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.
Leaning into Lament
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.