Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lament: The Alternative to Complaining

Last week, I wrote a post that challenged the practice of complaining about the things we see wrong. Most specifically, I challenged the habit we have in the church of complaining about stuff over which we have no direct influence. We like to complain about our concerns and we get stuck there.

But this raises the question: What do we do with our concerns? Or What do we do about the things we see going on in our world over which we have little to no influence? Besides re-posting something on Facebook, is there another option?

The answer is found in one word: Lament.

But we don't lament in our culture. We don't lament in our churches. We don't even talk about lamenting and how central it is to the a biblical imagination. Just read the Psalms or the first chapter of Nehemiah. It's all over the place.

We understand complaining. But we don't understand lamenting.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn." This is the most paradoxical of all the beatitudes. On the surface it makes no sense whatsoever. If a synonym for blessed is "happy," as some translations put it, and mourning is associated with unhappiness, then in some ways Jesus is saying "happy are the unhappy." At the very least, we must admit that Jesus' way of seeing happiness is absolutely different than the common ways that we view it in our culture.

I think part of the insight we need comes from the shortest verse in the Bible: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Over what was he weeping? Lazarus' death? The fact that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? That his followers did not have faith? I've heard all of these reasons given in various sermons and while any of them might be true, I think there is something that lies beneath. He wept at the reality of death itself, not just the fact that there is a death to our physical bodies but that the ways of death pervade our day-to-day routines. He wept because he saw the reality that most people rejoice over the things that are death covered with a mask.

To mourn is to lament, a life practice which pervades the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish people knew what it means to lament, to see reality for what it is and to long for deliverance, to cry out to God for the kingdom to be made manifest. This is not just mourning because we don't get our way or because something does not work out. This is about seeing the truth of the world and lamenting about it.

We need to be introduced to lament as a spiritual discipline. Instead of lamenting, we typically do one of two things. As a primary option, we whine, we complain and we b&$%*. (Please don't be offended by this word. It describes a lot of what I've heard in the church over the years.) Ultimately, instead of lamenting we play the victim. This is what we do when we complain about our Circle of Concern.

A second option is usually offered up as the right one. We try to make to make lemonade out lemons. We try to make every day a Friday. We are told to look up when things are looking down. Sadly though, we are actually trying to make things out to be better than they really are. We refuse to enter into the pain of reality, so we do things like make excuses, we work, we laugh, we medicate, we entertain ourselves, we cope. And of course, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, put a smile on our faces and get back to ministering. We do anything to keep from entering into the pain of reality. Honestly, too many times, we think we are focusing on our Circle of Influence when we do this.

The spiritual practice of lament can shape us to manifest God's life in ways that nothing else can. It causes us to see that we can NOT fix things. It causes us to break the pattern of complaining and whining. It shapes us to depend upon God like little else. Yes lament is painful. It causes us to question everything. It rips us up from the inside in ways that most of our friends cannot and will not ever understand.

To lament is to live in our Circle of Influence. It takes us to the depths of our soul. It leads us to the end of our own efforts. It causes us to see that we cannot control life. It guides us to the cross.

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