Processing Grief through Lament in Worship Services

1

“It has been a hard season.”  In my work as a Spiritual Director, I often hear this as I listen to the stories of Christian leaders.  Sometimes they are leading faith communities where very challenging things have happened.  Sometimes those communities have gone through significant loss, disappointment, betrayal, or pain.   Some leaders are arriving on the scene and find themselves tasked with cleaning up a mess.  These tender hearted leaders come seeking clarity as they navigate the messiness of healing in community.

When seeking restoration, it is always helpful to look to the Word.  Scripture offers us a form of liturgical healing through the psalms of lament.  The problem is we don’t use them.  In the American church, we have just about eradicated lament from the worship experience.  And in our culture, we have little to no experience in the healthy processing of our pain and suffering.

For the last few years, when I am asked to offer the Pastoral prayer in a worship service, I have been using the guided prayers of lament that have been so helpful in the spiritual direction work I do.  These guided prayers offer a space for the community to collectively pray about the losses, pain and sin that harm God’s people and all of creation.  These guided prayers offer breathing room within a worship service which creates the space for Spirit to bring great cleansing and comfort in the midst of suffering.

Using Psalm 22 as a classic example of lament, we can trust that the cathartic nature of this way of praying begins and ends with an acknowledgment of God.  It also includes an honest outpouring of our hearts.  This can be messy.  This is not praying pretty.  It is vulnerable, tender and can be heart wrenching.  But the catharsis occurs because we release the pain of our human experience to the God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So how do we pray this way in a worship experience?  I have led a number of these lamenting prayers by using prayer “buds.”  With a prayer “bud,” the minister begins the prayer and invites the congregation to complete it as the Spirit leads them.  They can pray out loud or silently and they all pray at the same time.  Prayers “blossom” all throughout the sanctuary!  These guided prayers allow the congregation to pour out their hearts and release the pain to Christ.  This way of congregational praying allows breathing room for the Spirit to stir repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

There are many guided prayers that can be used in congregational worship.  An example of this way of praying might go something like this:

God today we take a moment in prayer to acknowledge that You are…

We struggle with situations in our lives that are painful.  We lift to you …

It is not right that…

We welcome Your healing love to…

Today we choose gratitude over bitterness. Thank you for….

In Jesus’ name, Amen

I have led different forms guided prayers of lament at funerals, during Lent, Advent and at special services where difficult subjects like domestic violence are explored.  The Lord’s Prayer can also be adapted to be led as a guided prayer. The response to this way of prayer has been beautiful.  People of all ages have shared that they had meaningful encounters with the love and guidance of God in the midst of the quiet.

In a world that is increasingly loud and hard, ministers can lead worship experiences of quiet where we find a soft place to land in the love of God through Christ Jesus.  I invite you to try a prayer “bud” now:

God, after reading this article, You are revealing…

Visit our Worship Design Collective for more resources like this one.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY