Emotions scare me because they’re so powerful, yet render me powerless. The power of them takes me by surprise, like touching a hot pan. I yank back in defensiveness, shielding my wound. Emotions surrounding the pain of shattered friendships, lousy news, and broken trust cause me to harden my heart. Countless times, I’ve tried to shield my heart from the extremes of emotions, but I’ve realized that if I fail to experience the fulness of sadness and anger then joy and love don’t reach their full potential.
God has gifted us with the language of lament in order to grow our faith, proclaim hope, and teach us love. Lament is the language of emotion, and without lament, our hurtful experiences dictate the way we interact with God, ourselves, and others. Without a safe place for expression, we withdraw or cast blame. This prevents us from the abundance that the Lord offers in John 10:10.
Exploring Emotions within the Context of the Psalms
Exploring our emotions is part of learning to live in the fullness he provides, but out of control emotions create consequences in our lives that lead to more regret. We shout words we can never take back, we slam cupboard doors, and we choose indifference rather than deference. A shroud of sorrow lingers over our happiest moments and we ease around that massive problem we try to ignore.
As Christ-followers, we are not immune to struggles. Pain, sorrow, and disappointment follow us, interrupt us, and surprise us. We understand the importance of learning the language of lament, we’ve explored the cry of help, and the confession of trust. Today, we cover the expression of pain.
One of the best ways to learn to express our heart’s pain is to read the Psalms as if we’re writing them. When David writes in Psalm 31:9, “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief,” we are given the okay to tell God about our distress.
Psalm 31 guides us to sit with God in the pain and recognize that our emotional distress affects our physical body. When we’re weary from an emotional storm, it grows more and more difficult to make choices that honor God with what we do and say.
Let Emotions Remind us of God’s Goodness
When our eyes are weak with sorrow and our body wracked with grief, let’s take David’s words and make them our own. David knew distress; he felt forgotten and rejected by so-called friends. People plotted against him and he wondered when and if things would ever turn around.
I’ve been there, have you? As I page through my Bible, I find evidence of relating to exactly what David experienced. As I repeatedly read through the Psalms, I come to margins with scribbled dates beside them that remind me that God is my help, defender, and rescuer.
Learning to lament through reading the Psalms is the best way to learn to express the gamut of emotions created by the human experience. It enables us to give voice to our deepest hurts, our deepest regrets, and our deepest sorrows. Imagine the outcome if you’re able to lead your heart to hope the next time an emotional storm whips through your life.
Lament is the language that leads us through our sorrow and into praise. Trouble comes to us. We know disappointment and frustration; sorrow and pain. Trusting the Lord and taking hold of courage in the midst of problems grows our faith when we use the language of lament.
The Mourning Song of Lament and Trust
Lament is the song our hearts sing as it mourns our circumstances, as it points our hearts to trust in God’s character, and as it expresses all the pain that we never dreamed we would feel. Lament’s song gives voice to our pain and brings hope to our heart. We begin our lament with the releasing cry of our worries, anxieties, disappointments, anger, and heartbreak. It’s an emptying of everything in our heart: the ugly parts we try and hide, the doubt we cover up with weak faith, and the fear that maybe God won’t come through for us.
As we empty our hearts of all it’s turmoil, we remind ourselves to trust in God. In lament, we confess our trust because our hearts need the reminder of the truth about God’s character. Trust is defined as a “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing.” (dictionary.com) In one five letter word, we discover a depth of meaning.
Truths for Trust
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
“But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord know those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.'” 2 Timothy 2:19
The Pendulum Swings
When we face confusing or hurtful circumstances, our understanding of God’s character goes on trial. Our emotions sway our hearts, like a pendulum, back and forth, back and forth, but a heart that finds its anchor in the Lord of Hosts is the heart that learns the lament. We cry and then we confess trust.
But what happens when our emotions of despair and depression keep swinging to rage and threaten our peace of mind? Confession of trust is more than just saying over and over again, “I trust you, God.” It’s declaring the truth about God while feeling the emotions of despair.
A Look into Psalm 31’s Lament and Trust
If we look at Psalm 31 as an example we see how David confessed his trust in God and declared truth about God’s character. We find David asking God to rescue him while re-remembering God’s character and attributes.
God is a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, refuge, and redeemer. It’s these that David writes for himself and for us in times of trial. David calls God faithful as he commits himself to God no matter what he faces. In verse three, we read an echo of Psalm 23 where God leads and guides. David rejoices because he knows God sees his affliction and knows the distress of his soul and that God’s steadfast love holds him fast.
Lament Confessing Trust
A confession of trust is not an absence of fear or doubt, but the expression of confidence that God is bigger than our circumstances, fears, and sorrow. And not only is he bigger than all that pain, but he is compassionate beyond our wildest imaginations. Even when life hurts and we don’t understand what God is doing or why he is not acting the way we expect, we can trust his heart.
