Meet Joe. Joe was a fifteen-year old who was randomly placed in my sophomore Hebrew Scripture class. He walked in disheveled, out of uniform and groggy every morning. He sat in the back, slouched, and never raised his hand. I have learned that instead of becoming offended by a kid like Joe, it helps to get curious. When I would ask Joe questions, he would not be rude or mean, he was just slow to light up or offer me much. He said, “Religion is not my thing.”
Toward the end of the term, we studied lament as prayer. I would read my students lament Psalms and play them songs that had lament lyrics. I find that most teenagers are afraid to call God out, to get angry or be sad or blame God. That fear often leads to distance, apathy and resentment. We talked about lament as possibly the last relevant form of prayer. In prayer we ask for things a lot, or sometimes give thanks, but we rarely offer anger. I assigned my students to write a lament to God. I told them to scream, cry, doubt, throw whatever they had at God. God can handle it. Anger is less offensive than apathy. It shows a step toward having an authentic relationship with God.
On days that big assignments are due, I have students share projects with the class. They only need to share what they feel comfortable sharing, but on lament day, Joe raised his hand for the first time. He began to read his lament, filled with raw, honest “Why” questions, aloud in front of his twenty-five classmates. We learned that his favorite aunt had died unexpectedly while she was pregnant at age thirty-five. One page in, his voice got high, his chin started to shake, and heads dropped in reverence as he began to sob. He started again, only to break down twice more. Determined to finish, he would rub his eyes on the sleeve of his black hooded sweatshirt and try his voice again. We gave him space to lament. When he finished, we sat in silence, but it did not feel awkward. The room felt full with God. I thanked him for sharing, for being brave enough to lament, for teaching the class better than I ever could.
When my prayer life starts to feel like a chore, I take a look at how I am praying. Prayer does not always have to be on our knees with our heads down and our hands folded. John Lewis said, “When you pray, move your feet,” meaning that true prayer leads to social action. I have to remember that in order to pray, I must first learn how to listen. Our whole life is a prayer, an answer to the grace God gave us in life. When I remember that, my relationship with God gets a new spark again.
How do you pray?
Have you ever used lament as prayer?
When have you heard God unexpectedly in your day?