No one likes a complainer, which is likely because complainers are often consumed by a self-possessed measure of whining and disproportionate blaming – imposing this indulgence on us, serving no other purpose than to off load their unbridled grievances . . . otherwise known as venting. But the trouble with complaining is that it only begets more complaining, as it usually is nothing more than a vacuous rehearsal of the assorted ways we’ve lost control of our lives . . . which of course, assumes we ever had control in the first place. But the primary problem with most of our complaining is that it places us at the center of our own universe . . . and I don’t know about you, but if I’m at the center of the universe—we’re all in trouble. So then what are we to do with all this unreconciled irascible stuff rattling around in our heads—if not complain?
If we’re ever to get beyond our incessant compulsion to complain, then we must commit ourselves to the task of learning the art of lament. Now, I get it that lament isn’t the first thing that leaps to mind, as you correctly associate it with mourning, sorrow, and regret – all of which you would rather spend a day at the dentist, to avoid. But could it be that part of such apprehension is due to the fact that we are so poorly practiced at lament? Which of course only further begs the question – why in the world would anyone ever want to be well practiced at lament? What value could that possibly render?
I would only point out that there is a clarifying honesty at work in the helpless vulnerability of lament that distills you down to the things that really define you – evacuating you from the center of your own universe, so that in a realigning of your heart and mind, circumstances can begin to take on true proportion. This invariably brings down the façade of your well maintained fiefdom, causing you to give up any claim on control, forcing you to become a refugee, needing to remove your inner most self to a safer distance.
So now, camped out on these outskirts, mourning the loss of the life you thought you wanted most, is where you begin to take inventory. But the life of a refugee is one of traveling light, so the pickings are pretty slim – so there is only the contemplation of an empty hand. Until at last in this most desperate hour, you look beyond yourself to discover others honest enough to enter into their own lament . . . and so you travel together.
To a refugee the idea of finding refuge isn’t just a reassuring pleasantry—it is an inescapable necessity. So when we read psalms like Psalm 91:2 about God being our refuge, scripture isn’t merely offering us a reassuring backstop plan B – but instead invites us to confess that this is actually the only possible plan. It is the wide-eyed confession that the mythology of “having it all together” can only lead to despair. It is the foundational confession that the center of the universe belongs to God and that the only way we can occupy that space is when we take refuge in him . . . and that it is by way of our lamentations where we are the likeliest to see God as our refuge.
Here’s a song I wrote this past summer,
mourning the untimely death of an old friend.