Embrace healing from the past and find freedom for the future.
It’s the start of a new year, and while a new year brings the joy of new possibilities, ideas, and opportunities for growth, there is often a tinge of sadness lurking around the edges of the new.
That is because in order to embrace the new, we have to remember the past. We have to remember what didn’t work well in the previous year, the previous job, or in a past relationship. And remembering the old is painful. Remembering the ways you failed or others failed you isn’t always pleasant. But it is necessary if we really want to do the work of growing something new.
The problem for me, personally, is once I start remembering the past, I have a hard time letting go of it. I walk around with what I should have done or would have done or wished I had done, halting potential hope, joy, and energy for the present and future. So as I remember the past, I’ve found the key to letting go is to lament and then to leave the past in the presence of God.
While I know lament isn’t a word we use in everyday language, my hope is that it becomes a part of our everyday language in prayer. In order for that to happen, it’s important to know what a lament is.
While laments take many different shapes and sizes, throughout the book of Psalms, we find seven different common components:
- Address to God (“O God”)
- Review of God’s faithfulness in the past
- A complaint
- A confession of sin or claim of innocence
- A request for help
- God’s response (often not stated)
- A vow to praise, a statement of trust in God[i]
Not all seven components are present in every lament, but every lament has the common component of complaint. So quite simply, a lament is a complaint. And here is the important part – in the context of prayer, a lament is a complaint we make to God. Not to our spouse, not to our neighbor, not to our co-worker or best friend, but to God Himself.
What is also important is this: nothing is off-limits to complain about. The book of Psalms is proof of that. We have permission and freedom to complain about anything and everything – unfair circumstances, unjust people, debilitating sickness, and the crippling effects of our own sin as well as others’ sin against us. We even have permission to complain to God about God Himself and His seeming lack of attention or ability to get things done in our lives the way we want Him to. And while not all laments end with praise or a statement of resolution and trust in God, most do. In fact, all but two do in the book of Psalms.
To write your own lament, I would suggest reading Psalm 143, identifying each of the seven elements you see present in the psalm, and then using the psalm as a template to write your own lament:
- Pick one area of the past year that feels as though it is weighing you down or pulling you away from being present to new opportunities or the people you love in the new year.
- Put that memory or area of the past into the written form of a lament before the face of God.
- Read it out loud in a prayerful posture to the Lord and then find someone who is safe – someone who will listen to your complaint and then help to carry it and you before the face of God – and read it out loud to them as well.
- Close your time of lamenting in prayer with a courageous, conscious statement of trust in the character and goodness of God.
As you do this seemingly simple exercise, something extraordinary happens – your brain is changed in the process. This is because when you tell your story to an empathetic listener who invites you to hear it through a different lens, new neural pathways are created in your brain.
Where once, all you could see was suffering, a light breaks through and you can see the power of God’s presence and redemptive love in the very midst of your suffering.
And as you lament, when you are courageous enough to tell God the whole story from start to finish and leave it all in His hands, you are leaving it in the presence of the One who sees all stories from start to finish and who holds the power of the cross and resurrection in His hands.
Oswald Chambers writes, “Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the irreparable past in His Hands, and step out into the irresistible future with Him” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 31st; emphasis mine).
Remember the irreparable, hard, often painful past.
Bring it up and out into the present
Learn to let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.
You leave it on the chest of the One who promises to heal, restore, resurrect, and make all things new.
Once you are done with your lament, you do exactly that – you leave. You walk away, letting Him hold all of your failures and shortcomings, all of your should-have-done’s and would-have-done’s, and you step out into the irresistible future with your resurrecting God.
As you learn to lament, little by little, day after day, instead of carrying the past around with you, you will begin to leave it, little by little, in the presence of the One who holds healing in His hands. And not only is the lens of your heart changed little by little but your heart is healed and changed as well.
If you need step-by-step prompts and help in learning to write and pray a lament, you download my guide, “How to Restore Through Lament,” for free on my website, susannahbaker.com/free-tools.
[i]Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help, North America Edition, by Harriet Hill, Margaret Hill, Richard Bagge, Pat Miersma, p. 41.
Susannah Baker is a writer, Bible study teacher, and founder of Restore retreats for women. She just released her newest book and companion Bible study workbook, Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds. She has been married to her husband, Jason, for twenty years, and they live in Houston, Texas where they raise their four beautiful daughters. You can connect with Susannah at www.susannahbaker.com and on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
Book Links on Amazon:
Restore: Remembering Life’s Hurts with the God Who Rebuilds