Take a few moments to read reflectively Psalm 22.
The questions above are not rhetorical. They are real questions with honest answers, possibly buried so deeply that it might take some concentrated time and effort to answer. The stakes are incredibly high, as we have already explored earlier in this retreat.
Learning what to do with our sorrow and grief is a large part of our faith journey. Culture (and some churches) tells us, "Suck it up. Get a grip. Quit your complaining. Control your emotions. Stop feeling. Stuff your pain. Pretend it doesn't hurt (or even exist).” Faith culture sometimes says, "If you have faith, you won't get hurt, confused or discouraged. You won't feel hopeless, get depressed, or experience the pain of loss and grief." These cruel lies don't do justice to our wounded and grieving souls, to Scripture or the gospel of Jesus.
"The liquid entreaty of tears," writes Adele Calhoun, "is a huge part of the biblical text. Orphans, slaves, widows, sinners, cities, prophets, priests, kings, the oppressed, sick, exiled, defeated, and bereaved—all weep." (And I would add to Adele's list, people like you and me). Jesus weeps too. "And he's in good company because God started grieving over the mess his beloved had made just six chapters into Genesis (Genesis 6:6). The Trinity seems quite at home in the watery world of tears."
It's an odd thing, isn't it, that most of us are embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow and grief and unfamiliar with the ancient language of lament? It's odder still when you consider how the Scriptures are filled with lament. Every major biblical character, from Abraham to Paul, was relentlessly honest in their prayers to God about their hurt, sadness, grief, disappointment, confusion and anger, while clinging tenaciously to their confidence in God's goodness.
I have come to believe (later in life than I wish) that prayers of lament are the missing portal, the entryway into a more in-depth, more spacious experience with a God whose depth of compassion, unbridled love and affection is greater than we have dared to imagine.
Jesus was fluent in the language of lament and called upon it during His most desperate hours. The night before He died, He collapsed on the ground and begged the Father, “Take this cup from me.” From the cross the next day He cried out the first words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus' life is a brilliant illustration that those who are genuinely intimate with God know they can express any pain, disappointment, temptation, anger or even rage with which they struggle. Jesus' life extends to us a personal invitation to enter the portal of lament. However, you must know, after you pass through that portal and learn to speak this ancient and intimate language, nothing can remain the same.
We find three types of Psalms in Scripture: psalms of orientation; psalms of disorientation; and psalms of reorientation. During this difficult season, it is a good to recall that at least one-third of the psalms were cries of disorientation and lament. I invite you to read Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann to explore in depth the three types of psalms. For our purposes today, we will focus on lament.
I like what Chuck DeGroat says in Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. "Lament, the ancient art of crying out before God, provides us with a means of honest and raw expression in times when our grief is too much to bear." (Have you been in a place like that in the past few months? I have!) He goes on to say, "It does not offer a quick fix or a tidy theological answer."
One who laments may look like a whiner or complainer, but biblical lament is nothing of the sort. Instead, lament reflects the possibility of extraordinary hope, restored desire and a changed heart. At its core, lament is a genuine search for God. It is not a search for answers or an invitation to fix something that is wrong. Rather, lament with eyes wide open enters suffering and grief with the recognition that it might not go away for days, months or even years. And yet, it carries the hope that God will be present.
Ann Voskamp illuminates the difference between lament and complaint in her book, One Thousand Gifts:
Lament is a cry of belief in a good God,
a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God
who transfigures the ugly into beauty.
Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any
benevolent God in this moment,
a distrust in the love-beat of the Father's heart.
We complain when we've given up on God and lost hope. We lament when we trust God with our most profound suffering and grief. Again, Jesus led the way for us when He cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The friends and family of Jesus standing near the cross on that terrible day of crucifixion would have recognized the psalm of lament and been able to complete it. Much like you and I could complete the Lord’s prayer if someone simply said, “Our Father, who art in heaven”. In the midst of extreme agony and suffering, the Good Shepherd was leading those He loved towards comfort and consolation. By the end of Psalm 22, the psalmist is remembering who God is, how faithful and true, and the future that God has promised His people. The honest language of lament led to the language of trust, praise and hope.
In the midst of your own disorientation and pain today, Jesus stands ready to loan you the language you need to cry out honestly before the Father. The resurrected Christ stands ready to listen until you are able to cry out along with Him, “He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from us, but has listened to our cry for help.”
Is there anything you would like to lament before God today? Imagine Jesus standing with you, because He actually is, loaning you the language for the conversation. A simple pattern to follow might be the one laid out in Psalm 22:
1) Be brutally honest about your pain.
2) Remind your soul the truth about who God is.
3) Call out to Him for specific help.
4) Re-imagine in detail the future He has promised.
Experiment with writing your lament.
Who are the safe people with whom you can express your lament? Consider sharing what you have written with those people. Share the lament, and share what it was like to write it.
You might be interested in reading A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out To God in the Lost Language of Lament, by Michael Card. You might also find helpful, Spirituality of the Psalms, by Walter Brueggemann.
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