Lesson Five: Lamenting Life
Focus Scripture: Job 3:1–4, 9–19, 24–26
Lament and Life
Think about the words lament and life. What do these words bring to mind for you? I went to my computer for help and typed the words “lamenting life” into my search engine. How do I stop lamenting the poor choices I made in my life? was the first sentence that popped up. I think that question is where many people end up when they think of the words lament and life together.
Lesson Five looks at lamenting life from Job’s point of view and explores ways we can accompany one who laments their life. Job would never have asked, How do I stop lamenting the poor choices I made in my life? (though his friends sort of did). Job knew he hadn’t made any poor choices that would have led to the point where he found himself bereft of family and possessions, sitting on a dung heap. But something like this question may come up in your discussion of Lesson Five, so let’s consider it, first from the process of lament and then from the perspective of some Internet answers.
First, do we really lament the choices we have made? By that I mean, do we actually make a list of the choices and decisions that bother us, select one or more or all, and write prayers of lament about them? Imagine doing that with your choices and decisions. It might be a good spiritual exercise. Making a list allows us to examine the issues and problems that linger in our minds. We can look at each problem or decision individually rather than as an overwhelming mass that seems to say all our decisions were bad. Maybe there are only one or two choices that ultimately rise to the level of lament.
Once we have our list of lamentable choices, we can begin to truly lament them. Remember that offering a prayer of lament is not just expressing our discontent or our sorrow. Offering a lament is presenting the issue to God, the one who can change things. Offering a prayer of lament is remembering that no matter the decisions, we have been, and continue to be, in a relationship with God. A prayer of lament includes calling on God to act—which means we will need to decide what we are asking God to do. It includes a statement of trust that God has heard our lament and will act—though not necessarily in the way we have asked. Addressing those decisions through Biblical lament, and sometimes a bit of repentance as well, offers a completely different experience than the suggestions made on the Internet.
Second, consider the difference between the practice of Biblical lament and these pieces of well-meant Internet advice:
- Accept the decisions you have made and just move on.
- Don’t get stuck in the past; stay focused on the future.
- You have to change your ways.
- Regret is a waste of time and energy.
- No one wants to listen to continuous complaining. Just get over it.
- Wise up and learn from the past.
Those pieces of advice aren’t necessarily wrong, but how much richer it is to lament. Instead of “don’t get stuck in the past, focus on the future,” you are invited to remember that you have been in relationship with God in the past, present, and future.
Instead of saying that you have to change your ways through your own efforts, you can ask God to help you make the changes needed. Instead of wasting time and energy in regret, you can spend time in conversation with God. Lamenting is, in itself, a way of learning from the past, from our ancestors whose faith in God was characterized by the practice of lament. Instead of the isolation that comes from believing that no one wants to listen, you are reminded that God will always listen because you are God’s child. Instead of “just move on,” we move on with the knowledge that God moves on with us.
When we consider the relationship between lamenting and life, we might spend some time thinking about what happens on the other side of lament. Having truly lamented decisions and choices, then what? What is the vocabulary for our post-lament life? Redeemed? Restored? Whole? The practice of lament has the power to change us and to change our lives. Thanks be to God.
P. Lynn Miller.
Author and Illustrator of the 2020–2021 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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