Godly Laments During the Winter Doldrums
We can all feel it. When this time of year rolls around, we’ve passed the exciting and busy holiday season and entered the long stretch of winter. With shorter days, minimal sunlight, and colder weather across much of the United States, we can see and feel some of the challenges of this unique time of the year.
During these winter months, it is common to experience an increase in lethargy and discontentment. According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than 5% of adults in the United States experience Seasonal Affective Disorder during January and February each year (Torres, 2020). With many of our community members feeling less apt to engage in programming or events, it may seem logical to cancel every non-essential activity and coop ourselves up until spring arrives. Yet, we are called to be in community with others, not just in the good seasons of our lives (or on the calendar).
Within these trying moments in our lives, we may often be tempted to just say that everything’s fine. Even in the midst of the discontentment within our hearts or our apathy to the outside world, we may feel the need to put on a facade of satisfaction. We are confident in God’s sufficiency, but we must also face the reality that many things are not as they should be. Much is wrong in our world and within our communities.
How can we, as Christians, acknowledge these real feelings of the winter doldrums without isolating ourselves from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? It is important to be able to express our deep pain and sorrow to God and fellow Believers. It is possible that we can utilize these shared trials to deepen our relationships with one another and God.
What Is Lament?
A starting point for The Colossian Forum’s work of Christian Conflict Transformation is to confess that “all things hold together in Christ” (Colossians 1:17). This tells us when things seem to be falling apart, Jesus is actually holding them together. We must face the reality that many things are not as they should be, and it is important as people of truth to be able to admit before God and one another what has gone wrong in our hearts, in our communities, and in the world. We need to be able to bring this brokenness to our crucified and living Lord.
The Bible provides ample examples for bringing this brokenness to God through the practice of lament. A lament is a prayer expressing sorrow, grief, or confusion. Through lament, we express our pain to God and recognize the brokenness within ourselves, our communities, and our world.
The book of Lamentations and many of the Psalms illustrate the elements of spiritual lament: address, complaint, request, and expression of trust. Look to this example from Psalm 22:
“My God, my God” (v. 1).
“Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest…My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (vv. 1–2, 15).
“Lord, do not be far from me…Come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (vv. 19–21).
Expression of Trust
“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them…Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me feel secure on my mother’s breast…I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you…For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (vv. 3–4, 9, 22, 24).
Structuring Our Laments
The Colossian Forum believes in the power of lament, and we structure many of our practices around this recognition of brokenness within ourselves and our world. But lament is not a practice that solely allows us to freely air our grievances to the Lord. Through the process of lament, we recognize God’s provision and wisdom and ask him to act through the situations that contribute to our pain. Lament is defined by the underlying trust that we have in the Lord that he has the power to make all things new.
Therefore, we must position our laments within the context of our thankfulness to God and our hopes to bring about healing and peace for the future. In both WayFinder, our leadership training program, and The Colossian Way, our topical small group curricula, we include one formational prayer structure called Praise, Lament, Hope. This prayer is often conducted as a way to end a challenging conversation that allows us to become vulnerable to each other and to God by expressing our gratitude for the work God is doing, acknowledging what is going wrong in our community and world, and sharing our desires for where God will move us in future.
This framework of Biblical lament bookends our recognition of what’s wrong with the world with our thankfulness to God for what is right and our hope for what can be. By beginning our time of prayer with praise, we humble ourselves before the Lord, demonstrating our gratitude for the gifts and blessings he has bestowed upon us or for the time we are able to share with one another. We end the prayer not with our laments, but with a request for God to act through them. We offer our hopes and desires before the Lord to lean into his promise of holding all things together.
During times of winter apathy this year, we encourage you to lean into this method of expressing lament instead of feeling relegated to only examining discontent or continuing the façade that everything is “fine”.
Within your school or community, schedule a time to practice lamenting together. This could be done during a staff meeting, chapel, or even a PTA meeting. As your community comes together by sharing their praises, laments, and hopes with one another, you can find spiritual renewal and increased unity where lethargy reigned before.
Below, we have included a sample structure for how you might lead a prayer of Praise, Lament, Hope. We often will begin this practice by reading and meditating on a passage from Scripture or offer this prayer as the conclusion to a difficult meeting or conversation. You can also include this prayer structure in your daily prayers as a way to guide your laments and frame them within God’s grace, abundance, and promises.
Opening: Begin with a brief invocation.
“Lord, help us reflect honestly on our time together”
Praise: Invite words of praise, followed by 1–2 minutes for spoken praises.
“Let’s thank God for what He is doing. How has our time together moved you to gratitude or praise? Where have you seen the body of Christ built up? What new possibilities has the Spirit made possible?”
Lament: Invite words of lament, followed by 1–2 minutes for spoken confession.
“Let’s acknowledge what is going wrong in our organization and world. How has our time together moved you to confession or lament? How are we disappointed with God, ourselves, and even one another?”
Hope: Invite words of hope, followed by 1–2 minutes for spoken petitions.
“Let’s look toward the future for ourselves, our organization, and our world. What gives us hope? How has our time together moved you to ask God to act?”
Closing: Invite everyone to join together in the Lord’s Prayer or another shared prayer.