It is okay to lament!
When it comes to dealing with our pain, grief, anger, and hurt, we often respond in one of three common ways:
- We detach. Rather than facing our emotions we merely proclaim to ourselves and others, “It doesn’t matter, I’m ok.” We try to become emotionless and cold.
- We fake it. Pretending everything is good has become very popular among Christians. We start to recite all type of mantras to ourselves such as “Jesus is alive” or “We don’t fight for victory but from victory.” Or we put on the newest worship album, take a walk, or study the Bible for an extra fifteen minutes. Now, those are certainly true and great practices. However, in reality, we aren’t dealing with our emotions. We simply put on our fake smiles, pretend everything is ok, and when asked how we are, we quickly say, “fine.”
- We distract ourselves. Instead of entering our pain, we attempt to escape the pain through drugs, porn, alcohol, shopping, work, or binging on “Stranger Things” on Netflix.
The Psalms’ Response to Hurt and Grief
The idea that circulates among Christians and the church today that we should deny our negative emotions by detachment, faking, or distraction is completely absent and foreign to those in the Bible.
For example, the Psalms are full of raw, unedited emotions. Some of those emotions include joy, celebration, gratitude, peace, and triumph.
However, this divinely-inspired book also contains the voices of anger, unbelief, hurt, depression, anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, despair, and revenge.
In Psalm 13, David cries out, “O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die” (Psalm 13:1–3, NLT). On another occasion, David begins his prayer by stating, “Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament” (Psalm 5:1, NIV). Other English translations will say, “consider my groaning.”
Psalms of Lament and the Church Today
Psalms like these are referred to as Psalms of lament. The dictionary defines lament as: “to mourn aloud” and “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Unfortunately, in the church today, lamenting is not a popular topic. This absence is ironic since 50-70% of the Psalms are laments and an entire book of the Bible is known as Lamentations!
Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament scholar and theologian) in his book, “Spirituality of the Psalms,” organizes the book of Psalms around three general themes:
- Psalms of orientation – In this season, life is good, and we articulate our gratitude for God’s blessings with joy, delight, and thankfulness in the reliability of God and his faithfulness.
- Psalms of disorientation – This is the wilderness season where we experience hurt, isolation, suffering, despair, and even death. This season evokes rage, resentment, self-pity, and complaint within us.
- Psalms of new orientation – This is the period of life where we are once again overwhelmed with God’s goodness, new gifts, and blessing. Joy replaces despair. Light overcomes the darkness.
Incidentally, these themes of Psalms are clearly seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In regard to the Psalms of lament (or disorientation) Brueggemann says:
It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experiencing the disoriented. It is no wonder that the church has intuitively avoided these psalms. They lead us into a dangerous acknowledgment of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil. They cause us to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, they lead us away from the comfortable religious claims of “modernity” in which everything is managed and controlled. The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness. It embraced the darkness as the beginning of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life is rooted nowhere else.
Pouring our hearts out to God
In my wilderness, I desperately wanted to go straight from hurt to healing, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to laughing – all within a single hour! However, I learned that we must embrace the journey through the darkness of life.
We must learn to lament by being real and authentic with God in our pain, trials, and darkness.
David and others complained, cried, yelled, wrestled, expressed doubt, and disputed with God in the painful seasons of their lives.
David invites us to “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8, ESV).
Pouring out our hearts can be extremely messy. In my lamenting, I have expressed my soul to God in diverse ways including crying for hours, groaning, asking God how long must I suffer, begging God to tell me why all this has happened, and even yelling out multiple times “God this sucks, where are you?”
We have to learn to lament!
Encountering God though lament
God longs for us to come to him with all of our emotions. We must learn to enter our pain and embrace the darkness with God. We must also understand that the acknowledgment of negative feelings is not an act of unbelief. Instead, as John Mark Comer stated, “[God] took David’s raw, brutally honest lyrics – gushing with fear, anxiety, doubt, depression, and questions about God’s faithfulness – and made them part of the inspired scriptures.”
It is when we bring our raw, unedited emotions and pains to God that we encounter him. That is why all but one of the Psalms of lament, the person pouring out his heart to God moves from pleading with God to a place of renewed trust and hope in God.
God is not shocked by your emotions. No matter how you feel, pour out your heart to God and lament. God is with you, listening.