Expressing Grief (Lamentations 3:55-66)

An engraving of the prophet Jeremiah lamenting, 1937

I called on your name, Lord,
    from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
    to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
    and you said, “Do not fear.”

You, Lord, took up my case;
    you redeemed my life.
Lord, you have seen the wrong done to me.
    Uphold my cause!
You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
    all their plots against me.

Lord, you have heard their insults,
    all their plots against me—
what my enemies whisper and mutter
    against me all day long.
Look at them! Sitting or standing,
    they mock me in their songs.

Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord. (New International Version)

Over the years of ministry, I’ve encountered a host of confessing Christians who did not know the book of Lamentations even existed in the Bible. Even more people, I have discovered, are unfamiliar with the word “lament.”

This anecdotal evidence is quite telling: It tells me that a large chunk of people in society don’t know what to do with themselves whenever they experience or encounter trauma, abuse, unwanted circumstances, death, or overwhelming situations.

It’s no wonder that so many of us are anxious, depressed, and emotionally struggling. To be overwhelmed means that we don’t have enough internal resources to match what’s going on with us externally. Being overwhelmed means being devastated or overpowered by several circumstances at once; and experiencing several emotions at once, including the feeling of estrangement from God and/or others.

The book of Lamentations is the prophet Jeremiah’s public expression of grief over the destruction of his home city of Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army invaded the land, broke down the city walls, razed the temple, killed many people, and took most of the rest into captivity. The experience, along with the atrocities committed, were overwhelming.

On top of all that, Jeremiah had proclaimed a message of judgment, prophesying what would happen – and it did. And after the Babylonians took over, the remaining people put much of their misplaced anger and grief on Jeremiah, making his situation even worse.

Lamentations of Jeremiah, by Marc Chagall, 1956

What would you do if you were Jeremiah?

In whatever way you might respond, I believe Jeremiah did precisely what was most needed: He called on the name of the Lord, he expressed his lament, and it was all more than a private affair – because we are able to still read his lamentation all these many centuries later.

To lament is to express our feelings and story of grief to another. Without doing so, we are spiritually and emotionally stuck. And if we remain stuck for too long, our grief comes out sideways, either hurting others or ourselves.

The general populace of the people didn’t deal with their grief, and didn’t lament their loss. Instead, they mocked Jeremiah, plotted against him, and insulted him. That’s what happens when we don’t grieve and lament.

Jeremiah, however, left the people in God’s hands, and didn’t take matters into his own hands. He did what he was supposed to do instead of lashing out on others: Crafted this book of Lamentations, which we have access to, and can read.

So, why don’t we?

There’s lots of reasons we don’t examine the book of Lamentations (and explore our own lament). The primary reason is fear:

  • Fear of our own emotions – getting lost in them and afraid we’ll never get out of them – so we construct elaborate thoughts and words of positivity, believing that it will shoo the difficult feelings away. But the truth is, it won’t. It only makes it worse. We can choose to courageously tell our story, to whomever we want, in as much or as little detail as we want.
  • Fear of getting hurt. We’ve already experienced a level of hurt we never thought was possible. It’s only human to want to keep as far away from hurt as we can. So, we keep tight-lipped, tell others that we’re fine (when we’re not), all in the belief that if we can shut others out, we can keep any more hurt from touching us. The problem is that when we do that, we also keep the love out that could and would come to us.
  • Fear of connection. Examining myself and exploring relationships with others sounds too risky. It’s fraught with emotion. Besides, we might reason, I don’t want to put my burdens onto someone else. So, we don’t face our grief. The feelings get buried and, over time, become gangrene of the soul, poisoning us. Like a nasty boil, our grief needs to be lanced, and plenty of peroxide put on the wound. And the right medicine is doing what Jeremiah did: lament our loss.
  • Fear of losing control. I might cry in front of others. I may get really angry and yell. I could go absolutely ape and do weird stuff around people. If I open up, it will be a Pandora’s box of releasing myself. In reality, this is a fear of vulnerability, of letting others see the true self. And since we may not like our true self to begin with, this makes things quite complicated. However, there is not another way. Yet, if we go down the narrow path of lament, we will find many comforters who are able to empathize with us in our suffering.

“Sometimes you have to get your behind in the past before you can put your past behind you.”

Mit Tdrahrhe

The place to begin is in offering our feelings of grief, and our emotional words of lament, to the God who is always ready and available to hear it. And, from there, we reach out to a trusted friend, relative, or faith leader and tell them our story. Eventually, we discover enough healing that we can then comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)

You can do this.

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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