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.