A Christian Spiritual Exercise to Lament Your Losses
A Christian Spiritual Exercise to Lament Your Losses
Processing our pain is a crucial part of the healing journey.
Lamenting is a spiritual practice of mourning that seeks to incorporate our experience of loss, sorrow, and regret into the broader story of our lives. Grief can threaten, even shatter, the vitality and continuity of our personal story. Betrayal feels like our past reality or self has been stolen and shattered. Leaving our present self-feeling frightened and uncertain. Lamenting can open our hearts again to the hope and possibility of a recovered sense of wholeness and well-being. We take our sense of brokenness caused by betrayal to the Lord, faithfully trusting and hoping that we can and we will be restored.
Here are ways to put your lamenting into practice.
List points of pain that you still carry such as specific acts of betrayal or particular hurts and/or details you find the hardest to let go. This may be the “friendships” your husband/boyfriend formed in secrecy, the trips he took without you, the way pornography twisted his view of women and sex, or the fact that pornography and prostitution hurt and degrade humanity. Is it the covert abuse of gaslighting that still hurts the most? Discuss these with a counselor, coach, spiritual director, or trusted friend. Determine the deeper meaning behind the pain.
Ask yourself the following questions with honesty and compassion:
- Why did this offense hurt so deeply?
- Why do you still carry this pain?
- Has there been justice and restitution from your husband/boyfriend for this pain? Is he genuinely sorry for this hurt?
- Perhaps you will never get the apologies or restitution you deserve. Can you still be loving and kind to yourself by allowing healing to enter this deep wound?
- What else do you need to help let this go?
- What are you afraid will happen if you release your grip on this pain/hurt?
- Do you believe that by holding onto this you will be safer?
- What might your life look like without this pain/hurt chained to you?
- How will you still provide safety for yourself if you let go of the attention and intensity you give to this offense?
- Do you trust God to hold this hurt for you and provide freedom for your heart and soul?
Once you have worked on your sorrow or losses with someone you trust and you have spent time in prayer or meditation surrendering them to God, consider choosing a physical way to ritualize your lamenting process.
Here are a few options:
- Take old dishes, cups, and saucers that you are willing to break, or buy old ceramic (not glass) dishes at a garage sale or thrift store. With colored sharpies or paint pens write out or draw these points of pain that you have carried for so long. Pray that God will heal the pain these losses or hurts have caused you. Pray that you can trust God will hold this pain for you, giving you the freedom to let go of ongoing suffering. Safely smash the ceramic items (any way you prefer) into bits and pieces. For women of faith, it may be helpful to put them in a small bag or basket and take the broken pieces with you to Eucharistic Adoration, to church, or to hold before Jesus on the Cross. Visualize leaving the hurt and loss described on the ceramic pieces at the foot of the Cross, choosing to give Jesus your betrayal pain. Jesus understands betrayal very well, and God promises that He will never leave us. “Take my yoke and put it on you. Learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest” (Matthew 11:29). Then, use the ceramic bits for a new purpose. You may choose to scatter them in a nearby lake or ocean for fish habitats, sprinkle them in a garden or over potted plants to create a colorful decoration, bury them deep in the dirt or glue them on a canvas as a piece of art to express your deep suffering, your courageous choice to release the pain, and your incredible resilience. These ceramic pieces represent a once shattered but now new and unique form of beauty, much like your heart!
- Write a poem of lament in any style of poetry you prefer. Put words to your pain by creating a visual and audible story of your suffering. The content can be dark and painful, but the ending can be filled with light and rich with promises of trust that God has a plan of healing and renewal for your life. You can express a commitment to yourself and to God to not allow this pain to define you and your life experiences going forward. Research shows that penning our pain rather than typing it helps our brain process better, so I encourage you to write it out by hand. Share the poem with a trusted support person. This person can sit in the pain with you and hope alongside you for the continued awakening and growth that is occurring.
- After answering the ten questions provided in this lament document and acknowledging your pain with God and someone else, choose the losses or offenses that are most difficult to heal. Rather than staying in the story of your pain, choose to create an affirmation. Our pain from trauma can create fears and thoughts that are damaging to our wellbeing and growth. These are often called limiting beliefs or toxic stories. To find some relief from these, I like the following formula: Even though…. what I know to be true is….. The Even though portion is where you acknowledge the pain. The what I know to be true potion is where you tell yourself the truth of the present moment, infused with an attitude of gratitude. Here the cognitive distortion is reframed, and the focus is on how you are healing and growing and/or how God is transforming parts of you.
Here is an example:
The hurt: I am left feeling like my husband wants something different than me.
“Even though I am hurting because I don’t feel chosen, and I feel like I can’t measure up, what I know to be true is that I am irreplaceable, unrepeatable, and uniquely wonderful. I am grateful to be finding me and to finally see me the way God sees me, as His beautiful Beloved.”
You can write one of these reality affirmations for each lamenting point and put them on note cards in your daily journal where you can see them and say them to yourself regularly and whenever the limiting belief tries to lead your thoughts and emotions.
Having examined your hurts and their deeper meaning with a trusted support person and having prayerfully given them to the Lord, you will not forget the pain. That pain is being processed. You have taken time to honor the hurt these betrayals have caused you, and you have lamented them by choosing to hope in the promises of restoration and healing.
By sharing your suffering with God and with someone else who can also be a compassionate witness to your pain, you don’t remain powerless to your trauma. Instead, you have the potential to be restored and to uncover the greatest source of meaning in your life. I recently heard Dr. Gabor Mate’ (childhood developmental trauma and addiction professional, and author) describe trauma as not what happens to us, but what happens within us in the absence of a compassionate and empathetic witness. Actively seek attunement from someone who can bear the weight of your story and sit with you while you feel the pain of it. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10 ESV).
These exercises take time, but the power in a ritual is remarkable. Betrayal trauma stores memories in your body. This is a physical way to tend to your wounds and to surrender your heart to God’s healing. Remember, as a child of God, He also promises to not only meet us in our suffering but to restore us. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it” (Isaiah 43:13 ESV)?
Ellen Drews Coaching and Consulting