How Do I Lament in the Midst of Joy?

A woman sitting looking away in sadness.

Sometimes a day carries both joy and sadness in overflowing measures. I had a chance to witness an incredible event today with family and friends at our church. My niece was baptized. Somehow, in a moment, I could only see my sister was not there to share something we would have been beaming from ear to ear over. A crescendo of joy flowed through my heart. Then deep sadness and longing for a person who has been gone for over thirty years arrived on the scene. I suppose I will always miss her. When I see her smile on her daughter’s face or hear her grandchild’s giggle, it is an echo of what we are all missing. Even the ones who have not ever met her here on earth.

Psalm 77 is a psalm of lament suitable for whenever my heart is heavy. Using these verses as prompts, I can pray through a road map directing me to a place where I have space to express my real feelings, ask questions and find peace. I must travel through this valley. If I fail to continue on the journey and try to bypass feeling my feelings, the heaviness will likely ambush me later. Then anger might spew forth, causing damage to an innocent victim. My doubts carried for miles may weigh me down and cause overwhelming fatigue. Finding a place of peace with God is a journey best taken in a psalm of lament as a soul-tending practice. Each verse of this psalm offers a handhold to safeguard my forward progress through grief.

1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. 
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 
3 When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah 

As I declare verse one aloud, I am reminded that God does hear me. He hears me in the night, in the day of trouble, and even when my soul refuses comfort. As I remember God, I am overwhelmed and struggle to find words to express all I feel. I try to deeply think about God, but my mind can’t grasp it all and becomes faint at the effort. Finally, at the end of verse three, I see the word “Selah.” Scholars cannot agree on exactly what the word means, but it appears to put forth the idea of pause and being still. So, at this moment, I choose to be still before God and just be with Him.

Prayer Pause

Lord, help me to settle my mind simply on you and kneel before you in surrender and be still.

(On a very practical note, I have to set a timer to do this because otherwise, I spend the entire time wondering if I should be done yet.)

4 You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old, the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search.
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

Have you ever been so sad, anxious, or angry that you couldn’t sleep? Yet, the picture of God holding my eyes open feels profoundly true in those moments. It is as if He is saying to me, “Seriously, we need to talk.”

As I respond to Him, I might well begin to review my own history and search my heart. Then questions fill my mind, just like the ones the Psalmist begs in verses seven, eight, and nine. All this is so much to process that I will need to pause once again before the Lord and ask Him to help me see a new perspective.

Prayer Pause

Lord, as we meet in the dark of the night and the escape of sleep eludes me, I come before you and consider our history together. Lord, search me and allow me to ask you the probing and challenging questions. Are you bringing something good out of all this? How long until you answer my requests? Have you given up on me? I surrender again all my rights to be in the know. You know all the things so that I don’t have to carry that burden. Thank you. I now pause to be thankful for You.

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?

14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.

15 You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

Psalm 77:10-15 ESV

Verse ten reveals a bend in the road where the journey brings me to a new place. I will choose to rejoice in the right hand of the Most High. I give thanks for God’s hand that has rescued me, guided me, and provided everything for my life. I will choose today to remember the deeds of you, LORD. I am in awe of Your wonders. I will decide to ponder all Your work and mighty deeds. Your way is holy and set apart for me. The path You ask me to take is for Your higher purposes. Others serve gods who are nothing like You. Not only do You work wonders for all of Your people, but You also make known Your might and strength and power in public on purpose, so no one can say they do not know. God, You redeem Your people and your daughter in the family line of Jacob and Joseph because of Jesus’ work on the cross. You made me part of your forever family. All of this is worthy of my meditation today.

Prayer Pause

As I remember all You have done for my loved ones and me, I am in awe. I see how You have been so gracious for generations. Your ways are holy and beyond my own limited understanding. Help me to grow into greater trust and obedience as I follow you more faithfully. Whenever doubts come at me, help me to remember Your deeds. Help me to remember Your endlessly redemptive work in my life and in this world.

16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled.

17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world;

the earth trembled and shook.

19 Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Psalm 77:16-20 ESV

Just in case I might forget Your mighty works, You are so kind to display them to me every single day. At the end of each day, you reveal a stunning sunset, and then the following day, you provide a magnificent sunrise. You take me through the green valleys and up onto the mountain majesties. Whenever I see wild storms, lightning displays, and water directed and controlled by You, I know that You hold it all together. Thank you for moment-by-moment displays of Your power. I am always in need of reminders.

Prayer Pause

Thank you, Father, for allowing me to live in a place where I see Your handiwork on display all day and every day. By the power of Your Holy Spirit, give me fresh eyes to see it. Let me not miss a demonstration of Your might and power. Thank you for your generosity. You are willing and able to give daily demonstrations that leave me in awe. You parted the Red Sea to save your people. You will carry me through whatever difficulties and bring me safely home and into your eternal promised land someday. Please sustain me in my journey with you and bring peace and healing to my grieving heart. Amen

Why not try praying through a psalm today? The psalms are the original collection of prayers and devotions. Jesus himself often pulled from them in prayer. If you do, let me know how it goes. I would love to hear what you discover.

Can I Break Free from the Grip of Anxiety?

The armor of God


The Oxford dictionary defines anxiety as: “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

My childhood was steeped in a tradition of ominous concern for all outcomes. My mother is particularly gifted in creating worst-case scenarios. She was an apocalyptic prepper long before it became trendy.
Honestly, my inheritance of anxiety has been nourished and watered by me for many years. It’s a hard habit to break. My default setting is to worry first and pray later. I must intentionally surrender my fears and anxieties to God.