His heart is trustworthy because his love is steadfast. By remembering that we cannot be separated from his love, that his love stays the same, that his love isn’t double-minded, or performance based, we can face our afflictions with trust because God sees our soul’s distress and feels compassion towards us. We can be glad in his steadfast love even when we’re facing troubles. This is what grows our trust so that we can confess our trust. Lament leads our heart through sorrow to praise and finally to hope when we cry out our pain and then confess our trust.
The cry can be one of victory or loss. It arouses a crowd in support of their favorite team. The battle cry sends warriors racing into battle, and the cry of a son lost rips from his mother’s heart. The cry begins and ends so many of our life experiences.
“The cry of pain is our deepest acknowledgement we are not home. We are divided from our own body, our own deepest desires, our dearest relationships. We are separated and long for restoration. It is the cry of pain that initiates the search to ask God “What are you doing?” It is this element of a lament that has the potential to change the heart.” Dan Allendar
It seems as though my heart’s been doing much crying these last couple of weeks. Crying for lost relationships, lost dreams, and lost hopes. This world lies broken in pieces and it reminds me, once again, that this is not home.
As wonderful as life on earth can be, as amazing as Jesus’ good news is, and as constant as God’s presence carries me, this present life is not my final destination. I’m a wayfaring sojourner and every once in a while the pain of this life becomes my stark reminder that my life here is a temporary, albeit, preparatory journey for the life to come.
Living this life in the here and now, with an eye fixed on eternity, requires us to enter into this life fully, including all the joy and pain. The abundant life Jesus was referring to doesn’t mean a pain-free life, but a life lived with abundant faith, hope, and love.
Our life: faith-filled, grace-directed, and always-transforming, grows more and more three-dimensional when we run towards God . . . even if it means running through pain and sorrow to get to him. Sometimes we want to skirt around the issue. We attempt to build a bridge over it or find an easier crossing, but there comes a time when we must wade in and go through it to get to the other side. Our breath catches in our throat as we take the first step because the temperature is cold. Pain shoots through our foot as we step on the rock’s pointy edge. The water climbs higher and higher and something brushes beside us and finally, a cry wrenches from our lungs.
Betrayal. Loss. Disappointment. They bring sorrows and pain and discomfort that we need to wade through in order to get to the other side. Betrayal slams our identity to the ground. Disappointment tempts us to bitterness. And loss, well, loss wants us to question God’s goodness. God gives us lament as a means to communicate the depths of pain in our hearts. The cry is an integral part of lament that propels us towards hope.
The Cry that Empties and Fills
Lament is a cry of pain, anger, sorrow, or confusion. It’s a cry that empties all the hurt in our heart at the feet of Jesus and a cry that points us back to faith in him.
Psalm 31 contains all the elements of lament and provides us with a model to follow. In the first two verses, we read David’s cry. But we don’t picture him stomping his foot like a toddler demanding attention, screaming at the top of his lungs. Instead we see David’s heart’s cry with pain and longing for rescue, while declaring attributes of God. He called God his deliverer, his rescuer, and his refuge. David’s sorrow took over his voice and he cried aloud that God would hear his cry and rescue him posthaste.
I’ve seen storm clouds brew on the horizon and watched wild winds whip the grass into swirls. I knew I needed shelter as lightning blazed and thunder reverberated in my ears. Other times, the day started out in peace and ended in chaos. I had no warning. There was nothing on the wind to suggest devastation.
The day I lost my first baby was like that. I woke up that morning an expectant mother and went to sleep that night wondering what to do with the grief that threatened to swallow me whole. I passed through that valley alone. There was no way to reach my husband. No one picked up the phone when I called. I lay curled in a ball on my living room floor as waves of pain washed over me. There was no relief. Only cries for God to rescue and deliver me.
There are times when God prepares our hearts for the storm that’s heading our way and other times it takes us completely by surprise. But no matter whether we’re able to prepare for the upcoming maelstrom or are completely taken by surprise, the emotional response is still the same. Shock. Hurt. Pain. Questions. Anger. These well up within us and so we cry:
“God, I take refuge in you. Deliver me. You are righteous, don’t let me be put to shame. Lean towards my cry and come to me quickly. I need you, God. Be my rock and my refuge. Save me.”
The Cry of Lament Leads us Home
The lament opens with a cry of our pain that states what we need and declares God’s character. It’s in declaring who God is that gives us hope and reassures our heart and puts our faith into practice.
The enemy wants nothing more than to isolate you so that you feel as though you’re alone, that God doesn’t care, and that he doesn’t listen. However, by wrapping your cry in the truth of God’s character you insulate your pain-ridden heart against the deceptive wiles of the enemy. The enemy wants bitterness to take root. He wants you to question God’s goodness. Your pain is the enemy’s playground, but it can also be God’s way of leading you to greater healing.
