As a practice, lament is largely unfamiliar to us.
When was the last time you heard a worship song at a youth rally that echoed this passage?
“My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city.” – Lamentations 2:11
As I reflect back on my experiences as a youth pastor, I wish I had been more intentional in creating communities of students that were familiar with lament.
I appreciate Soong-Chan Rah’s definition as he refers to lament in the Bible as “a liturgical response to the reality of suffering [that] engages God in the context of pain and trouble. The hope of lament is that God would respond to human suffering.”
Lament is not simply a listing of our complaints, but also an acknowledgement of the struggle in suffering and a resolute hope and confidence that God will respond.
A couple of years ago, my grandmother passed away. It was a particularly chaotic time in ministry, and there were other situations causing grief and sorrow in my life. Although a familiar passage, God used Psalm 23 to remind me of his closeness.
As I shared with my students about God’s presence within my grief, it was a reminder of how foreign grief is to our students.
Our youth ministries are often reflections of our churches, and as a result, we tend to emphasize celebration and fail to lead our students to reflect on grief and the gift of corporate lament.
It’s important that they have a good time, but we also need to build youth communities that are prepared to grieve by practicing lament.
We don’t need to wait for a situation that causes our students to be in the midst of grief and loss in order to introduce the practice of lament.
We can develop communities that acknowledge the many sorrows of life and provide students with a framework to help them express grief and lean into God’s love and sovereignty.
As youth workers, we must be asking ourselves the question, “What kind of community am I building for my students?” It can be easy to create ministry environments that focus on causes and programs, when we should be striving for environments that cultivate spiritual formation.
We have to remember that we are raising humans, not merely running programs.
The ability to lament is integral to our ability to be human.
After all, pain and trouble are universal.
Middle school is very rarely reflected upon as a pleasant experience.
Could lament be a practice to help students cry out to God against the bullying they endure?
Or perhaps lament could help students journey through the disappointments they face as they navigate those tricky teen years?
Too often, we unintentionally create environments where students experience guilt when they feel angry with God, but scripture reminds us of the many people who openly poured out their emotions to God.
Through this, we learn that lament is ultimately an acknowledgement of who is in control.
Even the structure of these poems in scripture is an important reminder. Each of the laments in Lamentations are structured around the Hebrew alphabet: a reminder that God brings order out of the chaos of human suffering.
As we continue to journey through a global pandemic, the message that God brings order out of chaos is significant, especially for our students.
In his book Helping Youth Grieve, Bob Yoder describes a three-step, six-minute exercise where students can write their own prayers of lament. Here is a brief summary that you can take into your youth ministry:
Step One – Be Angry with God
Give your students permission to get mad at God. Have them pour out all their raw emotions onto the page – no matter how messy!
Step Two – Reflect on God’s Goodness
Next, encourage students to remember God’s goodness. Have them recall times when God has heard their cry and helped them when they needed it most.
Step Three – Turn to Praise
Lead your students in praising God as they realize that they can trust Him with their lives, and even respond with thanksgiving!
This exercise of allowing students to write their own prayers of lament will assist in developing a foundation in your ministry where students are encouraged to take all their emotions to God.
Incorporating practices of lament into our youth communities will be significant as we accompany students in their grief.
We will not always have great answers, or even the right ones, but we journey as companions within a community who point toward the love and sovereignty of Jesus, even in the midst of lament.
Has your youth work has led you to consider pursuing a call to ministry?
Acadia Divinity College offers a Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counselling that will prepare you to provide support for those facing mental health concerns, struggling with addictions, at risk of suicide, or dealing with grief and loss.
If you’d like more ideas on how to equip your youth ministry team to walk with students through grief and loss you should watch the on-demand webinar with some of the experts from Acadia Divinity College. Find that here.