CRYING OUT TO GOD IN PRAYER
Pushing our pain aside, hiding it, or feeling shame because of it, diminishes our human experience. If Jesus wept and cried out in anguish, why do we feel it is somehow faithless to honestly express lament?
WHAT IS LAMENT?
If I break my arm, I cry out in pain. If I experience the breaking of a relationship, my health, a job, or finances, I cry out in lament. Both are natural responses to pain. Both are valid human emotions. Yes, both are honest reactions. Yet we don’t often make room in our lives for lament.
The Old Testament Israelites sang about the full range of human emotion in the Psalms: anger, trust, sorrow, despair, celebration, fear, longing, thanksgiving, anguish, joy, loneliness, beauty, praise, protest, love, doubt, promise, pleading, weariness, gratitude, insecurity, and hope.
LAMENT IS WORSHIP
Lament was a daily part of their worship, woven through the fabric of their lives. Yet 2,000 years later, we’ve grown to believe that lament reveals a lack of faith or little trust in God. Instead of expressing it, we push it away or swallow it down – but refusing to acknowledge our pain doesn’t mean it slips quietly into the night. Swallowed pain swells beneath the surface of our lives, bubbling up and out as anxiety, impatience, frustration, or anger, separating us from God and sometimes sinking us into deep depression.
True lament isn’t an expression of weakness, whining, or self-pity — it’s an authentic expression of faith.
Pushing our pain aside, covering it up, or feeling shame because we feel it, diminishes our human experience. Even Jesus cried out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b)
If Jesus, God in human flesh, cried out in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane and from the cross, if he wept over Lazarus’ death, why do we feel it is faithless to lament? Why do we fear embracing what God so clearly expresses in His Word?
How to Cry Out to God in Prayer
Illness, pain, and grief are messy and complicated, yet God says, “Take heart.”
Give yourself permission to lay down the “shoulds” (what you think you should feel or express) and the “should nots” (what you think you shouldn’t feel or express).
Set aside some time and space to sit quietly with these words from the Psalms. Allow them to stir your soul. Read them slowly and permit yourself to feel. When you’re ready, try your hand at Writing a Psalm of Lament.
PSALMS • A PLACE TO BEGIN
CRIES OF DESPAIR
Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and do not hide Yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and hear me;
I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily
because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked;
For they bring down trouble upon me,
and in wrath they hate me.
My heart is severely pained within me,
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,
and horror has overwhelmed me.
So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
Indeed, I would wander far off,
and remain in the wilderness. Selah
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress,
I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
Because of my loud groaning
I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof
FROM DESPAIR TO WORSHIP
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord;
O Lord, save me!
Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me,
for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the
shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
Give ear to my words, O Lord,
consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
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,
or my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands
be like the evening sacrifice.
Step in slowly. Sit with God. Allow yourself time and space to feel and experience your pain. When you’re ready, take up your pen, and explore the precious and life-giving gift of lament.
Lectio Divina is the ancient practice of slowly, contemplatively reading the words of Scripture, an invitation to encounter God through His Word, to pay close attention, and to be fully present.
I find it striking that Psalm 88 includes virtually no words of reassurance. Nowhere does the psalmist add parenthetically, “But you are the Lord of mercy and compassion,” or anything else like this. Most psalms of lament include words of hope. Not Psalm 88. Here we find dark despair.
There are times in our lives to mourn and grieve, but it is so important not to lose hope. For those of us who know Jesus, we cling to an everlasting hope. As we grieve and mourn, let us also remember to encourage each other, to look for the joy in life no matter where we go.
This spring as I take my daily walks, I am looking to see what survived the storm and what did not. What can I do? I can wait and lament.
I believe the very work of writing a prayer as poetry takes us deeper into our hearts, giving a new vocabulary to offer our longings to God.
This guided lament is focused on the specific feeling of personal disappointment or loss that has accompanied this season. Father, you know deep loss, be near to us as we bring our own loss and disappointment before you.
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