I cried and laughed all the way through “Angry Conversations With God: A snarky but authentic spiritual memoir” by Susan E. Isaacs (Faith Words, 2009) in preparation for attending the April 2012 Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was looking forward to throwing my arms around her and telling her how much her book meant to me. I didn’t expect, however, to burst into tears before thanking her. Embarrassing, yes, but she graciously handed me a tissue, pulled me in a hug, and listened.
She was part the session “Grumblings, Angry Conversations, and Sad, Sad Songs: The Art and Joy of the lament.” Susan Isaacs, pastor and musician Gregg DeMey and Caryn Rivadeneira joined her on this panel. DeMey opened with the question, “What is lament?”
It is not complaining, whining, grumbling or gossiping. It is not an attention grabbing, sulking, pouting “poor me” rant, but rather telling a difficult truth in love to make a difference and/or initiate healing.
“There are 50 Psalms devoted to lament. That means we are commanded to do so,” he said. We all cherish Psalm 23 as the comforting, lying in green pastures one. But what is the theme of Psalm 22? Jesus quoted it hanging in agony from the cross “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus verbalized his intense feelings of abandonment. Therefore, we are to do the same. Voicing our frustrations and struggles begins the healing.
DeMey’s theory is that a lot of churches today – contemporary and traditional – focus on praise but overlook lament. We’re expected to force a smile and go through the motions of praise. It’s often easier to do that than risk honesty and vulnerability in sharing struggles. Galatians 6:2 commands us to bear one another’s burdens, but who among us does not fear judgment and criticism – particularly from the church? In fact, some our deepest hurts come from the church.
How many millions of Americans simply go through the motions of any day, just functioning, and keep locked up inside grief and pain because they have internalized the cultural message that screams “Nobody wants to hear your problems. Get over them!” We have all been hurt. How many suicides could have been prevented if every troubled soul felt safe enough to lament?
What if our friends and family accuse us of whining, wallowing or judging them? Lament may sound like all that if they don’t know how to listen. “Sometimes, it’s better to take your issues and grievances directly to God than talk bitterly about them or Him behind his back,” Isaacs said. She describes one awful moment strolling through Central Park in New York City with a close friend who was trying to offer comfort by speaking in platitudes and be Jesus. Isaacs thanked her friend for the effort and took her laments to God. “When you feel like the lowest of the low, you just need someone to affirm that. You need to hear ‘yeah, it sucks right now,’ and let me give you a hug.”
But please understand that struggles and trials and frustrations are part of this life now, and they will eventually pass. God wants us to move from lament to praise. For most our lives we will bounce back and forth. If you need to lament, call someone you trust, or cry out to God.