When COVID-19 was first announced in the United States, I woke up every day and sipped my coffee, plagued by unrest. Will I lose my job? Will my family be ok?
The very definition of quarantine is “a state, period, or place of isolation.” I remember praying anxiously for understanding and a roadmap on how to get through this season. I have noticed in my life whenever I pray with angst, my prayers feel fleety and powerless—almost as if my mouth spills out words to God that my spirit had no connection to. When I pray like this, I feel the need to keep repeating the same prayers over and over again to God, as if he does not hear me. I have learned over the years that when I pray with anxious pleas, I am not actually trusting, surrendering, and giving myself to God. Many of us, especially in a global pandemic, find ourselves praying prayers that feel powerless and without peace. I know in these first two weeks of quarantine, this was the totality of my prayer life.
I am so grateful for the Scriptures. If we read them, they have the power by the Holy Spirit to create order and peace in a season of chaos. What is key to pay attention to is that the Scriptures are full of guidance on how to pray. Most of the Old Testament, particularly the book of Psalms, is full of what many of us would identify as anxious prayers, prayers for deliverance out of suffering and sorrow, and the people of God crying out “God why have you forsaken us?”
These prayers seem to resonate with many Christians today who are suffering from isolation, suffering from job loss, suffering from COVID-19, or strictly suffering from fear. Many of us are taking comfort in the cries of our ancestors, finding ourselves consoled that such prayers are found in the Bible. The biblical term for these prayers is prayers of lament. Lament is to “express a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” To pray prayers of lament is to bring to God our grief and sorrow. However, what most fail to recognize is the power that encompasses them. The people of God in the Old Testament, particularly David throughout the Psalms, prayed prayers of lament as the very entryway to God’s presence.
Prayers of lament are not emotions, hopelessness, or weeping. These kinds of prayers hold particular power that led the people of God towards trust in God. Faith and lament are not antithetical, they are actually two sides of the same coin. To embrace our grief and sorrow is to be human—to lay them at the feet of Jesus in prayer is to lament. Lament wholeheartedly involves surrender and postures of “I don’t know.” Lament involves all of us, our emotions, and situations—but offers hope rather than fear.
In Psalm 22:1-3 it says,
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.
In verses 27-28 it says,
All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.
In this passage, David started his prayer in absolute grief and ends his prayer in worship. Lament makes room for truth, praise, and worship and creates space for us to receive. When we cry out to God in our angst, there is very little room to receive anything good from him. Lament allows us to exchange our sorrow for hope.
I have seen in my own life that prayers of lament are my way forward in faith, in spite of the world’s chaos, disaster, and sorrow. Embracing suffering with open hands, only happens when we are able to lean into these powerful prayers. To all the daughters, sisters, mothers, and grandmothers who are feeling like your prayers are full of anxiety rather than perfect peace, I invite you to lament with God in this season. We may not know when all of this will end, but we do have access to the hope and peace Christ offers us in the in-between.
Karley Hatter is a graduate of Fuller Seminary’s Masters of Theology and Ministry program. Karley has a vibrant spirit, keen judgment, and a love for God that has led her to become a natural and gifted communicator and gatherer. She is a coffee connoisseur, enneagram 7w8, current Angelino, and ideal traveling partner in crime. Follow her @KarleyHatter.