I spend a lot of time these days looking for things. Just yesterday, I finally found my half-full coffee cup in the bedroom closet. (Doesn’t everyone sit in the closet and drink their coffee? Actually, it makes me wonder where I hung my blouse. I’ll probably find it in the refrigerator.) I misplace my cellphone quite often, too. It’s pretty sad that I’ve entered myself on speed-dial from my landline, but hey, it works. Whatever. These items could definitely be found more quickly if I just knew where to look. I know they’re somewhere, but I don’t know where somewhere is!
Likewise, when we find ourselves searching, not for coffee cups and cellphones, but for comfort when we feel melancholy, sad, disappointed and unhappy, we don’t always know where to look. As believers, we surely look to Christ as our eternal hope, but often we don’t realize what kind of practical, everyday resources God has provided to meet our need for a settled soul.. We just know that something feels “off”, or life just feels unfair at times, or our soul can’t seem to find the believer’s promised joy. It’s my opinion that much of the time when we feel unsettled and sad, we’re really struggling with an issue that may not be so obvious to us at first. We have to look…..
Are you grieving and don’t know it? Most of the time we associate grief with death. It’s a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one, a pet, or a friend. We Google about the five stages of grief, and use those stages as a filter to assess where we may be in the process of the loss, and wonder if we’re moving through them in a healthy manner. However, have you thought about the process you go through when you’ve experienced any kind of important loss, other than death? Losses that come to my mind are loss of a job and the accompanying loss of income, loss of health, loss of reputation, loss of a relationship, loss of a marriage, or loss of an expected hope, dream, or idea. We don’t usually think of these kinds of losses as “grief issues”, and can go about our days wondering how to combat the anger, frustration, and disappointment. We try and cover up our sadness through creating diversions and substitutions, i.e. staying busy, using drugs and alcohol to feel better, making jokes, working excessively, immersing ourselves in hobbies, spending hours in online activity, etc.
Can you identify with feeling disappointed in something that didn’t turn out the way you had hoped? A relationship, a dream, an event, or even the way your life has turned out? As I’ve written in a previous post, at some point we realize that life is not heaven on earth. Even though we may feel as though the Lord has left us hanging hopelessly, He has graciously provided to us the means to deal with losses. This blog post isn’t meant to walk you through the stages of grief. There have been whole books dedicated to that topic. My goal here is to acquaint you with the fact that you will mourn ANY loss in your life, and it will impact you in some way, depending on how deeply you’ve attached yourself to what’s now missing. Obviously, the loss of a loved one will have a greater impact on you, but if you’ve envisioned or experienced something in your life that you were counting on, or hoping to happen which didn’t materialize, then you’re going to grieve the loss of it, no matter how minor it may seem.
I believe everyone has, at some point, imagined what they’d hoped their life would look like. For years, I had wanted to have a large family. I love children, and I had imagined myself being joyfully surrounded by little curtain-climbing, crumb-snatchers who would keep me over-worked and under-paid. The Lord had other plans, however, and He saw fit to give us one child (whom we love dearly), and two miscarriages. It has taken the realization on my part, over the years, to recognize that the picture I had in mind for my life not only looks different than I had imagined, but that I had been grieving the loss of my dream or idea of having a large family (as well as the loss of the two miscarried babies).
I have shared this disappointment with you to perhaps cause you to think differently about grief. I encourage you to ponder any personal sadness, or if you wrestle with the pangs of a disquieted soul in some way. Your Creator has promised you rest in Him, but there are times you may feel abandoned and unprotected by the very One who made you. There are times when we may wonder if God truly has our best interest at heart.
