The Power of Lament
I sat in a friend’s office. We were supposed to be talking about our research. Instead we were talking about what was going on personally. Conflict. Loss. Hurt. Anger. Betrayal. Different circumstances, shared responses.
For me, this talk came in the middle of God’s silence and seeming absence. I had reached the end of my rope emotionally and spiritually. I’d tied a knot and was hanging on for dear life—or so I thought.
My quiet times had become a mere formality, a routine exercise if they happened at all. But my friend turned to the laments of the Psalter. And my unspeakable thoughts were given words.
Like so much of my life at that point, the words weren’t pretty. These psalms vividly describe the chaos and pain of life. They also show us that acknowledging them doesn’t represent a lack of faith. As I commented in my last post,
Admitting the truth doesn’t mean that we think God has lost control.
Instead, these songs represent a bold act of faith, although that faith may look different than we expect it to.
Even Jesus Used the Laments
We see these lament psalms throughout the Psalter, but maybe one of the most famous lines from the personal laments is Psalm 22:1:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Jesus himself utters this line on the cross in what has come to be known as the “cry of dereliction” (Matt 27:46). In the original psalm, though, the cry doesn’t end there. It goes on, saying
Why are you so far from saving me,Psalm 22:1b–2
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
By night, but I find no rest.
Here, we see one of the noteworthy features of the laments: the complaint. Not only do we see a description of the problem, though. This particular psalm also accuses God of being part of the problem: God has abandoned the psalmist! It doesn’t get any more honest or real than that. The psalmist, and later Jesus, name the pain and place the blame—squarely on God.
Speaking the Unspeakable
Eeek! Did I say that out loud? Am I allowed to say that? Those questions repeatedly come up when we read and pray these laments. But if we’re being honest, I’m guessing that we’ve had similar thoughts or at least know people who have. If God really loved us then my child wouldn’t have died. If God was really in charge, I wouldn’t have been assaulted. If God was really working in the life of His church, we would see unity instead of division. The list could go on and on. But too often we keep trying to put on a brave or pretty face. Or at least I do.
These psalms and Jesus’ personal use of such a heart-rending line from one of them suggest that these words aren’t out of bounds, though. Instead, the laments invite us to boldly express our pain, anger, and fear to God with visceral honesty. They seek an answer from the only One who can bring relief. They keep seeking. They stay in dialogue, which is itself an expression of faith.
Corrie Ten Boom says it more beautifully and eloquently than I ever could:
The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where everything is possible. He specializes in the impossible. Nothing is too great for His almighty power. Nothing is too small for His love.Corrie Ten Boom, I Stand at the Door and Knock
Maybe it’s time to express the truth of your experience to God. Or maybe it’s time to share one of the laments with a friend, just like mine did for me. I don’t remember which psalm she shared, but the feeling that something had broken free in my chest when we read and prayed it remains vivid to this day. So, my prayer for those of you who are struggling is that you will find relief and maybe even healing by taking the reality of your feelings and experiences to our Father. Like Corrie Ten Boom said, nothing is too big or small. And it might just take a bold act of faith to speak the truth to God.
If you’d like to receive an email update for future videos and blog posts, you can subscribe below or in the sidebar on the right.
The image is by StartupStockPhotos, courtesy of Pixabay.