When was the last time life was suddenly hard, painful beyond explanation? Now, what did you do?
Almost certainly, when life got hard, you instinctively began crying out to God – whether you believed in God or not. Almost everyone immediately begins to pray, crying out to God because of the pain.
Crying out to God is portrayed as a good thing, but even though it is instinctive, it can be done badly.
“Crying Out”: Numbness or Emotionalism
The Church has forgotten how to cry out to God in the midst of intense pain and suffering. Since we all go through difficult times throughout life, crying out to God rightly has been replaced by the extremes of numbness and emotionalism.
One unhelpful replacement is numbness. When your mother is close to death or you find out you have cancer, you may decide to “shut down.” You may defend your stoicism, but you are shutting down in a way that affects yourself and others around you. Instead of expressing emotion – any emotion – you choose to suppress. This is faulty because it denies an opportunity to be honest with God and others.
The other unhelpful replacement is emotionalism. As you find out your car crash led to quadriplegia or your child may be born with a heart defect, you may decide to allow you emotions to be shown through inappropriate and sinful words/actions. Instead of expressing your emotion through the filter of trusting God and his word, you choose to lash out. This response is faulty because it rejects that the truth of God, revealed in his word, should shape your response to pain and suffering.
Crying out to God is essential to a healthy, growing relationship with God. Crying out to God is called “lament.” in the Bible, and there is an appropriate way to lament without denying our emotions and/or biblical truth.
Lament: Initiation, Honesty, and Trust
Lamenting is not venting, grumbling, or anger. We should avoid both denying our pain and allowing our pain to redefine what we believe about God.
Lament is done in prayer and the aim of our lament should be to reinstate our faith in our Savior, Jesus.
So, how do we lament rightly?
Prayer begins by initiating the conversation with God. In Psalm 42 , David laments biblically, so we’ll look at his example.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long people say to me, “Where is your God?”
Lamenting is done individually, but can also be done in the presence of others lamenting with you (ie. Genesis 50:10). The main point is that in order to lament rightly, we have to initiate God in prayer.
While lamenting to God, we need to be honest. Our honesty is not expressed in anger, but instead honesty is expressing our fear, disappointment, and/or confusion and this should be marked with vulnerability. David honestly communicates with God when he says,
I will say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression?” My adversaries taunt me, as if crushing my bones, while all day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”
Lament, done in honesty, opens up our heart’s pain with God. Yes, he does already know our pain, but our honesty is still required to cry out to God rightly. When we pour out our pain to God, our cries are heard by our Creator and he draws near to us to bring comfort and peace.
Trust in God
As we lament in prayer, being vulnerable with our God, our end goal to stand firm in the faith, trusting God. We cry out to God, knowing he is our hope, our Savior, and our God. David closes Psalm 42 in this exact way,
Why, my soul, are you so dejected? Why are you in such turmoil? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him, my Savior and my God.
As we lament, we let Truth define and shape our emotional response to the pain we experience in this life. We remember to express our knowledge of God as we cry out to him. The truths we know of God are never up for debate when circumstances shake us into pain and suffering.
As Christians we need to lament. We need to cry out to God in the midst of our pain. We need to cry out to God in the midst of our disappointments. We need to cry out to God in the midst of our confusion.
We need to learn to lament because if we don’t, we’ll never righteously cry out to God.