By Pastor Dan Christian
Suffering is no fun.
Grief is not an easy fix.
Being a Christian doesn’t exempt us from loss or suffering or grief. And being a Christian doesn’t mean we have to put on a happy face in the midst of the pain.
Times of transition inevitably bring loss of some kind. Situations change. People leave. Relationships break. Sickness or death intrudes.
Even good changes bring loss. What proud new parent hasn’t fumbled through the fog of a lack of sleep? What recent graduate hasn’t bemoaned the working-world reality of long commutes and no summer breaks?
Retirement of our senior pastor—after 42 years of faithful ministry—is a good and well-deserved change! Yet there are significant losses that come with Pastor Cory’s retirement, especially for those who have been a part of this church for three or four (or more!) decades: loss of stability, loss of familiarity, loss of presence. We will miss Pastor Cory’s unflappable trust in God’s leading, his alliterated sermon outlines, his frequent invitations to receive Christ, and his familiar benediction.
In what ways are you specifically feeling the pang of loss and grief, as the reality of Pastor Cory’s retirement sinks in? Give yourself permission to feel that pain, and then express all that you’re feeling to God in a prayer of lament.
Lament is the biblical model of a faith-filled response to loss and suffering and pain. To lament well is to walk the tightrope of trust in God, between the pitfalls of emotionless cynicism on the one side and bitter complaining and despair on the other.
In a prayer (or song) of lament, our hearts turn upward to God, rather than curving inward to self or outward to other people. From the outside, it might feel like lament is disrespectful, simply because it is honest and forthright—it does not hide behind a veneer of politeness—but lament actually expresses a deep faith by “getting in God’s face” and reminding Him of His character and His promises.
Paul Miller writes:
“There is no such thing as a lament-free life. In fact, if your life is lament-free, you aren’t loving well. To love is to lament, to let your heart be broken by something.
“If you don’t lament over the broken things in your world, then your heart shuts down. Your living, vital relationship with God dies a slow death because you open the door to unseen doubt and become quietly cynical. Cynicism moves you away from God; laments push you into his presence. So, oddly enough, not lamenting leads to unbelief. Reality wins, and hope dies.”
In Hebrew culture, laments were not the solitary practice of an individual, but the joint practice of a community. Thus the psalms of lament were not whispered in private prayer closets but sung as corporate songs of worship. So in our Sunday morning worship services, join in with your brothers and sisters to sing, “I will wait for You, I will wait for You, Through the storm and through the night…” And let your heart cry out to God even as you sing, with the heaviness and pain of your own loss, as well as the suffering and sorrow you know that others are facing.
And in your mid-week meeting places (whether at Branch or simply bumping into someone at Costco), don’t settle for only polite Christian pleasantries, but allow others into your suffering, and learn to listen well to the pain that others might share with you. Then instead of offering Romans 8:28 as a promise of hope, try praying Psalm 69:16-17 for them instead:
Answer me, Lord,
for Your faithful love is good;
in keeping with Your great compassion,
turn to me.
Don’t hide Your face from Your servant,
for I am in distress.
Answer me quickly!
Ignoring the pain of loss in this transition season is neither healthy nor helpful. God knows us and holds us in our grief, so as we walk with one another through all that is changing, may we learn to lament well—together—as an expression of trust in our God.