When Leaders Lament

Chauffeuring children to frequent doctor’s appointments, therapy, and extracurricular activities; spending hours reteaching school material to two children, working nearly twice as many hours as I was getting paid for, attempting to support my mother during her chemotherapy from hundreds of miles away, while simultaneously doing all the things necessary for a church planter’s wife had taken it’s toll.

I was at the end of my rope—willing to hand over a third of my hard-earned salary every week to purchase one day of help.

I scrolled through the profiles of women willing to clean my home and fold my laundry. I searched for an older woman, one who would be well acquainted with the rhythms of a family. I looked for kind, understanding eyes. I looked for someone who might come to care about my family instead of just working for us. And then my heart broke. I realized that even after several years in our new city I still had little to no support system. I realized I was attempting to hire a substitute mom.

All the grief and bitterness I had been pushing down for the past three years of relentless, low-grade suffering broke loose. Anger spewed everywhere.

I felt like Naomi in Ruth chapter 1. I wanted my name to be ‘Bitter.’ I wanted the world to know how I felt and that it was God who had made me feel that way. “It is not fair!” I literally screamed into my husband’s shoulder, “I have given everything to God and still He crushes me!”

I just wanted to be able to hire some help without having to suffer another blow to my heart, but that’s not what God wanted. He wanted to break me—temporarily—and force me to pour out all the bitterness and grief I had been letting accumulate, causing me to keep Him at a skeptical distance.

Suffering brings feelings you’ve hidden into the light. Suffering saps the emotional energy out of you, leaving little capability to suppress old, hidden grief. Suffering exposes where you truly stand and where there are weak points in your theology. As much we hate to hear it, suffering serves a purpose and, in my case, it served to force me out of a strained relationship where I was skeptical of God’s goodness and into a terrible night of heart-wrenching, yet healing, lament. God knew I needed to lament more than I needed a housekeeper.

While my methods were not entirely holy, there is grossly overlooked power in lament. In contradiction to over a third of the Psalms, most faith communities seem to feel that airing a complaint against God is either a lack of faith, sin, or both.

Paul E Miller in A Loving Life eloquently clears up our misgivings about lament by stating, “What is broken or out of balance is not the lament but the world. Motivated by clear seeing, a lament reacts to the the mismatch between hope and reality, between heaven and earth.”

Not only is a lament an act of faith but possibly even a responsibility of leaders. Richard Beck says inthis article,: “In failing to give voice to lament, as we see with the Psalms, we’ve given our faith communities an unrealistic expectation of what it feels like to be in relationship with God.”

As leaders we need to acknowledge that sometimes being in relationship with God hurts, and communicate that sometimes our knowledge of God’s sovereignty—of His power to keep suffering at bay—makes the pain we feel intensify for a time. If we hide that pain and never express confusion over God’s ordering of events, don’t we set others up for feeling isolated and full of shame when they experience those feelings?

Lamenting during suffering can be a tool for modeling a healthy response to the brokenness of our world to those observing our walk with the Lord. When we lament in a Biblical way we show other believers that:

  • God can handle our feelings. Precisely, because He is steadfast and loving—two things we tend to doubt during our suffering.
  • Community is a proper and healing place for sorrow. Those we air our laments to are often those who respond as God’s hands and feet in bringing us comfort. Paul Miller points out that when Boaz told Ruth, “You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law,” it was likely in response to her public lament that God had brought her back to Bethlehem “empty.” God, through Boaz, answers Naomi’s lament.
  • Leaders feel. Believers need to know that those who lead them are moved by life’s troubles, are hurt by sin, and need community just like any other Christian.

In the end my lament made plain to myself and my husband that I was not nearly as spiritually healthy as I was projecting. It set us both into action and created change. And I felt honest with God again. I may have still been mad and confused but at least lament brought me near Him.

Suffering does hurt and it’s acceptable, Biblical, and healthy to show it through lament.

Published April 18, 2016