Lament has been a topic of peculiar interest to me over the past few years. I believe it has almost been a year and a half since I taught through the entire book of Lamentations in Sunday school and yet I find that I am still learning more lessons or rather, new emphasis are coming to my mind as I study. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Lament, check out this article that I wrote in 2021 here.
For devotions, I have been working my way through the book of Jeremiah. Obviously, Jeremiah was the one who wrote the book of Lamentation so we know that he was familiar with the topic. As expected, in the book of Jeremiah we find Laments as well. Often in the book, these Laments are called Jeremiah's confessions. Jeremiah pours out his heart honestly and openly to God. Think about what it would have been like to be the prophet of God preaching judgment and destruction, to be rejected by the people, to see know fruit from your ministry and then on top of it all, to have to endure the same tragedies that the sinners were going through. God didn't magically make Jeremiah impervious to the pain and hunger; nor did He remove Jeremiah from the people. From a life strike with grief and pain come the confessions of Jeremiah.
There is an official list of the confessions of Jeremiah, but some commentators including myself see a broader list of sometimes smaller passages that should be included. If you wish to do a fuller study on the confessions of Jeremiah check out: 4:19-21; 5:3-5; 8:18-23; 11:18-23; 12:16; 15:10-12, 15-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; and 20:7-18.
The helpful thing about these Laments is the context in which they are found. We get glimpses into the setting for why Jeremiah wrote the words that he did, but also periodically we get to see God's response to the Lament. I have stressed in my preaching on Lament, the honesty and openness with which we pour out our feelings to God. This is a part of the grieving process. Think of phrases from Lamentations such as The Lord was as an enemy (2:5), there is none to comfort me (1:21), Thou hast slain them in thine anger and not pitied (2:21), He hath led me and brought me into darkness (3:2) and the list could continue through the entire book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was not afraid to attribute to God what had been done and even to tell God how he felt God had dealt with him.
In dealing with this topic, I have begun to see that Lament is not a monologue. I don't just pour out my heart and the words sit there unheard or even unresponded to.
Lament is a dialogue with other people
The first hint to this came from the back and forth of the narrator and Lady Jerusalem in Lamentations 1 and 2. When we are hurting, the tendency is to shut ourselves away in a room and isolate ourselves from other people. I understand that people can be hurtful and we don't want to open ourselves to any more pain, but the right kind of people can be healers. From Lamentations we see a back and forth between the narrator and Jerusalem personified as a lady. Throughout the text she pours out her complaints and the narrator responds. From these interactions we can glean the following practical advice for dealing with people going through grief:
Establish dialogue- chapter 1- We all feel uncomfortable entering into hard conversations. But some people come out of those dark times in their lives worse than they did when they went in. Don't just ignore them and pretend like nothing is wrong.
Sympathize with them 1:1- the narrator weeps with Lady Jerusalem over what has happened to her. The lack of a biblical teaching of lament has made us disobedient to the command to weep with those who weep. We rejoice, but how often do we weep?
The narrator was "physically there."I put quotes here because he was not literally there since they are rhetorical devices, but he established presence with her.
He identified with her 2:1
He sits in silence with her 2:13 Sometimes our words are not needed just our presence with them. Counseling those who grieve requires wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent.
He reminds her of truth 2:17
He challenges her to call out to the Lord 2:18
Bottling up anguish inside unresolved is never healthy. Sometimes it takes a loving, compassionate friend to help guide you through the night and back to the light. The end goal of Lament is to re-establish trust in God by working though our grief. At some point in that process, we need an infusion of truth into our lives. In 2:17, the narrator reminds her of what God had said he would do, but challenges her to arise, cry out to God, pour out your hear and don't stop until you get an answer.
Lament is a dialogue with God
This truth really stood out to me as I did my devotions through Jeremiah 15:10-21. In the text we have one of Jeremiah's confessions. He cries out honestly that he feels like he should never have been born and by implication never called to ministry. He is rejected without a cause by the people (vs10); he is lonely (vs17); and he feels abandoned by God (vs18). This is honestly and openly pouring out his heart to God in Lament.
But what stood out to me was the response of God in vs 19-21. God tells Jeremiah to repent. Was there sin in what Jeremiah had said? Jeremiah was ready to walk away from the ministry God had called him too. This would have been disobedience on his part. It is dangerous to make decisions when you are grieving. Processing how you feel is expected, applauded. Honesty with God is good; but to use those feelings as an excuse to sin is not.
Jeremiah also had wrong thoughts about God when he concluded that God had abandoned him in vs 18. He said God was as a liar and a dry river. The illustration is of a thirsty man who has wandered through the wilderness and expects water at a nearby wadi, but when he gets there the water has dried up. Now he is in despair and feels betrayed. God corrects Jeremiah's thinking in vs 20-21 "I will deliver thee... and I will redeem thee."God had not forsaken him.
These words may seem to be harsh. Imagine being told to repent when you are feeling crushed by God. But remember that the goal of Lament is to re-establish trust in God by an infusion of truth into our lives. You are doing no one any good by allowing them to forever wallow in despair. Lift them up, get them on their feet and point them in the right direction. Again, this all comes down to wisdom. Remember there is a time for silence.
Grief is not meant to be faced alone. Find someone you know you can trust spiritually to help you through this time. Someone you know cares. Someone you know knows God. Someone with the wisdom to know when to speak the truth you ultimately need to hear. But don't suffer alone.