What do we do with the unanswered questions? The whys? The where was God when…? What do we say when we stare across a table at unfathomable eyes that have seen and known unthinkable suffering? The difficulty can be in believing that the God of the Universe actually values, even prizes the intimacy of entering into the tumultuous chaos of our blackest moments of despair and faith struggles. Do we believe our strife to be a betrayal towards a God that cannot tolerate our frailty? Or worse, do we believe he is indifferent?
The truth is he does not want our theologically tidy prayers that ignore the realities of human experience. Our communion with Christ, if true, must encompass the fullness of our human experience, lest we truncate the height and depth of the love of Christ.
The Psalmist teaches us to carry our greatest joys to the feet of Jesus and also our most extreme heartbreaks. It is not only allowed, but it is the way of God approved, theologically sound, practice in prayer and worship. The Psalms call for the exhaustive recount of our sorrows to God as we appeal to him for response and action. This is an act of boldness that stands on the firm ground of our covenantal relationship with God, this covenant that declares we are His and He is ours by the blood of the cross.
The authentic relationship with God will not only survive the lament, but will thrive in the place where one’s heart is laid open before their God in absolute nakedness. God cannot meet us in a place that we are denying exists or minimizing. Stating our feelings before him is our declarative invitation that we want Him and need him, even that our survival depends on Him.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long ..must I have sorrow in my heart all the day?
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your steadfast love, my heart will rejoice in your salvation.
– Psalm 13
The lament is the response of faith and dependence on God. The lamenting prayer also seems to be the mysterious starting block to walking in a newness of life after brokenness. We see many times that after the Psalmist has emptied their heart before God there is a shift indicated by the little, transformative word ‘but’. This is the word that seems to express the moment when God’s strength meets the outstretched hand of the lamenter. The lament insists that after conveying our emotional, relational, and physical devastations to God we remember that our hope is ultimately and only God himself.
When all is lost, Christ is not lost to us.
It takes only a couple of minutes to read a Psalm, but we do not know the life journey and time that it took for the Psalms to form in the heart of the Psalter. It may have been days, weeks, months, or years of lamenting and clinging to God’s faithfulness. However long, lamenting is a pilgrimage to healing, peace, and newness. There is no need to professionalize our prayers. There is permission to raise a voice of honesty for yourself or another. A mandate to cry out in the midst of pain, to a God who sees and hears.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, for the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest…
But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!…I will tell of you your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you..
- from Psalm 22
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
-- Psalm 73:26
O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life..
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
-- Psalm 86:14-15
They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.
-- Psalm 94:21-22