“As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
ever preserve me!
For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me. “
Do you ever come before God in prayer and feel as though there is nothing else in your heart but weariness? I do. There have been days lately when the posture of entering his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4) has not come all that naturally. David had those moments, too. In fact the Book of Psalms speaks of the many times he lamented before God. King David, the mighty warrior who slew tens of thousands, also broke down in desperate cries for help towards the God he loved.
I never had a problem believing that God allows suffering and that his children are not immune to emotional grief and pain. I have experienced sorrows early in life but for the most part, I refused to lament. I did not understand why Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 Mourning, even when it was absolutely appropriate, seemed like a waste of time and tears. I was afraid of getting trapped in a useless emotional quicksand when what I wanted was to be done with grief, as soon as possible. Just preach Romans 8:28 to me please and let’s move on (now). Unlike the psalmist, I had no desire to talk to God about my sorrows.
Later in life I eventually realized that God lovingly listens to our lament. “You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” Psalm 10:17 (NIV). Jesus promises comfort to those who mourn and he looks tenderly at our honest expression of need. When we are too proud to look at our losses, when we would rather hide our wounds and deny the weariness of our souls, we are shutting the doors through which his grace and mercy flow.
A faith-filled Christian is not a stoic human being unaffected by grief. Such is not the character of our Savior – “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). On the cross, Jesus cried “I thirst.” (John 19:28) He even pleaded to his Father “why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) He who knows the depths of our hearts will not despise our cries of anguish. He who designed us to experience both gladness and sadness delights in hearing our praises as well as our pleas.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” John 16:20
To lament requires humility – to admit before God that we are not strong, we are not able, we are not enough. It is not an act of arrogance or hostility towards God. When we lament as the psalmist did, we embrace our nothingness and acknowledge our greatest need which is Christ. Biblical lament involves turning our eyes to God instead of focusing on the self. This takes us to a place of grace where we become little and Christ becomes much. There is perhaps no other path on our journey wherein the Good Shepherd walks the closest with us than through the valley of lament. In times of deepest need, we realize we have nothing of worth to give to him, and yet he gives of himself to us in abundance as he preserves and strengthens us. He meets us in our weakness with his steadfast love and faithfulness. He does not restrain his mercy but lavishly pours it out to sustain and transform us.
Endurance and compassion are not learned in the lofty peaks of victory. They are formed in our character as we lament before our Lord during those long nights in the hospital, through tears over a loved one’s grave, when failure becomes all too familiar and relationships are beyond repair. Here in the valley of lament, Christ draws us to himself who is our Light and leads us to the next step on our journey even though the fog that surrounds us has not fully lifted. We grow in gratitude as we discover that indeed, there is enough light where we are standing as long as we are standing with him.
“Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering. The love of God is of a different nature altogether. It does not hate tragedy. It never denies reality. It stands in the very teeth of suffering.” Elisabeth Elliot