by Shane Fookes, MA LPC Intern
This is the second in a series of posts on lament. The first post addressed the importance of lament <link>. This post introduces the purpose of lament.
Responding to Lament
When you’re having a bad moment, a bad day, or in the case of 2020, a bad year, how do you respond? Likely, one basic reaction is to look for someone with whom you can safely share your distress. You want someone to be with you, to “get” you, and maybe even rescue you from the pain, right? For many, this most basic reaction is also directed toward God.
Sadly, a second reaction often follows on the heels of the first reaction: recoiling in fear. What will the person (or God) think of me? Will they reject me?
As a human being, you deeply need connection with others. This craving for connection is designed into you and began the moment you took your first breath. Initially, your parents were likely the ones who met this need.
If you grew up in a stable, loving home, over time your parents became a safe haven and a secure base for you to explore your world, other people in your world, and the God who created the world. Maybe, for some reason, you did not adequately experience the safe haven and secure base you needed. As we all know, even the best parents are far from perfect, and some are sadly even harmful.
Created for Connection
Attachment is a word counselors use for this necessary relational connection. As Megan Coggins wonderfully introduced in a series of blog posts, attachment researchers have identified 4 different kinds of attachment: secure, anxious, avoidant, and disorganized.
Research has thankfully shown that an attachment style is not permanent. With help, anyone can experience “learned secure attachment” with others and with God. Counseling provides an important means to learn secure attachment.
You see, the counseling process creates a temporary relational attachment bond through which you can work out your attachment needs. The counselor provides a safe haven and a secure base necessary for a secure attachment.
Connection and Lament
In addition, a Christian counselor would also facilitate your attachment relationship with God, the most important ingredient for your happiness and satisfaction in life. One way to understand this attachment bond is through the lens of emotions and the concept of “feeling felt” by another person. Someone not only listens to you, but they are in tune with you and feel what you’re feeling. Such encounters actually rewire your brain and create new neurological pathways for more healthy living.
This idea of feeling felt may sound attractive when the emotions are ones you prefer, like happiness, contentment, and comfort. But attachment is most strengthened when you connect with another person and experience their acceptance while feeling distressing emotions. This is especially true when it comes to God. This is the purpose of lament: to feel felt by God while experiencing distressing emotions.
If you’re like many people, you engage God (or the idea of God) in a rational, thinking manner. You possess information about God rather than experiencing a relationship with God. When you read or hear a Bible verse like Isaiah 30:18: “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion,” you may think of it as true even as you suspect (and feel) that God is disappointed in you.
Your emotional and relational perspective of God is shaped by your relationship with your parents. Subsequently, an important part of maturing spiritually, relationally, and emotionally comes from interacting with God as the perfect parent (Hebrews 12:5-9). He is your perfect safe haven and secure base (Psalm 91). You can go to him with confidence, even with your pain, struggle, and confusion (Hebrews 4:14-16).
A Practical Exercise
In the first post in this series, I invited you to write a lament using Psalm 13 as a guide. You can build on that exercise by adding an imaginative element to it1:
Find a quiet place where you will not be distracted or interrupted. Allow yourself to be in a comfortable posture, with your eyes closed. Take a deep breath and begin to imagine yourself in a physical environment that is peaceful and calm. Next, allow yourself to sense God’s presence. There is no right or wrong way for him to appear or be revealed. You may even perceive his physicality to the point of being in bodily form. Imagine him welcoming you as your perfect parent. He embodies everything good your parents did for you and more. He embodies everything good you wish your parents would have done and more. Now, imagine sharing your lament with him. Imagine him receiving it with compassion and comforting you with his concern. Hear him assure you that he will provide for your needs.1 This exercise is adapted from the book Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson M.D.
Next, imagine hearing God clearly say to you directly, by name, “You are my child. I love you. I am so pleased with you.” Sense, if you can, God looking you directly in the eyes as he says these words. Do not turn away from his gaze. Do not resist his voice. Allow yourself to be in his presence. Do not leave this place in your mind quickly. What do you feel? What do you feel God feeling as he looks with tenderness and strength into the windows of your soul?1 This exercise is adapted from the book Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson M.D.
Remember that people have different reactions to this exercise. There is in fact no right response, only a true one. I invite you to practice this meditation—it may take only a few minutes—each day for six weeks. If you do, remember that you are not simply engaging with some abstract dimension of your mind; you are in fact, changing the neural networks of your brain. Practically, this exercise may lead you to a deep awareness of being known and cared for by your Heavenly Father. Initially, this may take place only during the meditation. Eventually, however, you will find that you can quickly access the positive images, feelings, sensations, and words you hear during moments of discomfort in everyday life, altering your response to an anxiety-provoking event.1 This exercise is adapted from the book Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson M.D.
Learn More About Lament
You can also learn more in the following posts in our 5-part series on lament:
- Importance of Lament
- Purpose of Lament (Here)
- Emotions and Lament
- Process of Lament (Coming Soon!)
- Hope and Waiting in Lament (Coming Soon!)
CONSIDER ONLINE THERAPY IN OREGON FOR CHRISTIAN COUNSELING
Our Clackamas and Hillsboro based counselors are excited to work with you, wherever you are in Oregon. We can help you get back on track in a way that aligns with your faith and values. When you are ready to start online Christian counseling in Oregon, follow these simple steps:
- Learn about our therapy team in Hillsboro and our caring counselors in Clackamas
- Schedule an appointment with your preferred therapist, or contact us with questions
- Feel more connected to the important people in your life
OTHER MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AT LIFE DISCOVERY COUNSELING IN OREGON
If you are in Clackamas, Happy Valley, Damascus, or Hillsboro, we can help you in person at one of our comfortable therapy clinics. Christian counseling is the cornerstone of our approach to therapy. Not only do we see adults, but children in counseling too. We also work with depression treatment, anxiety therapy, trauma therapy and PTSD treatment, relationship issues, marriage problems, and postpartum counseling. No matter where you are in the state, we can provide the support you need with online therapy in Oregon. Once you’re ready to start, we’re ready to meet you. Let’s connect!