Hope and Lament
Relational Care Pastor Graham Aitken recently returned from serving as a facilitator during a gathering of humanitarian aid professionals. He shares how leading and learning from this group of individuals served as a strong reminder of how lament makes it possible for us to experience the fullness of hope.
About 18 months ago, I was asked by Andy and Kaye Martin to consider helping facilitate the Samaritan’s Purse (SP) Summit. The SP Summit is a debriefing event for returning field staff and disaster response team members who have been on the field for two or more years or deployed multiple times to disaster contexts.
Andy and Kaye were attending theHeart at the time (they are now based in Oregon) and serving on the Member Care team at SP. As we talked more together, I sensed that this role would be a natural extension of my relational care position at theHeart. But at the same time, it was somewhat daunting to consider.
Though my wife, Lizzy, and I have navigated similar transitions ourselves, it felt like an entirely different thing to accompany others down this complex path. It soon became clear, however, that God was calling me into this sacred space and I went through the training to become a summit facilitator.
Leading and Learning
The primary role of the facilitator is to shepherd a small group through several focused discussions. The desire is to create a safe environment for them to unpack the multilayered experience of serving in challenging contexts.
From the very outset, it has been an enormous blessing and privilege to hold people’s stories and walk with them through the ups and downs of significant transitions. It has also been a gift to develop deep relationships with other facilitators. Several of whom are part of theHeart family, including Josie and Scott Gwin, who help oversee the Summit as a whole.
Each Summit event also feels like a crash course in professional development for me as I listen to presentations on resiliency, discuss important principles of referral for crisis counseling, learn ancient practices of sabbath, and much more. My hope is that I’m able to translate much of this content into my role at theHeart—it so often dovetails with what we are focused on within our relational care ministries.
I just returned from participating in the July Summit at The Cove in Asheville. I served again as a small group facilitator but this time, I was also given the opportunity to lead one of the large group sessions on "Transitions and Re-entry". One of the main themes of this workshop was navigating the transitions in faith that result from encountering large-scale poverty and suffering. As part of this workshop, I highlighted the practice of lament as an important tool on this journey.
The Need for Lament
God has brought the theme of lament into my life a lot recently. It seems like many close friends and family are walking through their own seasons of loss, sickness, broken relationships, you name it. Lizzy and I still carry some of the weight of what we were exposed to while we were on the field with SP.
"I’ve been wrestling with the question of what it means to practice lament in our lives. What purpose does it serve in our overall life with God?" — Graham Aitken
Certainly, there is biblical precedent for lament. There are a number of books in the Bible that include passages of lament. And the authors don’t pull any punches. They teach us how to approach God with our hardest questions and our deepest pain while still acknowledging his sovereignty in our lives.
The problem is that we often find ourselves skipping right past lament in an attempt to get beyond a hard situation without ever sitting in the pain or searching for God in the despair.
Lament Informs Hope
In our “American Dream” culture, we like to wrap things up neatly with a bow and the sooner the better so as to avoid any discomfort. But the truth is we need lament to experience the fullness of hope. These things rely on one another. Our practice of lament informs our practice of hope and it works in the opposite direction as well.
Hope and lament. It’s a sacred dance and it’s one that we’ll keep doing until all that is broken is made new.
In recognition of this truth, we took some time at this last Summit to go through an exercise of lament together that was adapted from the Practice, a community associated with the Willow Creek Association.
We walked through the following eight steps together and took time to write down our thoughts, recognizing the power of committing pen to paper:
Cry out to God—Your address to God
Complaint—Your anger, pain, heartache, or sadness
Affirmation of Trust—Your remembrance of God’s presence in your past
Petition/Request—Your deepest desire
Additional Argument—Anything more, why God should intervene
Assurance of Being Heard—What you need to feel heard
Promise to Offer Praise to God—The promise you can offer to God
Assurance—The attribute of God you are thankful for in the moment
I encourage you to give it a try.
I think this exercise could be a really helpful tool for those who are experiencing pain right now, whether it’s a personal struggle or in light of the larger-scale brokenness we witness in the world every day.
I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I have been given to come alongside people in different seasons of their lives, both at theHeart and in the wider community through opportunities like the Summit. Though it still feels like a daunting thing from time to time, I am consistently amazed at how God shows up and leads us all forward as a family of believers seeking to follow hard after him.
Relational Care at theHeart
Graham shares more about our commitment to caring well for one another. Watch this short video to hear our heart behind relational care.