Renee Villa on Combating Fear through Prayer and Psalms of Lament

Renee Villa on Combating Fear through Prayer and Psalms of Lament
Renee Villa is the Campus Director of Spiritual Care at Brothers of Mercy

Renee Villa is the Campus Director of Spiritual Care at Brothers of Mercy

During these uncertain times, prayer can be one of the best tools to combat fear. In the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms contains many prayers that can be used for praise and thanksgiving,  as well as to express lament. Praying a psalm of lament or any prayer puts us in relationship with God. Many more psalms express the feeling of lament more than any other emotion.  On Good Friday, Jesus cries out from the cross these words from Psalm 22:

“My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”

This psalm starts out as a lament but ends with the certainly that the Lord has heard our prayer. The lament gives voice to a complaint that describes suffering being endured, followed by a plea for deliverance from illness or persecution. Psalms of lament help us to deal honestly and straightforwardly with the grief and frustration we experience in the face of personal misfortune. It is natural to complain to God. Laments express grief, fear or anger, but are also a testimony to our trust in God’s faithfulness. We trust God will answer, but usually not in a way that we expect. 

Remembrance of God’s past protection can often be what brings us to this type of prayer. These prayers also put us in solidarity with all who suffer loss. Many of us recognize the pain of not being near our loved ones during this global crisis. We can relate to each other on this level of suffering regardless of any other markers that define who we are personally, such as gender, race or strong views. 

This in turn can help us to grow in compassion for our neighbors, as no one is immune from the experience of grief and loss. This is the bigger picture of the grief process.

Although loss and transition are natural parts of the cycle of life, many often are left wondering, “ As a person transitions into their next life, do they really die alone?” While there may not be someone physically present during these transitions, I totally believe that the dying are not alone. Time and again, our residents share stories from their lives. Prior to a person’s decline, as they transition towards death, they share stories of those who are already deceased. They share the dreams they have about them; they share when they feel a certain presence of that person. Residents have also shared they have seen Jesus or Mary or whatever religious/spiritual figure or presence speaks to them. These stories are the transitions that go unrecognized while they are happening. Usually not until much later are they recognized upon reflection by the families during the grief process.

Many residents prefer to be by themselves as they transition.  When a person passes just as a loved one leaves the room, this is no accident. No matter how a loved one dies, the family left behind will always second guess the way it happened. Each experience of death is unique to that person, so one cannot rethink how it unfolded until it has happened. Those dying have expressed they have a felt presence of warmth, a sunset or a past taste sensation. When family and friends are visiting, they may not pick up on these cues at the time.  After a person passes away, the second guessing arrives in the form of “if only this” could have happened.  But each death is the perfect death. Jesus’ death on the cross is visible proof of this for Christians.  

Often, we are not comfortable listening to a person express their fears concerning death. Part of this discomfort relates to the fear of the unknown. This is interesting, because when we are young most of the things we try are unknown. It is only as we age that we put a story around our life experiences using a previous frame of reference. This can create fear or relief.  Many times as we all know, life does not turn out as we expect. More importantly, no matter what the outcome is, we know as we age that we do have the foundation for the courage to not be afraid of the unknown. It is important to remind ourselves of this.

The healing power of prayer assures us that feelings of abandonment can be overcome. Prayers create a web of connection no matter where we are. Certain roads must be solitary. We enter life alone not realizing there is someone waiting for us. We now return to the place from which we came.  A sense of abandonment and loneliness is part of the life cycle but by the act of reaching out for help, we can receive a renewed awareness of God’s nearness. God is present regardless of how many people are physically present in a room.  This realization is eventually followed by a sense of peace and thanksgiving.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1