In Psalm 22, David was living through this kind of experience. God had promised David the throne to serve as king of Judah, and eventually all of Israel, yet he found himself often running and hiding from his enemies who wanted to kill him. This surely didn’t feel to David like God had been faithful to His promises. David was certainly not living the life he had imagined, nor was he particularly experiencing any kumbaya moments in his assessment of where God had left him. In fact, Psalm 22, starts off with David’s address to God crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Sound familiar?) So, as much as David had faithfully demonstrated his devotion to God in the past, he poured out his troubled soul in this psalm. He dared to state what was real, not necessarily what sounded right. He was lamenting. This is the gracious means the Lord has also given us to respectfully express our doubts, fears, disappointments, complaints, and sorrows. A lament is a way we can mourn our losses and cry out truthfully to God as to how we feel. However, it isn’t a vehicle to simply get in touch with our real thoughts and feelings. It’s also a process to remind us that God can be trusted. A lament usually (but not always) has a pattern or structure consisting of distinct parts, but not necessarily in any particular order. The following components are most always included in a lament, and I’d encourage you to think about writing your own:
First, an address to God is present. In other words, who is the lament directed toward? David was crying out to God as indicated in verse 1, where he says, “O, God.” Sometimes, in other laments, he uses the address, “O, Lord.”
Second, there is a complaint. Simply put, David states what he feels is wrong. He says to God, in verse 2, “O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” In the case of your personal lament, as an example, you might say, “Lord, I’ve asked you again and again, but I don’t feel like you’ve heard me. “
Third, there is a petition. “Lord, I ask for your help. Do not be far from me.” What are you asking God to do for you? In David’s case, be was asking God to deliver him and rescue him from danger. You might say, “Deliver me from sadness. Help me to see your faithfulness. “
Fourth, there is usually a confession of trust, words of assurance, and/or a vow of praise spoken. David ends Psalm twenty-two with an emphatic profession of trust as he remembers who God is, even through his wrestling. Who is God to you? A tower of deliverance, your refuge and strength, your fortress and shield? You might say, “Because I know you care for me, I will trust you.”
These lament components don’t predictably appear in any certain order. What’s interesting to note is that David switches back and forth from complaining to trusting, and then complaining again to petitioning, with words of assurance sprinkled all through, as though he couldn’t settle his mind. He was being human as he moved through different thoughts and feelings. However, he ALWAYS landed on who God was, and through that lens he issued his complaints and petitions, even though the circumstances hadn’t changed and may not in the future.
There are a surprising number of laments in the Psalms. Even though we often think of the Book of Psalms as expressions of prayer, praise and worship, forty-five forms of laments can be found throughout! Even though the laments always contain the complaint over the current situation, the writer remembers that the Lord’s ultimate purposes can be trusted, because of His enduring faithfulness to sustain. Notice, there is a big difference between having a whine-fest and lamenting. The former says, “I don’t like this, please change my circumstances.” The latter says, “I don’t like this, please change my circumstances, however, remind me that you are my God and I can trust you, even if the situation doesn’t change.”
Why is understanding a lament important for us to know? Because a lament is what God has given us as a good place to land in a situation of loss. God knows what you’re sad about, He knows why you’re possibly angry with Him, He knows that you feel you’ve been let down. When you’re willing to be honest with Him through a lament, it encourages a more personal relationship, and it demonstrates to you that He can lovingly deal with respectful honesty. As you lament, you’re reminded that He listens, He loves, and He redeems.
I again encourage you to pen your own lament about those instances where your soul isn’t settled. You have been given personal access to the only One who can heal your brokenness because of what Christ has done for you. Take full advantage of the opportunity to have an honest conversation with the great Healer. I have done this many times over, as I’ve faced disappointments, and it’s the surest way to release what the Enemy would love to nurture. Believer, Turn Around and look. The Lord knows your thoughts, and He hears your heart. They aren’t lost on Him. If you identify with grief in order to explain your feelings of loss or various disappointments…no matter how minor…you’ll find that a lament to Him will be your settling comfort. Just as David struggled, your lament will be a reminder that the Lord hasn’t abandoned you in your pain and sadness, despite your possibly unchanged circumstances. Cry out to Him….ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you write it down. He is faithful.