Sometimes there just aren’t words that are big enough or strong enough to carry the weight of tragedy. How do we speak into suffering? What language can we use that will offer hope, that will make any difference to the one whose life has suddenly, needlessly, been shattered?
What prayers can we utter that don’t feel inadequate?
I will pray for peace. I will pray for hope. I will pray for comfort.
But there is more that rages in my heart.
There is anger that the world is like this, so far from how it should be. There is unsettled sadness for people I have never met, for children who are now orphans, women who are now widows. There is helplessness, knowing I can do nothing for the man on the other side of the ocean who has not slept and will not sleep because his heart is too broken or for the teenager who can’t get the images of violence out of her head. There is the guilt that the media, and my life, will move on too quickly, before the jagged pieces have even begun to be picked up.
And then there is the engulfing realization that this incident is not the only act of violence committed this day, this week. That thousands suffer, sometimes silently, sometimes right next to me without my even realizing.
So how do we pray, when we see this kind of pain?
Lament offers space to voice our anger and our hurt and our questions.
If we learn from the Old Testament poets, we recognize that lament begins with invocation: our prayers are not sent out to a nameless, faceless universe, but are addressed to a personal God. We anchor ourselves and our grief to the Triune God.
Lament ends with a confession of trust: it vows to keep holding onto hope, even if hope isn’t obvious in the moment. It anticipates praise, even if praise feels impossible right now.
In the middle, between the invocation and the vow to trust, there is space for questions, complaints, and grief, as well as room to ask for our hearts’ longings.
This is how I know to enter in. This is the space where I can find words to utter to God. It’s in the “why’s” and the “how long, O Lord” where I find language that resonates with my heart.
There is light in the darkness and hope in the rubble. But even while we are hope bearers, we can lament. When we give space for lament—in our faith communities and in our personal lives—our praise becomes, somehow, richer, deeper.
Maybe it’s not a lot to offer. But today, it’s what I have.