Once the coronavirus upended our lives and the normal activities at Neighborhood Ministries, our staff began meeting weekly for prayer, for updates and just to be together, virtually. We were laser focused on our community, adapting our programs to meet needs and of course, getting people help during this pandemic.
But something else was happening during these meetings. We were sharing our own pain and praying with one another. We were addressing the facts of the real life around us and offering our faith reflections to the troubles of our world. Together, we were trying to find equilibrium.
The week Ahmud Aubrey was shot jogging in his neighborhood, a cry rose out from our team that tore open something deeper. This history, this reality, within which we are all living, has dimensions inside it that demanded this rending response.
To date, twenty whole families in our ministry have COVID-19 or have had it, and five of our families have had someone pass away from the virus.
Meanwhile, four young people in our neighborhood have died from an overdose of the drug fentanyl. Weekly, team members had family crises, tough health issues that were not COVID related, and mild depression. The death of George Floyd took most of our team members to their breaking point.
The isolation of working from home exacerbated our heart breaks. These regular meetings morphed into a deeper place. We found ourselves practicing an important spiritual discipline, that of lament.
Lament is an expression of sorrow. It is grief and recognition of death and loss. To lament together is to create the space—physically and emotionally—for wailing and praying and anger, for disbelief and all the other emotions that come with death. We need to be reminded that our cries are not too much for God. He laments with us. In fact, He wants us to come to Him in our anger, in our fear, in our loneliness, in our hurt, and in our confusion.
Lament is a prayer searching for understanding and peace in the midst of suffering or disheartening circumstances. The Old Testament psalmists and prophets wove many such prayers of lament into their writings.
The Bible teaches us how to lament. Biblical laments, when they begin, sound like a complaint. The complaints turn into requests … “God, do something! Deliver me! Rescue me! Heal me! Restore me!
Bring your peace! Display your justice! Show mercy! Do something!” Sometimes these expressions are incredibly jarring.
It is right for laments to turn toward a reminder that God is in control and about the business of righting all things wrong.
In the midst of the brokenness, there is that sadness that the way things are now is not as God intended or desired. As with the biblical writers, it is possible for our laments to evolve into an expression of trust … that God is setting things right, even though it often seems so slow. It is right for our laments to turn toward a reminder that God is in control and about the business of righting all things made wrong.
Once a month, we bring all 80+ staff members of Neighborhood together for a Lament Service. We share, we pray, we practice a lament liturgy, we worship, we bring testimonials of how we are walking through this and sometimes (since this has been going on awhile) we share that it is our witness together that is allowing us to make it through. One lament service, we were reminded of Congressman John Lewis’ life message, that lament leads us to action.
We recognize in our shared sufferings that you, too, are lamenting. So, I offer this prayer:
Hear our cry, Almighty God. Listen to our prayer. How long O Lord? Our souls are weary from the strain of the life-altering unknowns. Heavenly Father, from the depths of our pain and confusion, we cry out to You. From fear-filled hearts and anxious minds, we plead with You. Rescue us, Father of compassion and grace. We lift up our eyes to You, Lord God, the One who sits enthroned in heaven. Life is sacred and precious in your sight. You are the God Who sees us and sustains us. Nothing can separate us from Your unfailing love and kindness, not even sickness or the fear of tomorrow. You are our Light as we walk in this darkness. We will remember to celebrate the beautiful gifts You have given us in this present moment. We are grateful that we are not alone. Lord, hear our prayer.