I heard the news about the shooting in Orlando on Sunday morning right before preaching. The facts were few and the death count was growing. My heart hurt for the lives that were tragically ended. My heart broke over the unknown circumstances and uncertain motives of the shooter. However, I noticed the cry of my soul faintly muttered, “Another one?!” As my newsfeed almost immediately unravelled with stances on terrorism, LGBT rights, gun control, and election year politics I noticed that I felt numb. I know that real lives were lost and real families affected, but sensory overload assaulted my frame of mind.
It bothers me that ever since Columbine I have honed a set of skills for dealing with horrific atrocities. In tragedies of the past I’ve used hashtags, watched the news, read articles, researched explanations, raised awareness, prayed, preached, changed my profile picture, read the Bible, cried, discussed with others, and listened. But this time I just numbly experienced what have now become familiar emotions and actions flipping through my mind and on my screen. So I just sat. And initially felt bad for sitting.
Since Sunday, I’ve come across a word that is helping me navigate the sensory overload and numbness— lament.
The word lament means, “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow”. Many psalms in the Bible are psalms of lament (Ps 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 85, 90). Something catastrophic had happened and the psalm passionately expressed the grief or sorrow of the people. I discovered that most of the communal psalms of lament follow a particular pattern.
- Address. Directed to God; including His attributes and stories of His power.
- Lament. Describing the specific problems the people are needing rescue from.
- Confession. Declaring the nation’s belief that God will hear and respond.
- Petition. A specific request of what the people want God to do.
- Praise. A promise to offer thanksgiving as God’s intervention arrives.
Reading the words of lament from the past have lessened my numbness and introduced a sense of camaraderie— reminding me that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’. Reflecting on the pattern of the lament has given me a structure to channel my thoughts, emotions and actions. Slowing down has actually provided a rooted faith from which to respond.
Through this process of lamenting I’ve also been reminded about the Stockdale Paradox. Admiral Jim Stockdale was a prisoner of war in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ for eight years during the Vietnam War. He confronted the brutal facts of his situation as a POW and yet held an unswerving faith that it would all work out in the end. With these two opposite perspectives held in tension, he watched the overly optimistic POW’s around him eventually break and die under the pressure they faced and the overly pessimistic around him waste away and die in despair. In contrast, Stockdale survived because he held these two seemingly opposite attitudes in tension; the brutal facts and unswerving faith.
In lamenting, I’m finding:
By addressing God and remembering his power and might,
By lamenting the brutal facts of the current situation,
By confessing God’s goodness and responsiveness,
And by requesting with unswerving faith what I want God to do;
Praise and hope are rising in my heart and soul.
If you have found yourself facing sensory overload and numbness; slow down and lament. You might find, like me, a much better position from which to respond.