As we continue through this year of dual/triple/quadruple pandemic (coronavirus+civil unrest+whatever else is going on in your own life), it’s starting to get to the best of even the most even-keeled among us. This is what I’ve been hearing – from individual directees, group participants, peers…and myself:
- I’m exhausted.
- When is this going to end?
- I’m walking around in a fog.
- I don’t feel like there is any way for me to make a difference.
- I want to celebrate life, but honestly, I’m feeling discouraged.
- I feel so isolated – despite my Zoom calls.
- I can’t seem to get up much energy these days.
The fact is, we’ve been in this for a while now. We’ve all experienced loss of one sort or another. We’ve all faced challenges we’ve never had before. We’ve all experienced anxiety and uncertainty. All of that accumulates. It accumulates in our bodies and in our minds, and starts taking a toll on our health – physical, mental and spiritual. But there seems to be so much to grieve, so much to lament. How are we to cope with that?
Self-care is obviously more important than ever. I talk about that all the time. But what I want to suggest here is the practice of lament. We can learn a lot from the ancient Hebrews about lamentation. Lamentation appears throughout the Old Testament, particularly, but by no means limited to, in the Book of Lamentations and in the Book of Psalms.
Lamenting is not just complaining. It is crying out to God/the Universe/All-That-Is in blunt confusion, anguish, anger, grief or whatever else is weighing us down – and then remembering and acknowledging both our own resilience and God’s provision. It is a structured practice of bringing emotions that sometimes feel overwhelming into the light of the Holy One. Lamenting may start with complaining, but it then moves on to a remembrance of God’s care for us.
I think God appreciates an honest lament. Like a healthy argument, it clears the air and can lead to deeper relationship. Unlike an (unhealthy) argument, God doesn’t add to our suffering, but absorbs it on our behalf.
The Psalms provide a useful pattern to follow, even if you are not steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Don’t worry about writing something eloquent or beautiful, just use simple, everyday language. This is not a writing exercise – it’s an exercise in expressing honest and heart-felt emotions and questions.
Begin by addressing God/the Universe/Wisdom/Universal Truth by whatever name you choose in this moment. Then, cry out, using phrases like:
- I don’t have any idea what to do about….
- It’s really unfair that….
- Will this ever end?…
- I’m overwhelmed/furious/heartbroken about….
- I’m about to explode/implode…
- How can this be happening?….
Be honest, be raw, be petty. Be whatever you are right now. (Psst: God already knows.) Let it all out onto the page – you can always burn it afterward. Then follow the pattern of the Psalms and affirm God’s faithfulness and provision. Affirm your own resilience.
Here is a good step-by-step guide to lament. It includes journaling prompts and three different outlines you can either follow or use as inspiration in writing your own psalm of lament: https://easyedit.midtownaustin.org/filemanager/files/Midtown%27s%20Guide%20to%20Lament.pdf
In the last month, I’ve shared this with a couple of the people I meet with and used it myself. Each of us found that it helped us to clear our minds and re-turn toward the peace of God. I invite you to try it.
May the practice of lament bring you the clarity, peace and guidance you seek.
Note: We do live in challenging times. Please monitor your mental health, and if you find yourself feeling either overwhelmed and unable to cope or numb or “gray” much of the time, please reach out to a friend or mental health professional for help.
More on self-care: Handle Yourself With Care