So cry out your hurt to God. Cry out your fears and questions and doubts. But remind yourself that God is righteous, that he is your shelter, and strength. That he is with you, he is constant, that he hears you and longs to rescue you. Pour it all out and let him comfort you and lead you home to his heart.
Lament is part of honest communication between God and man. It bridges the “give thanks in all circumstances and rejoice” with “in this world you will have many troubles.” Expressing both rejoicing and suffering is integral to a growing relationship with the Lord. It’s easy to think that rejoicing amidst suffering looks like gritting our teeth and pasting a smile on and minimizing how we really feel about all the difficulties we face, but it’s not. It’s so much more and lament gives us the language we need to express our deepest hurts, sorrows, and disappointments.
Afflictions like sickness, loneliness, mistreatment, aging, and death touch us on a regular basis. Disappointment plagues us and makes the soil of the heart ripe for seeds of bitterness. Bitterness then grows into an invasive weed that chokes out all that is good and right and pure in our hearts. Bitterness causes us to forget the comfort of God’s nearness and to neglect the transforming power of his word. It prevents us from looking to Jesus, our advocate. At its worst, it makes us question the assurance of our salvation.
Lament reconciles praise and thanksgiving when our hearts break with suffering.
Faith is the trusting of our entire selves to God. We cry, “Why, God” because we’re desperate to find meaning in our suffering. Biblical lament leads us to greater faith because it returns our focus to God’s attributes and character while giving opportunity for our doubts and runaway emotions to experience God’s comfort. Lament leads us to hope.
Jesus was neither unemotional or ruled by emotions, but he kept them in the perspective of God’s character and will. We see this in the account of Lazarus, when Jesus waited two days to go to Bethany, how he wept, and when he raised Lazarus from the dead. In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see how Jesus didn’t deny his emotions, rather, he expressed them through drops of blood as he wrestled with the reality of what was to come. Because our hope is Jesus, we learn how to lament with hope supporting our sorrows.
Lament becomes the greatest song of hope despite how we may feel about ourselves or our situation. It reveals that God is able to do above and beyond anything we can hope for or imagine. Cry out your pain in your sufferings, let lament lead you to rejoicing in who God is. He is steadfast and faithful, ever righteous and trustworthy. Rejoicing in our sufferings leads to endurance, endurance leads to character, and character leads to hope. Biblical lament (the expressing of our heartache followed by rejoicing) becomes an expression of hope.
An act of faith, a proclamation of hope, and a refinement of love
Lament refines our ability to love others well. Disappointments happen in life. We’re disappointed by ourselves and others. Disappointing outcomes of cherished hopes lead us to doubt God’s goodness and kindness. The language of lament gives words to our pain and sorrow. We’re commanded to love one another like we love ourselves, but what if you hate yourself and speak words to yourself that are filled with disgust and condemnation? It’s exhausting to love others when you’re filled with negativity towards yourself.
When we live in community with each other, egos get bruised, hearts wounded, and offenses taken up, but if we don’t deal with the emotions of those situations, our relationships falter. Lament gives us the freedom to express to God our uncensored feelings about our sufferings. And when we fail to lament we can fall into the trap of slander, gossip, and revenge. Part of the healing of our hearts from heart-wounds involves learning to lament biblically.
We experience life, hope, faith, and love
Emotions are neither good nor bad, but they are indicators of your heart and if acted upon can lead to life-giving choices or life-stealing cycles. God gives us the language of lament as a healthy way of expressing all the feelings this life brings.
The structure of a piece of literature includes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement, and a story isn’t complete without each of these elements. Lament follows a similar arc and if we miss a piece, we rob ourselves of authenticity in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and it robs society of solid answers to deal with heartache and suffering.
Biblical lament includes these five elements: The Cry for Help, The Expression of Emotion, The Confession of Trust, The Petition to God to Act on Our Behalf, The Vow and Expression of Praise. The coming weeks will feature posts on these and how they help us navigate uncertain times.
I’m learning that my quick skimming of articles, emails, social media posts, and updates leads me to a lack of focus in my life. I use to be able to read for hours, getting completely lost in the journey the author takes me on. Now, I’m lucky if I can read for twenty minutes before I flip open my email or instagram. This lack of focus translates into other areas of my life — my inability to attend to what my kids and husband tell me, my prayer life, and my bible study. This concerns me because in order to live this “God-life” with power and grace, I need to be able to focus.
Romans 12:2 guides my life and gives direction. I know my mind needs renewing. I know the rabbit trails I go down that lead to disappointment, worry, and doubt. And every time I take a journey into that place, I regret it. Although I learn plenty, it reminds me of the power of focus.
Focus Affects Our Relationships
What do we focus on? How do we focus? Why is focus so important? Focus means to set our minds, eyes, and hearts on God. During a recent quiet time, I read Psalm 9:10, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Trust relates to knowing. Knowing grows through time spent in relationship. Relationship starts with faith.
