Last month, a tragedy occurred in the life of one of my closest friends. She was understandably furious at God, and I was frustrated by a God who sometimes seems to love her less than I do. After we’d taken care of the necessary odds and ends, I retreated to my room to pray. Yet my tongue was stuck; there was nothing I wanted to say to God. Normally when I’m verbally incapacitated during prayer (a frequent occurrence for a reluctant convert), I resort to song for communication. Yet in this moment facing tragedy, I had no songs to sing.
Songwriter Michael Gungor explains the reason for my sudden muteness – “Approximately 0 percent of the top 150 CCLI songs (songs sung most in churches) are laments.” Popular songbooks contain half the number of laments found in the psalms; for evangelicals whose worship leaders pick and choose their favorites, the number of laments we learn dwindles even more. I could only think of one – “It Is Well With My Soul” – whose titular refrain couldn’t be farther from what I was feeling. To save you from having to dig as thoroughly as I had to to find appropriate songs to sing at this time, I figured I would share. So, here are some of the songs I found myself capable of singing during this time of lament, organized in order of the amount of frustration relative to praise I could muster while singing them.
Casimir Pulaski Day – Sufjan Stevens
For the Widows in Paradise for the Fatherless in Ypsilanti – Sufjan Stevens
Hallelujah! What a Savior! – traditional hymn
Awake My Soul – Mumford & Sons
How He Loves – John Mark Mcmillan
Satisfied in You – The Sing Team
Feel the Tide Turning – Mumford & Sons
In the end, I believe in a God who can redeem all our suffering, just as he did for the suffering of Jesus on the cross. I believe in Jesus, who felt such palpable distance from God – just as my friend did – that he cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” I needed songs of lament to remember this.
Gungor sums it up best in his article, “Why Worship Music Should Be Sadder“: “A Christianity that does not lament is a shallow Christianity. It is a medicinal, numbing balm we use to avoid living life in a world that is groaning. It is a Band-Aid to cover our wounds. Fig leaves to be sewn over our humanness. And many of us need to be saved from our addiction to this anemic, shallow substitute for Christianity.”
Hopefully this list may help you find this list of songs a helpful tool for living life in a world that is still groaning, aching for the full justice and grace of God.
So your Christianity Today article made its way to my Facebook feed and I decided to click on it. I can’t say why exactly, since I’m not an atheist, and there aren’t a whole lot of atheists that I interact with on a regular basis for which to keep my wits sharpened. But nevertheless, I read your testimony and found it very similar to my own experience in my conversion from Evangelical/Charismatic Christianity to Catholicism. I related very strongly to your head-heart disconnect, and found it very encouraging that someone else out there is willing to live with some disconnect with the hope of future alignment. Before I really knew what I was talking about, I started to have the desire to become Catholic, but once the process started, the arguments made perfect sense, but it became less personally appealing. Now here I am, having converted along with my husband and daughters, and yet I don’t like it. After reading your testimony, I decided to look you up and found more honesty. Thank you for that.
I actually had other, more relevant things to say regarding this specific post on music, but my computer dumped it somehow and I don’t think I can regather those thoughts again. Anyway, I loved this post on songs of lament.
I really like “lament” by tim be told as a song of lament
Found your site via a search for “hymns of lament” as balm for my soul in grieving the death of my high school music teacher’s spouse. My relief came, especially, with Boney M’s rendition of “Rivers of Babylon.” Thanks and blessings to you and yours.