is abounding in love, mercy and faithfulness, and loves justice and fairness, he puts his trust in God, praises and gives thanks to the Lord.   

 

Those 3 processes are said to be the format of psalms of lamentation. 

There are several ways we can practice lament as spiritual discipline. 

The first way is to choose a psalm that seems to resonate with your situation and pain, and read that out loud before the Lord as your prayer. 

The other way is to choose a psalm that you resonate with, then take a phrase from it and customize it to your situation, and use it as a prayer before the Lord. 

Another thing you can do is to write your own original lament. It might be helpful to use the basic format of psalms of lament that was mentioned earlier. However, you do not have to follow that pattern. Since it is not something that you will be showing others, you don’t have to try to sound poetic. What is important is to bring your honest feelings directly to God. Whether it is sadness or anger, God is able to take in your emotions in its entirety. When writing your own lament, you may want to borrow the words of David, Job or Jesus. Actually, using their words can be helpful as you may be able to identify with them. “Lord, how long?”, “My heart is full of suffering”, “I am worn out from crying out”, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It might be helpful to bring your pain to God along with some of the characters in the Bible. When you write your lament, you don’t have to feel like you need to also come up with thanksgiving and praise. I think it is better to wait until thanksgiving and praise naturally comes out of your heart. Because we know that God will not carelessly treat our pain as the false prophets did, we do not have to rush the process either. Instead of going through it in a hurry, take your time until thanksgiving and praise naturally flows out from your heart. The point of this spiritual discipline is to honestly bring your cries and pleas before God, and to tell God what you want Him to do. 

Lament can also be used not only to bring personal pleas before God, but also the pain of a community or the suffering that the entire society is going through, such as in times of natural disaster, terrorist attacks, or a pandemic that we are now experiencing. 

God desires for us to take responsibility for the things that are within our own boundary. I believe that the Lord himself is inviting us to name, face, and bring our sorrows and pain before Him. Can you hear the gentle and merciful voice of the Lord calling, “Bring them here to me.” 

May God bless you.  

(日本語) 「日常生活」という修練

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(Christian Books Translator, Spiritual Director, JCFN Board Member)

Over half-a-year ago, I read an article in Christianity Today. The article featured a conversation between a woman doing her doctorate studies at Regent College in Canada and Eugene Peterson. The student had a new-born baby, and was feeling frustrated about being occupied and distracted by her baby whenever she tried to read the Bible. She asked Peterson if he could recommend any spiritual disciples for her to help her get out of her spiritual rut. Peterson asked her this question.

“Is there anything you are doing regularly every day without fail?”

She thought about it. One thing she could think of that she did many times a day was breastfeeding. When she told Peterson that, he replied, 

“That is your spiritual disciple. From now on, pay close attention when you do what you are already doing. Be present.” 

The student (now a pastor’s wife) reflected on that conversation and said this:

“I had a strong temptation to do something for Christ rather than to be in Christ.I was starting to see my daily responsibilities in the home as obstacles to living as a devout Christian. However, in reality, those were the exact places where God wanted to meet with me.  Upon realizing that, my understanding of “submission to God” was expanded to include the simple act of “being in Christ (John 15).”

 

As I read that section of the article, I was reminded of the time when my daughter was battling cancer. Although I had just begun my courses for becoming a spiritual director, I was having to miss many classes. This is what my teacher told me. 

“My heart feels so much compassion and care for you and your daughter, as well as your entire family.  You are living life as it is, not as an interruption to a program.  You are living what you are learning, that God is in the midst of every sacred moment of your life, and that of Miho’s.  You need to put your attention there, and what is happening each day for her, and for you.  ……

Do not worry about deadlines, papers, or anything.  Let go of pressure to finish on time.  What we are about is reflecting on how God is active in your real life, now.  ….”

Taking care of my daughter battling cancer was quite far from what people would call as “daily life.” However, the point is that we need to realize that God is at work in the midst of our daily lives. We need to simply respond to Him from that place. It may be when each day seem monotonous  and repetitive…. Or else, when you find yourself in the midst of suffering that totally alters your course of life. Whatever we are facing, we are called to live out our “daily lives” intentionally while remaining in Christ. We do not need to scramble to live the way we think we should be living. Rather, we need to discern what the Lord is inviting us into; the here and now

As we respond to this invitation, many areas of your daily life may start to look differently. God may bring to light some of your habits, thoughts and response patterns that are distancing you from  God or robbing intimacy with those around you. God may also lead you to incorporate new activities (disciplines) to help you draw closer to Him. At that time, my daily routine included making soup for my daughter in the morning. That became my prayer time. As I chopped vegetables and cooked them, I did them prayerfully as if I was offering them to God. By becoming more aware of God’s presence, each step of preparing the soup became acts of serving in the temple for me.

What are you facing in your “daily life”? What are some things you do routinely? Some of you may feel that you are too busy to find time to be quiet  before God. Spiritual disciplines do not have to look very “spiritual.” Even your commute to work, whether in a crowded train, or through bad traffic on the freeway, can become your place of prayer, a monastery. As you take care of a baby, pick up your children from school, wash dishes, fold laundry, even engage in a difficult relationship with someone at work or school, those can all become opportunities to meet with God as long as you are remaining in Christ. 

God invites us to start now, in the midst of our daily lives. Lord, please help us to respond to your invitation.

Being Grounded in the Absolute Love of God

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(Christian Books Translator、JCFN Board Member、Spiritual Director)

 

 

Few years ago, I came across these words by a Catholic Trappist monk, James Finley. 

“(God is) the infinity of the unforeseeable; so we know that [the unforeseeable] is trustworthy, because in everything, God is trying to move us into Christ consciousness. If we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things, then we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.” 

“…the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things,…” Thinking that I had misread this phrase, I read it over several times. However, that is surely what it said; “…the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things,…”

                     It does not mean that God does not protect us from anything. However, whether it is a natural disaster, illness, losing a job, or a bereavement of a loved one, such things that happen in this world may happen to anyone who believes in God. God’s love does not protect us from experiencing tragedy, suffering and pain. We all know this from our own experiences. No one can say that they have not experienced some kind of sadness, hardships, or things they cannot understand why it happened. Nonetheless, God’s love sustains us in the midst of it all, no matter how tragic the circumstance is, and how difficult and painful the experience may be. Many of us also know this from our personal experiences. 

                    When you look back at your life, can you identify painful and difficult times that had made you wonder why God didn’t protect you from such circumstances? The pain might have felt unbearable at that moment. You may not have felt His presence during it. However, now turn your thoughts to the truth that God did sustain you through it. The fact that you are reading this sentence right now is proof that the Lord was with you during your difficult time to sustain you. At that time, how and in what ways did the Lord abide with you in your difficulties? Maybe you were not able to notice Him then, but as you look back on it now, you may be able to recognize how His hand was at work. 

                     What about you now? Maybe some of you are going through a great deal of suffering at this moment. You might be facing a painful time and are wondering why God is not protecting you from it. Others of you may not feel like you are going through any specific trials, but are somehow feeling suffocated by the chronic burdens of life. Regardless of the circumstances, how is God sustaining you? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you become aware of Christ’s presence and comfort in the midst of your life. 

                      As we look into the future, there is absolutely no guarantee that we will not face any troubles. In fact, Jesus told us that in this world, there will be trouble. Although we are unable to avoid troubles, we can ask the Lord to help us become absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing even as it sustains us in all things.

 

“(T)hen we can face all things with courage and tenderness and touch the hurting places in others and in ourselves with love.” Let us also reflect on those words of Finley.

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