In many ways, I’m wildly encouraged by the global Church’s response to this Coronavirus pandemic. I’m seeing innovative acts of love being given to neighbors. I’m watching buckets of grace be poured out as we all wade through these uncharted waters. I’m hearing about the selfless, consistent attempts to reach the most vulnerable and likely to become isolated. Praise God!
Also: since COVID-19 began to spread, I have been surprised by how few Christians I have observed grieving right now. This unprecedented time has created life-altering shifts for everyone in the world – big and small. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, loss of employment, loss of safety at school for kids, or just an everyday loss of freedom, there is something for us all to grieve right now.
This pandemic is bringing me back to my knees in prayer through the ancient spiritual discipline of lament.
Lament is the expression of obedient grief, sorrow, or regret. Often uttered through prayer or action, lament is released without words and through tears. Lament is an honest expression to God of what it’s like to be a human after the Fall (Romans 8:20–23).
The cry of lament sounds something like, “Lord, I’m so sorrowful… I lament the thousands of lives lost to COVID-19. And yet, I grieve the loss of these lives with You, as one who is not without hope because of Jesus.”
Contrary to popular myth, lament is not sinful, doubtful, or fearful. Compared to its alternatives – complaining, stuffing down emotions, turning a blind eye to the pain of others, and more – lament is an unbelievably humble and holy act of faith.
We see lament all throughout Scripture. Virtually all of our ancestors of the faith were thoroughly “acquainted with grief.” Jeremiah (the “weeping prophet”), the psalmists, and Naomi – just to name a few. In the recent words of NT Wright, “The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.”
Zooming in on Jesus, the “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3) in particular: I can’t stop thinking about how Jesus took moments of his precious, few years of ministry on earth to grieve. Jesus lamented Lazarus’ death (John 11:22-25), the hardness of man’s heart (Mark 3:5), and the sin of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). Greatest of all, how devastating was His longing, and how deep was His pain as Jesus prepared to take upon our judgment on the cross, weeping tears of blood (Luke 22:44)? Nothing compares to the horror of when Jesus was separated from the Father. As Jesus bore the excruciating physical, spiritual, and emotional pain of our guilt, Jesus cried out in lament: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: do I grasp that I love a Savior who wept, shed tears of blood, and cried out in lament so that we might have fellowship with God? As I said in a previous blog about lament, in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus conquered our real enemies of sin, Satan, and death to secure the one thing we need more than anything in this world: Himself! Jesus did not take away our lament, He took it up. Now, for this of us in Christ, we never lament without His presence. Therefore, we never lament without hope.
Why We Need Lament Right Now
I think it’s unbelievably timely that the Church calendar season we’re in right now is the season of lament, don’t you?
Lament is painful; it can even feel wrong. Because lament feels so uncomfortable, often articulating idols we love, many of us are shying away from lamenting. And yet it’s ironic that instead of amping up our lament during this incredibly difficult time to tell God what He already knows about our pain, we shy away. Through many, many well-intentioned expressions of encouragement (“Stay strong! Keep the faith!”), service (ex. daily check-ins, grocery store drop-offs, donating blood), and praise (ex. sharing worship songs), we shy away. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely should continue to practice these other spiritual disciplines. But I get the sense that God may also be beckoning us to enter lament.
We need to lament, now maybe more than ever in our lifetimes, to heed God’s sufficient grace in the face of global human suffering. Christian author, Jen Pollock Michel puts it this way:
“Let’s not be fooled to think that God has promised things like: it will get better, you’ll soon see the purpose behind this pain, there’s never more than you can handle. Often it does get better; often we do see purpose; always there is sufficient grace. But lament must practice the modest faith of finding sufficient that which God provides, even if, in seasons of great sorrow, it may not seem like enough.”
In other words, lament is not an individual and corporate spiritual discipline for the naive or faint of heart. No, lament is the bold, heartfelt expression of faith that acknowledges the darkness of this world head-on. Sisters and brothers, rising up and shining bright during the Coronavirus also looks like getting on our knees and crying out to God in lament.
Beloved reader, if no one’s told you since the Coronavirus began to break out, let me be the first: I lament with you. I lament the sorrow, disappointments, missed expectations, and losses as a result of this global health crisis in your life, family, church community, and city. Your losses, however big or small, are valid. You have every right to feel sad, mad, disillusioned, and a complicated web of a thousand other feelings – even every day – right now. As your sister in Christ, I lament in hope with you that one day, in the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no more sickness, sorrow, sin, tears, disappointments, and loss. As we straddle that in-between space of ‘now and not-yet,’ I weep with you, and I cry out to God with you, knowing He knows your pain and is not tired of your sadness. I lament with you to Christ, who is ever with you.
Ways to Practice Lament During Coronavirus
And so I say: Church, it’s time to lament with God. It’s time to lament for one another. It’s time to lament like the Man of Sorrows.
- Prayer Journal: Questions I’m asking myself daily during this Coronavirus pandemic – what am I personally grieved by and in the world right now? At this very moment, what losses, missed expectations, disappointments, frustrations, sorrows, and fears am I experiencing?
- Lament on my knees: Literally, if you are able – I kneel down, open my palms, bow my head, close my eyes, and begin to tell the Lord what I’m grieving.
- Practice silence: I remember in silence (often through tears): “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26-27).
- FaceTime friends and pray the prayer of lament together for our local church bodies and for our greater communities.
- Create a piece of art that reflects my grief to God. This could be anything – a song, a poem, a painting, a dance. Alternatively, I look at the artwork of others.
- Lament while scrolling through news feeds. I’m trying my best to emotionally acknowledge the suffering of others that I’m reading about in the news and on social media. For example, as I’m scrolling, I’m stopping along the way and crying out to God in lament (“Wow, God. I lament my friend’s loss of their job. I grieve this with them before you. Have mercy. Comfort them.”). If I don’t have the emotional capacity for this, I don’t scroll.
My prayer for us all as we lament the Coronavirus is this: May “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, comfort us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Read more of our COVID-19 series here:
Managing Fear in the Midst of a Pandemic