Several years ago, I sat with a friend in a hospital room on a summer afternoon. She and her husband had just delivered a baby at 20 weeks, who did not survive. A group of family and friends gathered that afternoon to grieve, cry and pray together as we both met and said goodbye to this precious child. After a few hours, people started to disperse to get dinner, go to the restroom, and stretch their legs, and I was alone with this dear friend.
We sat quietly next to the window and after a few moments of silence I distinctly remember saying, “I know it doesn’t feel like it in any way, but I just feel like we need to say this out loud: God is still good.” We looked at each through tears and nodded to one another and just wept for the pain and loss… but clung desperately to what we knew was true. Even when it didn’t feel like it.
If only my reaction to pain, loss, waiting and suffering was always this way. I want it to be. Oh, how I want it to be. I want to believe the things that are true. But it’s really hard. When it comes to wanting more and desiring something other than what we have, or hoping FOR something while still hoping IN God alone, the word that comes to mind for me is lament.
Lament as a category was first introduced to me by my pastor eight and a half years ago in a series on the book of Job, and it is something I’ve come back to over and over and over. And over. Lament gives me a category for the pain of waiting for an answer, while still hoping in something eternal. The pain of hoping for something embedded in your soul, knowing that it may never blossom into fruition. The pain and sorrow that comes with firsthand knowledge of the brokenness of sin.
But what are we supposed to do? How do we respond in the waiting and hoping?
Lament can be described as, “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow,” and it is seen throughout the Bible, perhaps most clearly in the Psalms. In one of his sermons
on Job, my pastor described six elements of lament as seen in the Psalms, using Psalm 3 as an example:
- Address – “O Lord…” (Ps 3:1a)
- Complaint – “…how many are my foes!” (3:1b)
- Trust – “But you are a shield…” (3:3)
- Deliverance – “Arise, O Lord…” (3:7)
- Assurance – “For you have struck all my enemies on the jaw…” (3:7b)
- Praise – “From the Lord comes deliverance” (3:7)
As I think about these elements, I see how often I stop at the complaint stage. I have a complaint, and it’s overwhelming… and I never move to trust, deliverance, assurance, or praise. Because I stop with my emotion, I miss the comfort God longs to provide in my sorrow, waiting, and suffering.
Trust means rehearsing truth about who God is. And often, in the midst of pain, waiting, and trial, it’s the hardest step to take because it does not match up with my emotions. If I’ve been fervently asking God for something and He has either delayed His answer or has said, “No,” I don’t feel like He is trustworthy, loving, sovereign, or good. Hospital rooms that are supposed to be celebrating life and are instead grieving death do not make you feel like God is good.
I know that I am often tied to my emotional perception of reality (aren’t we all?), which means that rehearsing truth in a dark or difficult season is a discipline – it does not come easily or naturally. My flesh screams against it, but I have chosen to follow Jesus. I choose to believe His Word is true whether I feel like it or not. When it feels like He’s withholding good things that I long for, though it’s good for me to honestly lament and bring my complaint before Him, I must also point myself back to the truth. I must continue to ask for His deliverance, I must assure my feeble heart of His goodness, and I must choose to praise Him.
There is absolutely nothing easy about lament, and practicing biblical lament can be exhausting. Especially if you have friends like Job who offer shallow answers to painful questions. But lament offers us a chance to choose how we respond. To choose to work through what we’re hoping for, where we are, what we want, what we know is true, and who God is, in order to praise Him. And I want to do that. I want to be there. I want to praise, even when I wait. When I have asked, and asked, and am clinging to hope for a future I can’t entirely wrap my brain around.
So dear friend who is asking, waiting, hurting, hoping, suffering, and lamenting… I am so sorry for your pain.
May I encourage you to consider the discipline of lament? To choose your response instead of allowing your emotions to dictate distrust and unbelief? As hard as it is, as painful as it can be, may I encourage you to rehearse the truth of who God is today? To move from complaint to trust, deliverance, assurance, and yes, even praise?
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
*photo from Ruth Simons’ new book, “Gracelaced,” available Sept. 1.