Welcome to a bonus post! As we wrestle with hope’s role in our suffering, we need to consider how to express our truest feelings to God when we’re at our lowest.
For the vast majority of us, when we hurt, we resist – we hold back on naming what we feel for fear of the pain swallowing us whole. We live in a culture that only wants to see our best – our best smiles, our best creations, our best lives, so for too long we’ve lived under the illusion that if we fake it, we’ll make it. But the truth is we ALL suffer. And, as science and psychology will tell us, if we name and own how we feel, the grip of pain will lessen.1 Believe it or not, Scripture has been telling us this all along –
Job doesn’t try to hide behind his grief when all has been lost. Instead, he speaks honestly, “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:23-26 NIV).
David models for us throughout the Psalms how to speak what we feel: “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-4 NIV).
Discouraged prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk pepper God with their questions and appeals: “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable?” (Jeremiah 15:18); “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2 NIV}.
In the New Testament, afflicted people consistently cry out to Jesus for help – like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47).
In His overwhelm, Jesus calls out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane as His sweat turns to blood, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:41-44). Agonizing on the cross, Jesus wails the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
On each occasion, these men do not hide their true feelings, hedge their questions, or act like all is well. Rather, they get honest – with themselves and with God. And, to a person they find help and strength in the One they cry out to. But, it always starts with naming emotions and owning the reality of their suffering.
Songs of Hope
There’s actually a name for prayers that sob, scream, and shout to God with gut-wrenching honesty – laments. Not all meltdowns are laments. And neither are all prayers. JD Walt helps us understand that for a prayer to qualify as a lament, it has to be “framed in the larger context of hope” because, by definition, a “lament is human sadness and longing lifted to God. Absent the presence of God and ultimate hope, we cannot lament; we can only despair.”2
I’d love for us to sit with that a minute: Without God and hope, we only despair. It makes me wonder how many of our prayers are really statements of despair, spoken as though we’ve given up on the situation – with no real hope for things to change. So how do we make the shift in our hearts and minds? How do we learn to lament?
First, it helps to know that laments are songs of hope that pour out from an open heart, searching for the Father’s help. This prayerful response becomes the hinge for hope which is why the lament is a needed part of every believer’s rhythms and routines. And why Timothy Tennent describes the followers of Jesus as “people of hope” who can “look to the future and know with confidence that God is in control and he will someday set all things right.”3
While we may not be familiar with the use of laments, God provides some great templates for us. Over one-third of the Psalms are laments!4 We’ve been given easy access to a library of laments to pour over, not only giving us permission to put this into practice but providing words for us to use.
As we begin to familiarize ourselves with this unique form of prayer, we will notice that most laments contain four elements, in which the author of the lament:5
- Directs her complaint to God: “O Lord, how many are my foes!” (Psalm 3).
- Describes her suffering, “My tears have been my food, day and night” (Psalm 42).
- Depends on God to come to her aid: “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself!” (Psalm 44).
- Dwells on God’s faithfulness and goodness: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love” (Psalm 13).
Biblical laments demonstrate that the order of these elements does not matter, nor does equal representation. What I have always loved about these special Psalms is that no matter how dire the situation, the writer always comes back to faith, to hope.
Hope Is a Song
As with any other unfamiliar skill on the planet, the only way we’ll get better at tapping into our emotions and asking God for help with hope is to practice! Let’s use Psalm 13 to speak aloud our very own anguish. You can simply read the words and make them your prayer, or you can take what’s given and modify the words to fit your specific situation:
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?Psalm 13 NIV
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Sometimes it helps to use various translations or even a paraphrase to get the heart of what is being said. Psalm 13 in The Message is a great one to try.
The Psalms are rich,6 and they have much to teach us about this practice of lament, so they can be our song book. But they can also be a springboard, launching us into our own laments.
Remember, a lament isn’t just grumbling – it’s describing our pain/suffering directly to God in hope so that we depend on Him and dwell on His faithfulness and goodness (our reason for hope). So, as you work your way through the laments found in the Psalms, make it a habit to see how each psalmist weaves these elements throughout their prayer so that you can do the same in yours.
Friends, suffering is inescapable, but we have a Savior who makes Himself available to us. He wants to hear us. He longs to heal us. He desires to be our hope. So, cry out to Him with the holy expectancy that He will!
“Hope is a song sung when everything else says you shouldn’t be singing. Hope is joy. Hope is a testimony that says ‘even if it doesn’t come true, I will live like it might.’ Hope is what helps us survive. Hope is little light.”Pádraig Ó Tuama, In The Shelter page 178
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- 1 – “Science Behind Why Naming Our Feelings Makes Us Happier” article
- 2 – JD Walt, Feb 25, Soundtrack
- 3 – May 28, Timothy Tennent, Asbury Seminary’s president,
- 4 – Here’s a list of the laments in Psalms – it’s a compilation from several lists and not perfect nor complete, but it is a great start. I’ve done my best to split up the individual laments from the communal/corporate laments:
- The psalms of “individual complaint” are: Psalm 3–7, 10, 13, 17, 22, 25-28, 31, 32, 38, 39, 42, 43, 51, 54-57, 59, 61, 63, 64, 69–71, 77, 86, 88, 94, 102, 109, 120, 130, and 140-43.
- The psalms of “communal complaint” are: 12, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, and 89-90.
- 5 – “The Art of Lament” article by Gospel Coalition
- 6 – I think you’ll be amazed at how specific some of the Psalms are – some are about illness (Psalm 6), slander (Psalm 35), deception (Psalm 55–especially v.21), doubt (Psalm 71), stress (Psalm 102–especially vv.1-12), grief (Psalms 13, 77), discouragement (Psalm 143), when life beats us up (Psalms 88), when we feel abandoned (Psalm 38), when we’re tempted toward comparison (Psalm 73).
- Our “This Hope” playlist has some good laments.
- Not on our playlist, but Cory Asbury’s song “Unraveling” is an example of a modern lament.
Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
- Remember this week we are meditating (or ruminating) on Romans 5:1-11 CSB. But, if one of the laments is capturing the words of your soul, please go with it!
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world!