The Beautiful Lamenter
Cathy was 41 when she died of cancer, leaving behind her husband and three boys – aged 17, 7 and 5. She was originally diagnosed almost three years ago and at the time was given about three months to live. We prayed for her, we anointed her with oil and prayed, we did everything we knew to do, but in the end all we could do was love and care for her and her family. When she started down this valley, her husband, a Vietnamese Boat Refugee, was Buddhist by background, but by the time her journey was complete he was a disciple of Jesus, just one of the many gifts of grace along the way.
As you can imagine dealing with a life-threatening and life-taking cancer – especially when you have small children – can create some issues around anger and disappointment with God. On the outside Cathy always communicated a peace and cheerfulness that challenged those of us who cared for her. What most people didn’t know was how she did it. Her key was that she got the stuff that boiled inside up and out on a regular basis so that it clouded not her relationships, nor her attitude, nor her faith.
When her two youngest boys would come to our Kids Club on Friday evenings, she would go into the sanctuary and let out everything that was boiling inside for the hour and half of the children’s program. She essentially was doing her laments in the sanctuary. Sometimes it was literally the sanctuary of the church, but she also lamented in the sanctuary of her heart as she dealt with things throughout the week.
Terry Wardle has taught in Formational Prayer Seminars on many occasions about the significance of the lament in our inner healing. God has made us with emotions that need to be expressed and when they are not expressed, when they are bottled up or stuffed, they are the equivalent of dry-firing a bow (shooting the bow without an arrow). The physics of the bow, like the human body, are such that the energy has to be released somewhere and when there is no arrow it breaks the bow, just as the things we stuff inevitably express themselves in our brokenness.
As a kid, we used to make our own bows and arrows from the many poplar stands around our neighborhood. The bow was easy to make, a slightly thicker branch, grooved on the ends, and then a string knotted on the ends and strung tight. We’d make our arrows from thinner branches with bottle caps hammered over the one end with a leaf or a feather inserted when we could find one, and a grove carved in for the string to grip. Once the bow was made, we were anxious to shoot it, so we didn’t have the patience to make very many arrows. It inevitably led to getting tired of chasing our arrows and sooner or later, dry-firing the bow. Also inevitably, the bow broke.
In our lives, our emotions are the arrows that need to be shot at an appropriate target, failing that the bow of our bodies breaks. God made us, including our emotions, and He knows that our arrows need to get shot. He also knows that He is the most appropriate target to receive them and invites us to cast our burdens on Him (I Peter 5:7). From the example of the Psalmist in the many laments written, the lament allows a person to get the arrows shot at the right target. I remember the liberation when I learned for the first time that I could say what I was really feeling without sanitizing it for God and spit it at him with all the sparks I could muster. It got the garbage up and out and I was free. At times I would start out not even knowing why I was feeling the emotions I was, but by the time I got them up and out I was seeing clearly the issue that was the root of the fruit I was eating and I could get clarity.
That’s what Cathy did on Friday nights in the sanctuary, she shot all her arrows, she spat all the anger, all the disappointment she had, at the right target. Jesus was not offended. On the contrary, He met her in beautiful ways that filled her with such peace that everyone who came in contact with her commented on the smile with which she greeted both life and people.
Is your life showing signs of dry-firing? Have you got some arrows to shoot? Sit quietly before the Lord and ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify places of woundedness that need to be addressed. At first just list them. Then ask the Holy Spirit which one He wants to address, and write a lament for it – unsanitized, unedited, using words and language you’ve maybe never used before, certainly not in church, full of what’s in you. If it is in you it needs to get out of you, so let it fly at the Lord. Then when you are done, like the Psalmist, come back to the Lord with some expression of trust as you put your life and the issue in His hands. If you are familiar with the Safe Place exercise, it would be a great time now to just sit with Jesus and let whatever conversation comes take place.
Cathy demonstrated for us all the healing power of a lament. Sickness captured her body but it could not imprison her soul. I pray that you and I may experience such healing in our lives so that our bows can be healthy and whole.
About the Author
Dan is a Board member of HCM International and serves as Lead Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Orleans, Ontario, Canada. He has been a conference speaker and worship leader for various Presbyterian Renewal Ministry International events. He has been married to Dawn for more than 25 years, and they are the proud parents of three children who are their joy and delight. He lives with a deep sense of gratitude to God for the saving grace extended to him by our Great Savior.