In pain? Learn to lament like David. He doesn’t hesitate to cry out to God, and neither does he hold back:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest...” Psalm 22:1-2
I remember the first time I felt forsaken by God…
She had a head full of curly brown hair, eyes full of sparkle behind little dark glasses perched on a button nose, a constant whirl of childish chatter exiting her sweet little mouth. A darling, little girl radiating life and joy and fun. This was Leslie.
As a young teen, I had the distinct privilege of babysitting Leslie and her two sisters. These were beautiful girls from a beautiful family. Easy to babysit, we spent a lot of time together. I loved them. They loved me.
Leslie and I were especially tight.
My nickname for her was “motormouth.” Her nickname for me was “mommy.”
The world was forever changed the day Leslie ended up in Children’s Hospital. After having a fever for several days, Leslie was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Swiftly, the disease ravaged her little body.
I’ll never forget going to visit her in the hospital with my parents. Before I even reached her room, she saw me coming down the hallway and in her fun, happy way called out, “Mommy! Mommy!”
This girl melted hearts.
Even today as I write, it brings tears to my eyes. She was very sick. For Leslie died in the hospital.
Only those who have lost children know the depth of anguish and sorrow incurred by her parents. The same holds true for her sisters. There are no words. The most I dare offer is, “I am sorry.” Silence with companionship seems best.
But whether a child, a parent, a spouse, or sibling, with the loss of a loved one, the world is never the same.
For myself, Leslie’s death was my first real shock that life includes suffering and pain. So in confusion and anger, I wondered, “Where was God?”
“My God! My God! Don’t you know that ten year old girls aren’t supposed to die?”
There was no answer. And no one else seemed to have an answer.
Fast forward many joys and sorrows later, I still don’t have an answer.
This fallen world is just that: fallen. Broken. Sick. Dying.
In recent years, while listening to a theology professor talk about death, my heart stirred. He gave assurance that death is the direct antithesis of life. It’s not God’s original intent. At Creation, God put our spirits into real, live, fleshly bodies. God called that “good.” Now in a fallen world, death forces a rendering of the soul from its body. How wrong! How UN-natural! And so, as believers, we ought not fear death, but it is right for us to grieve and mourn death, to combat for life rather than longing for death. We long for Jesus to return and restore Creation because ten year old girls are created for life. We all are created for life and are blessed by God to be fruitful for His glory.
And although God does not supply us with answers to suffering, He does not leave us without hope. We are not forsaken.
Jesus came. His mission: to conquer death. He put on a fleshly body for the purpose of what? For the purpose of dying so that He might rise again. Why? Because He is all about life. Now that is certainly worth pondering before Easter.
Yet, we still live in that here and now “already, but not yet” period where we await Christ’s coming again. Until He returns, death and decay remain. And so, this week’s Bible study discussion centered around a call to surrender our pain to God. How do we do that?
Are we to “duke it out” with God? A Bible teacher once told me that I should, “He is a big God. He can take it. Get in the ring and fight it out.” Well, I suppose that is true, but is it right? Where does reverence for my Holy Maker fit? That idea seems like an ant slugging it out with an elephant.
As I scan the room of women waiting for an answer, I see glimpses of broken hearts deeply scarred by sorrows of many kinds: the loss of children, husbands and dear ones. The loss of health and hair. Still others have lost wealth. Some have lost significant relationships. Stabbed by betrayal. Unkind words and actions. There are those with lost childhoods, ravaged by selfish people. I see women with brokenness. Pain. And my heart hurts.
So I point to Jesus.
He knows pain. Pain is why He came.
Jesus knows what it is to be forsaken.
And He graces us with the freedom to go to God just as we are.
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Mark 15:34
In His darkest pain, Jesus Himself prayed David’s psalm of lament.
Did you know that 1/3 of all psalms are individual laments?
What do these lamentation psalms teach us?
These prayers give us a model of how to pursue God in the midst of the dark places. We have freedom and access to go to Him just as we are. Just as we are.
We can approach God’s throne in boldness. As Larry Crabb says in his book called the Papa Prayer: the Prayer You’ve Never Prayed:
“Present yourself to God without pretense. Be a real person in the relationship. Tell Him whatever is going on inside you that you can identify.”
Laments teach us to transparently engage God in our pain.
God’s character, Who He is, grounds our hope; prosperity does not ground faith.
Trials do not define us.
God defines us by Who He is and what He has done. Therefore, Paul says:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. I Cor. 4:8-9
Friends, if we are in Christ, then within these frail, human bodies lives the Spirit of God. We are perplexed, but never in despair.
So lament psalms teach us not to despair, but to cling to the gospel.
When a psalmist lamented to God, he followed a distinct pattern that included five different parts; one of those parts affirmed his trust in God. Always.
And so finally, lament psalms teach us to remember what God has done for us and to carve out space to hear his voice. God calls us to:
Be still and know that I am God… Psalm 46:10
You can learn to lament like David. Turning to God allows us to know and worship Him in the midst of pain, both great and small. I’m often asking God, “Lord, please teach me to pray.” How about you? Laments are powerful.
Want to learn more?
I’m hoping you might. This week before entering Holy Week, I’ll be sharing with my subscriber friends a three-part lament lesson:
One: Learn the five-part pattern found in the psalms of lament.
Two: Observe this pattern in one of David’s psalms.
Three: Apply the pattern and utilize a step-by-step template to create your own prayer of lament.
I often find it helpful to write out my prayers. A prayer of lament can be a beautiful way to enter into Holy Week.
Lord God Almighty,
You are Papa God. I praise You for Your Word. You reveal Yourself through it and encourage our hearts. You show us that it is okay to come to you “just as we are.” You know us full well. Our joys. Our sorrows. You know when we are hard-pressed or perplexed, persecuted or struck down.
Help us, Lord, to pray. May we be real with You and with ourselves. Teach us to praise and give thanks in all things, but also teach us to completely surrender our troubles and cry to You, to lament in healthy and reverent ways.
Oh Lord, for my friends and family in the midst of suffering, please be near. Lead these dear ones away from despair and into Your arms. Pour out Your comfort and healing.
May we be still and know You are God. May we trust and affirm You, always remembering Who You are and What You have done.