Lamenting Lessons

“I feel so distant from you. My life is a living hell, and I can’t escape it. Miserable. Alone. Overwhelmed. Relentless trials. Ruthless people. I’m not sure I can go on living like this. Disconnected from everyone else. Cut off from you. Why don’t you listen to me? I feel like you don’t care. Don’t you want me to be whole? You are the one in control of my life. You are the one who is ruining it. Darkness is a better friend to me than you are. I don’t understand. I feel like you’ve betrayed our relationship, but I don’t want to quit on us. So I’m telling you how I feel and asking you to answer me.  Yes, I’m complaining, but I‘m complaining to you! I won’t pretend that everything is fine between us, but I want it to be. I’m going to keep telling you about it so that we can work this out. Listen to me!” (my paraphrase of Psalm 88)

O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction ? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion? But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.
Psalm 88

How do we pray to the one who is wounding us? How do we relate to the God who is orchestrating our mess? We can pretend like it’s not really Him. We can focus on His goodness and live in denial over the pain He brings. Or we can get angry and withdraw. We can turn away and refuse to communicate with Him. But neither of these responses will bring reconciliation to our damaged relationship. Neither will bring resolution to the wound festering within our own soul.

We understand the need for conflict resolution within human relationships, but conflict resolution with God is not really that different. It requires honesty, open communication, and dogged perseverance. It takes unswerving commitment to the relationship and a willingness to wrestle back and forth until both parties emerge heard, understood, and re-united.

Laments are conflict-resolution prayers. They are gutsy refusals to quit on our relationship with God or to settle for a polite, distant co-existence with Him. When we read the whole Bible and not just the nice, tidy parts, we run into lengthy sections of messy people screaming out their anguish to God. Unspeakable horrors. Irreverent feelings. Dangerous questions. All the things that would shock the stockings off our Sunday school teachers, brought right into God’s presence and laid out in the form of a complaint before His holy throne. Are we really allowed to be so bold? With all that is on the line, we can’t afford not to be.

Laments are gutsy refusals to quit on our relationship with God.

Thankfully, God not only allows us to lament, He teaches us how to do it. The Psalms and the prophets provide excellent models for how to voice our complaints to God. He even provides the words ahead of time for His people to use in their hour of despair. When Jesus cried out His agonizing question to God on the cross, He was merely borrowing the words that had been provided for Him centuries in advance through the Psalms.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
Psalm 22:1-2

Whether we borrow the words of Scripture or come up with our own words to express the agonized cries of our hearts, we are following in good footsteps. Lament has long been the prayer of the faithful. We could use some lessons in this lost art.

Teach your daughters how to wail: teach one another a lament.
Jeremiah 9:20

2 thoughts on “Lamenting Lessons”

  1. Tiffany,
    I read something last night that made me think of your writings, and wanted to share as it went right along with things you have shared. It is from “How People Change” by Paul David Tripp, Chapter 7 (don’t know page numbers b/c it is on my kindle) …
    “The title to this psalm [psalm 88] says it is a song. Why would God ever want his people to sing such a discouraging dirge? What would be the point of putting, “The darkness is my closest friend?” to music? This is where the psalm becomes most encouraging!
    “Psalm 88 is a song of the songs of Korah. The Korahites were the doorkeepers of the tabernacle, those who led Israel in procession to the tent of worship and sacrifice. This mournful song was one of the songs they would sing! Do you see what this means? God intended the darkest human laments to be brought together with the brightest human hopes. Honest expressions of fear, pain, and doubt were welcome in the place of worship, atonement, and forgiveness. The mess of human misery was welcomed into the place of mysterious, glorious grace.
    “No psalm more powerfully communicates, “Come to me as you are, with all your doubt and fear, pain and discouragement. Hold before me your shattered hopes and dreams, and find redemption and rest when it seems there is one to be found. Don’t hesitate because your heart is weak and your mind confused. Don’t hesitate because you have questioned my goodness and love. Come as you are, for my sacrifice is for you, just as you are.” This kind of honesty before God is meant to be part of our worship. What a helpful and hopeful invitation! We do not have to put on spiritual masks to approach God. We can come as we are. His love is sturdy and his grace is sufficient.”
    So thankful for these truths!

    1. Beth,
      Thanks for passing this on. It encapsulates brilliantly what I have been trying to express. And it’s nice to find someone else saying it! Sometimes I wonder if I am pushing the limits by emphasizing the freedom God gives us to have “unrighteous” feelings and to bring them into His presence. Sometimes that seems to contradict the respect for His holiness that He also calls us to. But I see both in the Bible, so I have to believe that they are not mutually exclusive. Psalm 88 (and this helpful perspective on its background) demonstrates how messy people can honestly approach a holy God, the point being that we are going to Him and not any other!

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