I have remarked before on how protestant Christians in the UK seem to have lost the ability to lament. It’s not simply a wringing of hands and ‘woe is me’, it is a way of praying that expresses heartfelt emotions in a raw and honest way. Yesterday’s reading from Scripture Union’s Word Live was exploring a lament in the Bible. I found it moving and helpful in considering my own response to events. And then I read this:
In today’s passage [2 Samuel 1:17-27], we have the opportunity to eavesdrop on David at a moment of raw grief. In the poem which he composes on the occasion of the deaths of King Saul and of his best friend Jonathan, we might find some inspiration for writing our own laments. We asked Helen Paynter to lend some advice and encouragement for you to have a go.
The lament is not a common piece of English literature. I doubt you were ever asked to write one at school; you may never even have used one in church. But the book of Psalms contains more laments than any other form of poetry-prayer; many of them written by David. And we also find laments in other places in Scripture, as here in 2 Samuel. Clearly there is something about lament that is important. Perhaps we stiff-upper-lip British types are missing a trick. Perhaps there is a source of healing that can be derived from the frank expression of our sorrow.
What causes you to lament today? The answer to this may be very obvious; raw grief chafing your soul. But for others, it may be less clear – life is fine at the moment. Everything is on an even keel. As we look at this lament of David, we see that it contains two elements. First there is David’s personal grief at the loss of his best friend (see v 26). Does this resonate with you? But David is also lamenting a national disaster – Israel has lost its king (v 14, cf v 21). Sometimes it is national or international events that evoke lament in our hearts. Now do you have some ideas? For me it is the thought of my Christian brothers and sisters who are in fear today because of their courageous witness. It is the thought of the many, many women who are trafficked to make money for others. And it is the thought of the thousands of children who are feral on the streets of so many cities of the world, prey to any who wish to take advantage of them. What evokes lament in your heart?
Next, we might ask for whom David is writing his lament. The text doesn’t give us any clues, although the fact that the poem has survived suggests that it may have been used publically – perhaps for Saul and Jonathan’s funeral. But there is also the strong sense that David is writing for his own benefit. His own personal feelings are expressed, without embarrassment, without shame. For whom will you write your lament? It may be that you will write something to put into the mouths of God’s people – perhaps your own congregation. But it is also fine to write as an expression of your own private prayers and sorrows. It can be just between you and God.|
I’d like to draw your attention to something else in the passage. Remember that David had had a very ambiguous relationship with Saul, who had tried to kill him on many occasions. But there is no hint of bitterness in this lament. On the other hand, David is willing to recall the good times (eg v24). Bitterness will only hold up your grief. Be honest, certainly. But if this prayer is to be useful for your own healing, don’t use it to heap up remembered wrongs.
David uses all sorts of skilful techniques such as assonance and word-play – this is high poetry, Hebrew style. But don’t try to copy David’s way of writing. Use your own words, and your own writing style. Look again at verse 21. The English translations smooth out the way this is written; a more literal rendering would be something like: ‘You mountains of… in Gilboa – no dew and no rain on you.’ It is deliberately distorted Hebrew, as if David is stuttering in his grief. Your lament needn’t be polished; it needn’t be good English. It does need to take your sorrows before the God who is listening.
Go on, have a go. Express your inner emotions and feelings to God. He can take it! It will add a new experience to your prayer life and may well be good for you emotionally too.
Be blessed, be a blessing.