Monday, July 11, 2022
I remember as a kid we had about a 30 minute drive to Church every Sunday. Now, you put 2 adults and 3 kids in a car for a half hour and there’s bound to be some excitement, maybe even some conflict. Somebody is going to say or do something to annoy someone else and that kind of stuff is contagious so that by the time we get to Church everyone’s cross with each other and in a bad mood. But it always amazed me that when we got out of the car and walked into church people smile and we smiled back, how are you? I’m fine, how are you. It was like someone flipped a switch and we instantly turned off all of the bad feelings. Was it really that easy? Of course not. We just stuffed the bad feelings back inside and pretended it was okay.
Human beings learn to do that a lot. We hide our pain and gloss it over with fake smiles and civility. Now, there’s a certain amount of this that is necessary. If you work at Chick Fil A and you had a fight with your boyfriend before your shift started, the Jones family doesn’t want to buy your drama along with their chicken sandwich so you learn to tough it out, smile and at the end of the order respond, “My pleasure.” But you can’t hide those bad feelings forever. Everyone needs someone that they can go to and share their hurt and sadness and tears. Ideally, church should be a place where we can do that, where we can find grace even on our worst days. I realize that not all churches feel like safe spaces to share our painful emotions so some keep on pretending.
The Bible reminds us over and over again that we don’t have to pretend with God. The Psalms are an example of how open God is to receiving all of our feelings. There are Psalms of joy and thanksgiving, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”! There are also songs of complaint, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” The Bible says that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. God wouldn’t ask us to do something that He is not willing to do. God is willing to share both our joyful moments and painful experiences. God wants us to feel freedom to bring everything to him. When you pray God wants you to bring your whole self to him, the parts that love and celebrate, and the parts that hurt and complain. In fact, there is one type of prayer that is specifically about bringing our pain to God. It’s called a prayer or a psalm of lament.
Psalm 77 is a psalm of lament. Take a minute to read Psalm 77 if you haven’t already. There’s no warm up here- there’s no “Dear Lord, you are holy, great and glorious. Dear Lord, on this day we thank thee for all they bountiful gifts and we ask thee to bless us…. Etc…” Instead he jumps right in with essentially “God my life sucks right now and I keep telling you about it and I’m not getting anywhere. Have you forgotten me God?” That’s a prayer of lament. There’s no pretense here. God, things are terrible, I feel awful and it doesn’t feel like you even care.”
As you read Psalm 77 you might notice that the whole first half of the Psalm is just full of complaining. It’s like the prayer brings all of these painful feels to God and gives a big emotion dump. And then between vs. 9 and 10 I feel there’s kind of a pause… we got all of the pain and anger out on the table.
Just as an aside, did you know that the practice of writing down a painful or traumatic memory can aid in the process of healing that trauma? Something about the practice of writing actually moves the trauma from a part of your brain that has trouble letting go, to another part that is more able to deal with it. Could it be that the very process of writing down his prayer of lament to God helped his brain begin the process of healing?
In the second half of the Psalm he is able to think and remember differently. He is able to recall all of the ways in the past that God has done miracles and healing and turned sadness into joy and darkness into light and death into life. It’s a totally different feeling from the first half of the prayer. The complaints have given way to praises. The despair has given way to hope. The painful and traumatic memories have fallen away and revealed a powerful and compassionate God who can and will make all things right if we continue to trust and pour out our hearts to him.
So next time you’re carrying a lot of pain and hurt, you might have to suck it up and sell someone their chicken sandwich and smile about it, but then when you have the space and the time, bring that pain to God in prayer and allow him to heal and transform your heart.
- When you are hurting and need to tell someone how you are really feeling, who is your go-to person?
- When was the last time you brought a painful feeling to God in a prayer of lament?
- If you’ve never felt safe or comfortable bringing pain or complaint to God, bring that fear to God and ask God to help you explore what might be keeping you from feeling free to be open and honest with all of your feelings.