Perhaps, like me, you are finding the restrictions of the pandemic, at least here in Ontario, wearying. Even with the promise that vaccines are rolling out, we get the sense that the process is slow. Even with the entertainment we have received over the past days, weeks and months from our neighbours south of the border, there is a feeling that so much of life has become elegiac – lamentable, in a sense.
And we have a problem: our culture has largely lost the ability to lament.
Most of the music we hear nowadays, at least popularly, is meant to be positive, even to hype us up. But there are occasions when we need artistic expression of other emotions to help us induce the feelings that need to be manifested.
As I write this, I am listening to a piece of music that, for me, evokes lament – the Adagio for Strings, by Samuel Barber, arranged for organ. Not exactly a top 40 hit.
But I find listening to certain pieces of music will conjure the emotion that is pent up inside.
So do the Scriptures.
Not all Bible passages, in or out of context, are meant to be “keep your chin up” texts; in both the stories and the songs of the Bible, there are laments. We find few, if any, of them paraphrased in the CCLI Top 150.
Of course, there is a whole book seemingly devoted to lament; we call it “Lamentations.” But there are many other examples in Scripture. Several of them are in the Psalms – and there are even different types of laments found there.
When we think of the Psalms, our minds likely move toward “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23) or “I lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121), since these are words of comfort. Yet the beloved Psalter contains numerous laments; feel free to look them up after you’re done reading this.
But for now, consider Psalm 38. Read it over a few times, slowly, paying attention to your breathing as you do. Perhaps the Lord will highlight a particular word or phrase, as he did for me. Yours may be different from mine, as mine is different from another’s; God uses his Word to speak to our hearts and minister to us where we have need.
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your rage!
2 Your arrows have struck deep,
and your blows are crushing me.
3 Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
my health is broken because of my sins.
4 My guilt overwhelms me—
it is a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and stink
because of my foolish sins.
6 I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
7 A raging fever burns within me,
and my health is broken.
8 I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.
9 You know what I long for, Lord;
you hear my every sigh.
10 My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
and I am going blind.
11 My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
Even my own family stands at a distance.
12 Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
All day long they plan their treachery.
13 But I am deaf to all their threats.
I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
14 I choose to hear nothing,
and I make no reply.
15 For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
You must answer for me, O Lord my God.
16 I prayed, “Don’t let my enemies gloat over me
or rejoice at my downfall.”
17 I am on the verge of collapse,
facing constant pain.
18 But I confess my sins;
I am deeply sorry for what I have done.
19 I have many aggressive enemies;
they hate me without reason.
20 They repay me evil for good
and oppose me for pursuing good.
21 Do not abandon me, O Lord.
Do not stand at a distance, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
O Lord my savior. (NLT)
When David first wrote, or sang, this, he was acknowledging the pain in his heart. You can do the same as you read it. And as you acknowledge your pain, remember that the Lord is your Saviour; he will come to help you. He came to help David, and he has come to help me.