Three weeks ago I looked across to Andrew reading in bed and wondered out loud when we would be allowed to go home. I was done with this moving thing. Our neighborhood pool had just closed for the autumn, he was beginning to travel again, and I could no longer pretend we were on vacation to “The South.” He looked at me with that uneasy look husbands sometimes give their wives when they find themselves in the deep end and then he quietly whispered the truthful: “We ARE at home.” For a week, tears slid out unable to stop. I lived a constant lament bouncing back and forth through Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief from loss to anger to depression and back to anger again.
The uprooting and the tearing had left me breathless, fragile. We had just moved exactly one year before. It had taken 12 months to root in PA, to slowly push one lego block of life onto each other, to watch a life begin to build again. Then they were all torn apart again. I was grief-stricken, angry. Resentment had become my default and I couldn’t make it through to acceptance without moving through the lament. Everything else was pretending.
The Psalmist is our guide through praying with integrity and sending our emotions straight to the heart of God. His prayers are never carefully picked out and pasted over perfection. He wails. He whispers out of the pain of anxious depression. He accuses God, “How long O Lord? Will You forget me forever? (Psalm 13:1) He spews out, “shatter the teeth of the wicked,” (Ps 3:7).
There are more lament Psalms than thanksgiving Psalms. That’s not the type of information we are given in Sunday school. Most churches have decided to drop all the Psalms that don’t leave us clapping when set to a beat. Eugene Petersen says that we’ve given the Psalms a Psalmectomy, picking and choosing the ones that fit into our comfortable theology. He said that it is a reflection of a Christianity that thinks we should always have our Sunday best on before God: performance-driven Christianity. How we deal with our emotions is a large test of the truth of that statement.
Jesus never sinned but he also never wore a stoic mask. He wept at Lazarus’ grave. He fumed at the Pharisees. He whipped the temple back into shape. He spent hours mourning the coming cross in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me.”
We are human. He knows we are but dust. If we try to hold onto toxic emotions, they get trapped, simmer and then so often get dredged back up as sin. We fear walking close to the pain and yet the pain escalates when we try to stay away.
We don’t need to fear our emotions. He promises to walk with us.
Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
But we often refuse to get close to the blaze. (Amazing book about this? Terry Wardle’s Draw Close to the Fire. It’s like finding a guide through the wilderness.)
We’ve lost the ancient gift of lament.
It seems counterintuitive. We want to slide directly from our negative emotions into a life of the pursuit of happiness and the quick fix but our souls were designed for integrity. Sometimes the way up is down. Living with integrity means opening up our truth before the Lord, acknowledging our struggle. He can handle it, you know. He can handle all our deep brokennesses as well as our petty disappointments. He can handle it, but He knows that we can’t. When we hold onto our brokenness, it begins to break us.
When the Redeemer is handed all the pieces of our brokenness, He is given the power to do what He does best, breathe into it and transform it into something new.
Action: How do we lament in a healthy way? Pick up a pen and paper or spend time with a safe person (a spiritual director? a pastor? a spiritual mentor?) and share your lament with them:
Identify a feeling or a single issue you are struggling with
Address your cry to the Lord. The entire lament needs to be directed to His attention.
Write uncensored. Get honest, dredge up the darkness and bring it into the light. Only there can it be transformed.
Begin by telling the Lord what happened, what was said, how you were hurt, what it has cost you, what lies you have come to believe as a result of this wound. Get specific.
Focus on the emotions. Don’t hold back. Don’t censure yourself or be concerned with grammar, spelling, form, or punctuation. Just let it spill out.
Count the cost. What has this cost us emotionally, physically, personally, for you, for those around you?
In most lament Psalms, David or another of the Psalmists, after the complaint has been raised, they ask for God’s truth to shine into the pain. How do we do that? After we have spilled out our honest, uncensored complaint, ask these questions: Where are You in this, Lord? What do You have to say? What hope do You have for me? Listen. Be still. Wait.
We’re on a 31 day journey toward falling in love with our zip code. Our family just moved down five states south and are loving the warm October. Would you like to come along? Slip your email address (I’ll guard it with my life) into the CONNECT box on the front page and we’ll journey together. Start here.