Embracing Lament: Waiting in Angst and Hope

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This past Sunday, our text was Lamentations 3:19-33, but if you have the time, you might read through verses 1-18 as well. Every lament includes angsty complaint to God and often, against God. In this case, the first 20 verses of Lamentations 3 are all complaint against God. I only included verses 19 & 20 on Sunday so as to keep in simple, but you could go back and read more (fair warning if you do: God gets blamed for causing all his woes. Contact me if you want help making sense of that)

At first blush, Lamentations 3 might feel like an odd choice for the buildup to Christmas. Isn’t everything supposed to be merry and bright?

In a word … No.

That’s part of the reason we light candles—as an acknowledgment that it’s dark. Not only are the days shorter, but the world is still not as it should be.

And so, we wait. We wait to celebrate Christ’s birth as a way of also waiting for his second coming when all things will be made right and it will be dark no more.

Lament is a way of navigating the dark. Lament is a way of expressing our experience of hardship and in the process, making divinely-inspired sense of either personal tragedy or communal catastrophe. Lament is an intentional way of making sense of a world that does not reflect God’s ultimate purposes.

Lament can be contrasted with a way of navigating life that denies or glosses over suffering, choosing to go directly to the joy of the Lord and the hope of our eternal calling. Lament is an art form that eventually gets there, but it doesn’t get there by sidestepping suffering. It goes right through the middle of it.

That’s what the first 20 verses of Lamentations 3 are all about. This is a person who is facing, head-on, the hardship they are experiencing.

19The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

Things have happened to Jeremiah that make him bitter and downcast. And the only way to make sense of it is to recall God’s character:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Recollecting these facts does not change the lamenter’s circumstances. He is still awaiting salvation and deliverance:

25The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

His experience of waiting is qavah! (link to last week) Jeremiah finds that he is strengthened in the waiting. When he can tell it like it is about both his circumstances and his God, his life is reframed so that he can see affliction through a different lens. He sees benefit in all sorts of hardship — see vv. 26-30.

In some ways, this reframing can seem like a pious trick that doesn’t actually work in real life. But as the people who came to Learning Hour found out, it’s not farce. In a matter of only 20 minutes—just one pass through the biblical pattern of lament—you can experience profound catharsis. There were only about 15 adults that stuck around for the Learning Hour, but all of them found that out firsthand. Indeed, in that short time, three people cried tears of catharsis and many more felt the same.

Curious about that?  Follow this guide and see for yourself.

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