We know how to whine, blame, gossip, complain, pout, and stoically ignore. We may have learned to hide our pain and frustration behind a false smile, our own busy-ness, or even a shallow sense of “faith” that does not allow us to feel anything other than “blessed.” We can share our misery and disappointment by phone, text, e-mail, or social media. But, do we remember how to cry out in lament and share our pain with God?
Too often, we feel that we can only bring our happy face before God and only after we “get over it” or “move on.” We begin to think that our inability to see “God working all things to the good of those who fear Him” or “abounding in plenty and in want” are a sign of a lack of faith. Instead this is a call to a deeper faith, a faith based on God’s grace and not our striving. In the Psalms, we have a Biblical example to lead us beyond a shallow view of God and into a deeper more honest relationship.
One way to see the Psalms is as a commentary on the messy place where worship meets life, the place of our experience. The Psalms teach us to view our day to day experience of joy, frustration, wonder, longing, hurt, and healing through from the perspective of our relationship with a loving and powerful God. The Psalms of lament teach us to respond to the difficult parts of our lives from this perspective. Lament does not allow us to hide our hurt and disappointment behind a false piety nor does lament allow us to wallow in our own self-pity. Lament is the hard work of taking our pain before God and waiting in His presence to receive His healing love. In lament, we trust the love of God to be big enough to hear our complaint and the power of God to be great enough to respond.
The basic form of lament has four movements. These movements are not always in the same order nor are they always obvious in the beautiful poetry of the Psalms.
- One movement is naming the facts and feelings of our current circumstances. In this movement we are brutally honest with God about what is broken or hurtful in our lives and how we feel.
- In another movement, we admit our inability to make things better on our own. We may even list all the things we tried to fix ourselves. We admit that we can’t tolerate things as they are.
- In a third movement, we admit to God that only He can fix whatever is broken. We may even have the boldness to demand that He fix things because it is after all His job. We might even complain at His seeming slowness.
In these three movements, we allow our uncensored hurt, pain and disappointment to be poured out before God. Then we wait. If we are bold enough in our lament, we might even wait with a bit of fear at God’s response. Yet we wait in the confidence of God’s love. This is the stillness between movements. This is God’s stillness and we must not rush or ignore it.
-The last movement of lament is praise. Not a shallow resignation to praise, not a fresh coat of paint over a spot of mold. This is a praise from the depth of our being. We have poured out the brokenness of the “what and where” around us. We have poured out the “how and why” of our feelings and desires. We have waited until God has spoken into the very core of our identity, the “who” at the center of us, and we have heard again of our belovedness and we rejoice. Our circumstances and even our feelings may not change, but through lament, we view our circumstances from the perspective of our belovedness in God rather than our brokenness before God.
I invite you to see these movements of lament as you read Psalm 13. I invite you to read the psalm once more and pray yourself into this psalm. I invite you to read once more. Read slowly, pausing to rest in the fact and feeling that the words call forth in you. Read aloud and notice the inflection and tone of your voice as you let this psalm become your prayer. Notice the silences and wait in these silences for God to comfort you.
1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Far from being a sign of weakness in our faith, the practice of lament strengthens and emboldens our faith. We find a faith more keen than a watchman waiting for morning, a faith that God will be glorified in all things, a faith that God can take what is broken and make it whole, what is wrong and make it right, what is dead and make it live. In the prayer of lament, God gently directs our sorrow not into a shallow veneer of happiness but into the deep foundation of worship. Praise be to God!