lament

This is the next in the slightly-less-frequent-than-I-had-hoped series of bloggages about prayer, beginning with buffet. Do explore the others if you fancy expanding your experience of praying. This one is, I confess, one that is mostly ignored in my tradition of church (Baptist). But I think we need to recover our ability to lament.

Laments are a strange form of prayer. They are neither one thing, nor another, they just are… well… laments. They are expressions of emotions (often painful or angst-ridden) about situations and circumstances. They can be articulate rants and they can be distressing howls of pain, they can be shouted at the heavens and they can be whispered through tears. And, for me, the most amazing thing about them is that they don’t have to have a resolution.

In a lament you express to God how you are feeling, you may beg him to do something about it, and you leave it with him. From a therapeutic point of view you might say that it is good to express how you feel and get it ‘off your chest’, but that is not the main purpose of a lament even if it is a positive by-product. I reckon the main purpose of lamenting is to enable us to be honest with God.

If there’s a tragic event that has taken place and you are angry that it has happened – lament.

If you don’t understand why God allowed something bad to take place – lament.

Even weeping aloud or silently about a situation can be a form of lament.

And by not requiring a resolution we do not have to worry about discerning an answer or articulating an outcome that we may not be able to see. We can simply tell God how it is for us. We can even complain about him to his face. He is able to take it, and because he knows all of our emotions he already knows that is how we are feeling so there’s no point in hiding it.

The danger of laments is that they can become part of a downward emotional spiral if that is all that we do. A good lament may not have a resolution but it does ask God to do something about it. It has an expression of faith that may be full of questions, doubt and anguish, but it is still an expression of faith that God might be present and act.

Laments are not often articulated in the churches I attend. Why not? I think we are afraid of admitting how we feel, exposing our doubts and pain, and not having a good answer at the end of it. This coming Sunday I am going to be part of a church service where we will be lamenting about events in the recent past of the church and part of that will be expressing regret, sharing painful memory and yet also declaring a hopeful resilience about the future.

How about you? What do you lament? When do you lament? Do you lament? God welcomes it if you have the courage to give it a go…

Be blessed, be a blessing

buffet

File:Breakfast Buffet (21720094978).jpg

Imagine that you are staying at a hotel. Breakfast is included in the price you are paying and, after a good night’s sleep, you get ready for the day and head down to the restaurant where there is a wonderful breakfast buffet spread across lots of stations. You look at the wonderful variety of food on offer – cereal, many different types of bread and pastries, continental breakfast, fruit, yoghurt, cooked breakfast and more beside. Having looked at everything that is on offer you fill your plate from the delicious array of options and head back to your table. Your companion decides that they will just start with a piece of toast.

But that’s just the first visit to the buffet.

After you have finished you head back with an empty plate and indulge again from the wide selection and come back to your table. Your companion also returns from the buffet.

With another piece of toast.

You do this several times and each time your companion only has a piece of toast. Eventually you ask why they are only choosing toast from the wide range of food on offer.

Your companion thinks about it for a moment and then says, “It’s what I am used to.”

How do you feel?

Is our approach to prayer like your companion’s approach to the breakfast buffet? Do we limit ourselves to what we are used to? Is there more on offer for us to experience? Absolutely and there are some excellent books on prayer that these bloggages can never hope to emulate – God on Mute by Pete Greig and The Message of Prayer by Tim Chester are two that I have read and value.

I am going to look at prayer in the following categories over the next few bloggages: today it’s 999. Subsequent bloggages will look at prayer categories such as: is there anybody there?; Christmas list; sorry, wrestlemania; lament; praise; gratitude; chattitude; and listening

You could say they are are the official nukelearfishing prayer categorisations, but before you go diving in please note that there is nothing wrong with any of these. If I appear critical it’s only if that’s the toast we eat every time and we don’t expand our diet. What I am seeking to encourage is a much wider breadth of engagement with the whole variety of ways of praying. I am also hopefully not so arrogant that I expect to make this an all-inclusive list but hopefully it might encourage you to try some new items from the buffet…

999 (or 911 in USA)

Some people pray in a moment of crisis or when they feel out of their depth trying to invoke the help of a higher power to get them out of trouble rather like calling 999 to request the assistance of one of the emergency services.

These prayers can sometimes be freestanding or can sometimes be linked to a promise / bribe – ‘If you will help me then I will…’ – and can be generated by self-interest or self-preservation which is a motive that can lead to amnesia if the prayer is answered positively and the promise / bribe is forgotten.

Linked to these are prayers offered on behalf of someone else who is in peril. This can also be linked to a bribe / promise and the commitment to those is similar to above. This more altruistic approach to praying is nonetheless still relatively limited in scope and expectation beyond an immediate resolution of the problem.

Acceptable answers to these first 2 categories of prayer may often be limited to fulfilling the request in the desired manner and any deviation from that answer can be seen as evidence that the prayer was not answered or that the higher power was unwilling / unable to assist or does not exist at all. This un-nuanced approach to answers to prayer is to be expected when prayer is seen more as a call to an emergency service than the lifeblood of a relationship.

There is nothing wrong with praying in these circumstances but it’s a shame if the mustard seed of faith expressed here is not cultivated when the moment passes. They are moments of engaging with the Almighty and can be gateways towards faith, but if our expectations are limited to getting what we want the faith expressed may not be much more than the faith expressed when we put money into a vending machine and hope to get what we asked for. It’s a shallow faith and if it is not deepened is likely to lead to an abandonment of that faith at the first sign of disappointment.

Be blessed, be a blessing