Praise and lament --- two components of the Christian life. There are more, of course, many more. Repentance, for example. But at least these two: praise and lament.
Or is that true? Are both of these really parts of the Christian life? No one doubts that praise of God is part of the Christian life. There may be times in our lives when we find it difficult to praise God, yet no believer doubts that praise is a component within the well-formed Christian life. But what about lament?
No doubt most Christians, if asked, would say that lament is part of the well-formed Christian life. We all know that there are laments in the Psalms; we all sing them, or participate in their reading. So it would not feel right to say, flat out, that lament has no place in the Christian life.
But it's open to question whether we all really believe it. The "victorious living" mentality currently sweeping through American Christianity has no place for lament. Likewise the megachurches have no place for it. Lament does not market well.
If one goes beyond the words and looks at contemporary American Christianity as it actually exists---looks at how it lives its life and expresses its faith---one comes to the conclusion that most of it does not believe that lament is part of the Christian life. This is in spite of what it may think is the catechetically correct answer to give if directly asked whether it is.
The lament, at its heart, is giving voice to the suffering that accompanies deep loss, whatever that loss may be. Lament is not about suffering. Lament is not concerning suffering. Lament does not count the stages and try to identify the stage in which one finds oneself.
Lament is the bringing to speech of suffering, the languaging of suffering, the voicing of suffering. Behind lament are tears over loss. Lament goes beyond the tears to voicing the suffering. To voice suffering, one must name it---identify it.
Sometimes that is difficult, even impossible. The memories are repressed so that the suffering is screened from view. Or one is aware of it, in a way; but naming it, identifying it for what it is, would be too painful, too embarrassing. So, one resists. Then one cannot lament. One suffers without being able to lament. Lament is an achievement.
One must not only name one's suffering if one is to voice it; one must also own it. Instead of disowning it one has to admit it as part of who one is---a part of one's narrative identity. If someone asks, "Tell me who you are," one says, maybe not immediately but eventually,
"I am someone who went through a painful divorce,"
"I am someone who suffered the loss of a child,"
"I am someone who was fired after twenty years of faithful work."
To disown one's suffering is to try to delete it from one's narrative or prevent it from ever becoming a part---to try to forget it, put it behind one, get on with things. Lament, in requiring that one voice one's suffering, requires that one not only name it but own it. Owning one's suffering is often difficult: it is painful or embarrassing to incorporate one's suffering into one's life story.
Lament is more, though, than the voicing of suffering. The mere voicing of one's suffering is complaint, not lament. Lament is a cry to God. This presupposes, of course, that lament is the action of a believer.
This cry to God has two main components, interconnected, with sometimes the one more prominent, sometimes the other. First, lament is the cry to God for deliverance: "Deliver me O God, from this suffering." Listen again to the psalmist:
Loss, deep loss, is the shattering of meaning. The shattering of meaning at one point in one's life has rippling consequences throughout one's life; one's life as a whole threatens to lose its sense.
For the believer, the meaning of life is tied up with her experience and understanding of God. Now, suddenly, there is a rip in her whole fabric of meaning. So the believer cries to God---who else to cry to?---not only for deliverance from suffering but also deliverance from the threat of meaninglessness.
"Why, O God? Why is this happening? What sense does this make? We thought you were good, powerful, and knowledgeable. We thought we understood your ways. But of this, we can make no sense. Why is this happening? Where are you, O God? Why are you absent?"