We wanted to share a short video with you. The video highlights a close friend of ours from the village. As you will see in the video he died late last year. His death was for me was one of the most painful experiences of our last term on the field.
This painful experience left me spiritually dry and disconnected from God. I felt unable to pray because none of these circumstances made sense to me. So instead of praying I tried to work out in my mind all the, “I should haves…” and, “I could haves…” of that situation.
I hope you will watch the video. Sorry that the text is fast in some places. I am not great at editing video. Hopefully you will get a small picture of his life. After the video, for any who are interested I will share a few thoughts on my journey of learning to process the hard things we experience.
What do you think about the word, lament? This is not a word we use on a daily basis. If you are like me you probably never use this word and it may be connected in your mind to, losing faith or weak faith. Is it possible to have faith in God and lament the circumstances of our life at the same time?
Back in January Andrea and I attended a retreat put on by Barnabas International. During one part of the retreat we talked about Psalms, and specifically Psalms of lament. One example is Psalm 5. It starts out, “listen to what I say LORD! Carefully consider my complaint!“
Is it OK to complain to God? As a kid I found it so easy to complain, which my parents were not especially happy about. As I got a bit older I learned that listening to others complain was actually quite annoying. I noticed religious leaders understandably discouraging complaining about hard circumstances. It wasn’t an acceptable spiritual response. Instead it was better to either praise God, or just be quiet about discomfort, sadness, or pain.
Since that retreat back in January we have been reading through the Psalms at breakfast. Believe it or not the literary device of lament is more common in the book of Psalms than Psalms of thanksgiving, praise, or hymns of worship. In other words there are more Psalms of lament than there are Psalms of thanksgiving. As our family reads through these Psalms I have tried to allow myself to hear the Psalmist’s anguish and heartfelt complaint to God.
Fast forward to April, we are still reading through the Psalms as a family, but now in “lock down”. Is it OK to complain to God, about this terrible virus spreading across the earth? Is it OK to lament the loss that it has brought into our lives and the lives of others?
I have found comfort these days in learning to lament. The biggest challenge in praying lamenting/complaining prayers to God is believing that God can hear my complaint, He can see my sadness and NOT shake His head in disappointment. Everything inside me says, “don’t be such a whiner, God doesn’t want to hear your prayers if its weak.” Yet being willing to complain to God is built upon a foundation of beliefs that God alone is unshakably strong and I am weak.
Something I am thinking about is that the walk of faith that we all seek may actually be stifled when we too quickly declare our unwavering trust in God. If we follow the example of the Psalter, lament to God can be an act of faith. Weak people complaining to God, in hope that God will act for good in the world. As I pray I have to resist the urge to simply look for the good in these circumstances. As I pray I have to resist the urge to undermine my genuine fears and sorrow. Often times those feelings get cut short by saying, “God is in control.” or “it’s all going to work out for good…” Yes God is in control, and yes He is at work in the world for good but I don’t want to let that keep me from facing my weakness and coming to God, complaining to Him, and asking Him to act and be merciful and be gracious. I am weak, I need the strength of God to survive. So my lament to him looks like coming and complaining in prayer to God.
God’s shoulders are so broad, He can handle our weakness. God is the good spouse that absorbs all the fears and illegitimate immature responses I bring to Him. No matter what I pour out to God He can handle it. He is the friend of Proverbs who loves at all times. He loves even when we are weak and afraid.
So I have been learning to lament. In that process I am learning that spiritual maturity is not about rising above every challenge as though unaffected by the hard events in my life. Instead of rushing to answers that may make a person sound spiritually strong, I’m keeping my eye on those in God’s word who, in the face of trouble and trials complained to God. Even our Lord, hanging on the cross cried out to God in lament, “my God my God why have you forsaken me?” Didn’t Jesus know the answer to that question? Yes He did, and yet still He lamented as an example to me (and you) that I am not above crying to God in weakness.
One of the most helpful things for me has been to take the time and write out my lament to God. To just allow the hurt and pain of past disappointments and sadness to be expressed to God. Why God…? How long God…? Change this God… I don’t understand God…
After all these expressions of lament, venting my frustration and fears to God I come away comforted. Thank you God for being strong and loving weak frail humanity.