“To cry is human, but to lament is Christian” (Mark Vroegop)
The roaring hum of the jet plane broke the silence of the starry March night. I caught a glimpse of the lights under the wings and the tail of the plane when I went out of our flat and looked up at the sky. It was the 22nd of March, at 11:45 p.m. local time. That was the last flight out of the country before all land and international borders would be closed. There would be no more flights out of the country until further notice.
A chill went down my spine, and I felt an inexpressible emotion deep inside. We had decided not to leave the country for both personal and practical reasons and we still have peace with that decision. But I was uncomfortable with the sense of losing the freedom to decide when and how I would leave. It stirred up deep-seated emotions. For nights after that I woke up in the middle of the night, remembering the sound of that last flight and feeling a sense of loss: A loss of control over how and where I want to be, at least for now.
Two days later, the country went into a national lockdown in which all human and vehicular movement was restricted. We were still able to venture out at certain hours for food and groceries, but the sense of confinement sent yet another chill down my spine.
Days later, the situation around the world went into chaos. Colleagues were stranded wherever they were and many were separated from their families for an extended period of time. Others had to leave their host country for various reasons and did not know how and when they could return in the future.
Church services were suspended, and most of our training, checking, and meetings went online. We might not be confined to our ‘room’, but most of us were confined to our location, unable to travel anywhere due to restrictions imposed by each country. All projections of when and how this will be over have proven wrong. Nothing is really under our own control.
Soon after the lockdown, several authors and bloggers, such as N.T. Wright, Rico Villanueva, and TearFund drew our attention to a Christian tradition—lament—that is often lost to the modern Church. As I started to study more about this tradition, the chill that ran down my spine with each new bit of traumatic news around the world started to make sense. I was trying to put on a brave face and was not willing to express my emotions to God. It took a while to learn how to be humble and honest before our Creator. Only when I acknowledge that nothing is under my control am I willing to let him take control.
As I studied further on the lament Psalms and literature in the Bible, I realised that this is not just me throwing a tantrum and lashing out at God in my frustration. In fact, biblical laments draw us back to the grace, promises, and hope God has already provided. So the major difference is that laments allow us to express our emotions to God and let God deal with them, and they allow him to reassure us once again that he is in control and will carry us through even this.
As a community of grace, we have to learn how to allow each other to lament, to accept it, and to support each other when we experience it. There is nothing wrong with lamenting, it is a Christian characteristic. (If you are not sure how to do so, the Methodist A Psalm of lament and praise in a time of coronavirus might be a good start.)
What might be wrong is when things are not okay and yet we try to suppress our emotions, put on a brave face and pretend otherwise.
Lament isn’t only confined to Covid-19; it can be for any of our experiences that we have just gone through, maybe the sudden loss of our loved ones, forced relocation with short notice, or termination of our official structure that was built over forty years or more of hard work and relationships. So it is my prayer that we would have the courage and transparency to share our deep emotion, frustration, and disappointment with God, and open ourselves up to him, to allow him to shower on us his grace and hope. Remember, to lament is Christian; let us learn together how to lament before God.