As I’m reading the Psalms, one of my favorite things is how emotionally honest they are. David and the other psalm writers don’t whitewash their feelings—they put them out there, raw and “unspiritual” though they may be. Some psalms soar in choruses of joy; others pound out refrains of anger. And then there are the ones that are pretty much sobs put to paper.
At least 50 of the Psalms fall into that last category. These songs of anguish are frequently referred to as laments—cries of grief intended to go straight to the Lord’s ears. I recently heard this definition of a lament from Gregg DeMey, a pastor in Chicago: “To lament is to tell the difficult truth to someone who loves you in the hope that it will make a difference.”
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
How often do I get at least one of the pieces of that definition wrong? Sometimes I’m not transparent with God, and my prayer never gets past the surface to how I’m really feeling. Or maybe at times I tell him the difficult truth, but I don’t really think he cares. Or maybe, if I’m honest, I’m not convinced he can do anything about it.
One of the most fascinating aspects of these laments is the way they tend to make an emotional pivot before the psalm wraps up. Despair turns to hope. Fear turns to faith. Doubt turns to praise.
But I am trusting you, O Lord,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
So how do we get to that crucial but? How can we turn the corner from lament to trust? I’m noticing a surprising trend in these laments: while they begin with I, they tend to land closer to we. When I’m hurting, my default is to shrink inward, turtle-like. But if these psalms are any indication, we need community to process pain.
Love the Lord, all you godly ones!…
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord!
Here’s a challenge for all of us in the week ahead: Let’s tell God the difficult truth. Knowing that he loves us. In the hope that it will make a difference. And let’s not do it alone.