It can be easy to connect with God and spend time reading the Bible when we feel peaceful and happy with everything in our lives. But what do we do when pain and loss have slammed into us, when our lives and hearts are a chaotic mess? It can be especially difficult to connect with God then, as questions bubble up from deep within us—“How could God allow this?” “Did God cause this?” “Can I trust God?” “Does God care?” We might keep going through the motions of our spiritual lives, reading our Bible dutifully and pretending all is well, yet never acknowledging the anger and pain inside of us. Or we might be in so much pain that we bolt away from God, enraged, and never look back.
Where can we go?
The amazing thing is that the Bible actually calls to us precisely during these times, pleading to us to talk to God about all that we’re feeling, rather than hiding or pretending like everything is fine. How does Scripture do this? It gives us example after example of people connecting with God not just during the joyful days but during the black-cloud, howling-wind, driving-rain days. People pour out their anger, disappointment, confusion, and feelings of betrayal. We see Hannah weeping bitterly before God (1 Samuel 1:1-11), Jeremiah accusing God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7), and Jonah spewing out his anger (Jonah 4:1-4). We even see Jesus himself, feeling crushed almost to death with sorrow, pleading with God to take away his suffering (Matthew 26:37-38).
The book of Psalms is filled with brutally honest, no-holds-barred prayers called laments. In laments, people pour out their complaints to God, honestly expressing their grief, doubts, and fears. At the same time they plead with God to act on their behalf, because part of them still trusts God. Indeed, much of their suffering comes from the tension between the fact that God supposedly loves them but has allowed their suffering. Rather than hiding what they are feeling, they speak the painful truth, bringing their confusion to the very God they’re struggling to understand and trust. Giving voice to the hurt is actually a sign of faith, of a robust and healthy relationship. It opens a door for real communication, intimacy, and reconciliation.
Almost half of the psalms are considered laments (67 out of 150). Take some time to read a few of these laments—perhaps Psalms 13 and 88. As you read, can you hear the complaints? The accusations? The requests? Have you ever talked to God like this? Are there things in these psalms that you would never dare say to God? Are there things in your own heart you would never dare say to God?
As you explore the laments, it’s helpful to know that laments often contain some or all of these elements:
- Direct address to God, such as “O God” or “O Lord”
- Review of God’s faithfulness in the past (see Psalm 44:1-3)
- Complaint (see Psalm 44:9-19, 22)
- Confession of sin or claim of innocence (see Psalm 44:20-21)
- Request for help (see Psalm 44:23, 26)
- God’s response, which is often not stated (see Psalm 28:6)
- Vow to praise or statement of trust in God (see Psalm 44:4-8)
Not all laments include all of these elements, nor in this order. However, one part is always present: the complaint. If there is no complaint, it’s not a lament. Complaining to God? This can be hard for those of us who “would never complain to God,” or if we’re willing to risk a complaint, have to quickly follow it up with something positive. See Psalm 88 for our official permission to not wrap up every prayer with a joyful praise. And remember that just as in our human relationships, our relationship with God will only be as deep as our willingness to be real.
Give it a try
Writing a lament can be a good way to begin fostering deeper intimacy with God. Start by thinking of something painful in your life, something you wish were different. Then start writing as if you were talking directly to God, using some or all of the steps listed above. You can jumble up the order and use as few or as many as you like. Remember that the complaint is the only essential element.
Don’t be discouraged if you find this exercise difficult. All of us have had experiences when we told someone how we felt, and they didn’t respond well. They may have become angry, defensive, and dismissive; they may have abandoned us altogether. Those experiences make it desperately hard for us to be honest with God, because we expect (even at a subconscious level) for God to respond in the same way. Take courage: God can handle your strong emotions. In fact, God wants to handle them.
When we take the risk of pouring out the depths of our heart to God, holding nothing back, God will meet us and will begin to heal us. After all, it’s in the mess that we’ll truly find God, and be found by God in return.
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