While we grow and develop our relationship with the Lord, we discover the two-sided reality of the Christian life:
Acceptance in Christ and growing in Christ.
Status as kings and duties as slaves.
Presence of Christ and pressure of sin.
Made right with God and daily problems that help us grow.
Without an awareness of this two-sided reality, focusing our hearts and minds on Christ is a struggle. But, when we’re aware that we are accepted as we are and given opportunities to grow, our focus shifts from our circumstances to the One who guides, leads, heals, and loves. This focus helps guard our hearts, shows us where to serve, and grounds our hearts in hope.
Focus Helps to Guard Our Hearts
Our hearts need guarding. There is so much in this world that aims to demoralize our hearts through distraction and disappointment. We can guard our hearts by carefully considering what we focus on. Proverbs 4:23-27 lays out a delightful plan to teach us how to guard our hearts. Out of our hearts spring life. Therefore, what we think, see, say, and do makes a difference on our life.
Focus Shows Us the Next Thing
Our hearts need direction. Too much inward focus turns us into selfish minded people with a narrow view of ourselves and our world. However, when we look up and out, our hearts develop awareness of a greater view. Without purpose, the gifts God gives us languish and we never reach the fullest potential God has for us. Then others, for whom God gave us those gifts, do not benefit.
In John 4:35, Jesus tells the disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvest. Somewhere someone is waiting for you to breathe a bit of the hope you have in Jesus into their hearts. That hope can be the difference between harvest languishing and going to waste or a harvest that does what it was designed to do: multiply.
Establishes Our Hearts in Hope
Hope is standing assured in what we cannot see. It is standing with our face to wind, feeling the sting of it on our cheeks and its power buffeting our bodies and knowing that the rock on which we stand will not give way. Sometimes we hunker down behind the rock, beside the rock, and sometimes we climb inside it in order to gain a reprieve from the blast. But no matter what, we know that our Rock never fails.
This is what fixing our eyes on Jesus does for us in the times when distractions and disappointments abound. It’s the one thing that we can do that grounds our heart in hope. God takes care of the rest, but we choose where to fix our gaze. Hebrews 12:2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”
The Story Unfolds
Your story isn’t finished. Your faith isn’t perfected. And that’s okay. You don’t have to worry about the ending or the plot twists. You don’t have to worry if your faith is strong enough. That plot twist? God is with you. That unexpected ending? God beckons to you to follow him. Your faith? God strengthens you even in your doubts as you fix your eyes on him.
Focus matters. It protects our hearts, guides our steps, and sets our heart on a firm foundation. As you move into the new year, take each opportunity to reset your focus. As you do so, your heart will be guarded, guided, and grounded.
December slipped in wearing white and displaying crystals dancing on delicate branches. Its beauty on display reminds me that even winter storms display artistry by a Master Artist. Will I have eyes to see? Will you?
The next four weeks will bring a letter from me with reflections from the Word and a prayer to focus our hearts on the Lord. As we walk into December with all the joys, sorrows, and the busyness it brings, our souls need a moment to reset, release, and receive. It’s my prayer that these little notes minister to your heart as well as whomever you choose to forward it onto too.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–The spirit of Truth.” John 14:16-17a
“But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
My heart swells with relief that I have a counselor, someone who listens and who guides, in the Lord. Do you ever have those days where you wonder whether your efforts make a difference? Or what about those days when you don’t know if it’s worth pushing against a tide that seems relentless?
It’s in those moment when I remember the psalmists example of pouring out our hearts to the Lord. To tell the Lord our silly thoughts like a “I love these socks!” and the gigantic heart-rending concerns like “I can’t take another step,” brings our hearts to the One who can laugh and cry with us.
Jesus truly is a Wonderful Counselor. He’s wonderful because he knows all, loves perfectly, and stands beside us through the highest mountains and the lowest valleys. He’s a wonderful counselor because he guides us with wisdom, truth, and peace so our hearts can know rest.
I adore you and say with my whole heart, “O come let us adore you.” You make ways when I can’t see the way. You work miracles that I don’t understand. You part seas and walk on stormy waves. You shine light into my darkness. I stand in awe of who you are.
Make a way this Christmas season for my heart to experience a reset. I pray your counsel would guide me so that I would walk in your ways and know your peace.
You give me space to release all the angst that’s stored up in my heart. I release it to you and leave it in your hands. My fears. My concerns. My regrets. They’re yours and I release them to you.
I receive your wonder and grace this Christmas. Guide and counsel me as I rely on you. You are my wonderful counselor and I run to you with my joys and sorrows.
In Jesus’ name,
Have a delightful week as you lean into Jesus’ wonderful counsel. May your days be filled with the reality of his presence and may you know his wisdom for your circumstances.