Does anxiety have a paralyzing grip on me?

Anxiety leaves me feeling small and weak and quite focused on myself.

Psalm 13 is a psalm of lament. The author feels desperate and without hope. I believe psalms of lament provide a liturgy for processing through feelings of deep sadness and fear. As I read the first two verses of Psalm 13, I notice the author feels overwhelmed with a state of lack and longing. Telling God exactly how I feel is never a problem. Crying out to him provides a chance to process my feelings, and that is the only healthy way to process them.

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

In these opening verses, the psalmist expresses frustration with delay. “How long?” is a question focused on what I don’t have. I want a right now solution. The psalmist focuses on what he believes has not been considered or attended to by God. Have I questioned God’s timing on solving a problem I have prayed about? Choosing to believe that I am not getting what I deserve, and God is neglecting me, may cause me to become spiritually vulnerable to the enemy’s deceptions. I can choose to stop feeding the anxiety beast and stop focusing on what I don’t have.
How long? The real answer to that question is when it’s the best time according to God. The ideal timing of God’s provision for anything I ask for is based on things I don’t even know that I don’t know. Releasing my urgent need to know, brings freedom and peace.

The question in verse 2 feels like it was taken directly from my own life. “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”

Have I taken counsel or advice only from myself at times? Yes.

I believe that God designed us to thrive in community. Isolation can lead to seeking advice based solely on my own experience. Sometimes I need a fresh perspective from a godly friend or mentor. All too often, isolation can lead to sorrow or even depression. I can feel isolated in a room full of people. One lie that I have believed at times is that I am the only one to have experienced something. Or I am the only one to have made such a terrible mistake. There is very little new under the sun. If I am willing to be vulnerable with a trusted friend or family member, I might find someone else who can help me carry the burden, because he or she has traveled this road as well.
The second part of verse 2 asked about my enemy. Who is my enemy? The person who cut me off in traffic. The family member who betrayed my trust. The church leader who failed me when I needed her help the most. In the pain of the moment, any human may play a role.

Who is our real enemy?

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesian 6:12 ESV
My true enemy is Satan, and he utilizes spiritual forces that trespass into heavenly places. The good news is that God has provided the ultimate victory for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul goes on to challenge us to put on our spiritual armor.
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…Ephesians 6:13-18 ESV

When do I need to put on my armor?

We are called to suit up daily with the armor of God. Pray through each piece of armor and ask God to provide this for you and those you love. Carefully pray each verse and imagine you are putting each piece on.

  • Fasten on the belt of truth
  • Put on the breastplate of righteousness,
  • Put on the shoes for your feet, the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
  • Take up the shield of faith
  • Put on the helmet of salvation,
  • Carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God

What are the benefits of using the armor of God?

Suiting up with God’s armor will break the grip anxiety has on our minds and hearts. Putting on the armor will also free us up to accomplish some important kingdom-building work.

  • Praying at all times – continually praying throughout the day and night
  • Praying in the Holy Spirit – letting God guide our prayer agendas • Keeping alert –avoiding distractions
  • Persevering— keep going• Receiving a renewed opportunity to pray for other Christians

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for your provision in times of fear and uncertainty. It is far too easy for me to allow anxiety to overwhelm and isolate me. Help me to cry out to you first and foremost. Help me to seek God’s counsel from friends and family. Remind me daily to put on the spiritual armor you have so generously provided. Help me to walk daily in greater freedom by surrendering every fear to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Are You Giving Margin for Lament?

(Actual photo of the deer that treat my front yard as a salad bar.)

Everyone I know experienced loss in 2020. Job loss, death, illness, cancellation of special events, long months of separation from loved ones, financial struggles, depression, strain on marriages, anxiety and more was served up in abundance to everyone.

What do I do when faced with a sad situation, a significant loss or a painful transition?

I believe there is a need, hard-wired into our soul, to grieve, process and lament pain. Stuffing it down only lengthens the healing pathway or avoids it entirely.

Psalm 42 is written as a lament. It begins with the vivid picture of thirsty animal.

1As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
 for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 42:1-2 ESV

The Master Designer of humans created me with a need for Him. My soul literally thirsts and hungers to be in God’s presence. Far too often shame, guilt, sadness, and depression keep me from running to the only one who can fill my needs. I might even try to satisfy myself with people and things, but only God can water my parched soul.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 42:3-4 ESV

In times of deep grieving my tears have truly been my food day and night. Sometimes well-meaning friends offer empty platitudes or pointed questions that provide no hope or encouragement. While I long to gather in God’s house, I’m pouring out what little energy I might have left on my grief journey. The steps in processing grief must be taken one by one. Rushing back into a festival or celebration would be disorienting until the work of grieving in completed.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation
and my God.My soul is cast down within me; therefore, I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Psalm 42:5-6 ESV

Part of any grieving journey requires some soul searching and an exploration of why. My own feeling sometimes surprises me. My hope is found in God and that is a handhold in the dark way that must be traveled. Can I call to mind times of God’s faithfulness in my life? Making a list might bring a fresh spring of encouragement. The psalmist recalls the unchanging landmarks in the land where he lives as he travels the uncertain territory of processing grief. What are the places where God has shown himself large and active in my life? Shall I place a stone of remembrance there to bear testimony of what He has done for me?

Thank you, God that you provide a map for traveling the pathway of grieving. You give abundant margin for me to bring all my deepest and darkest feelings to you. You are always available to hear my cries. You never tire of reminding me of what you have done for me. Help me to travel the grieving pathway at your pace. Not running ahead or giving up but moving ever forward to great healing that can only come from you. AMEN

How do you leave margin to process grief? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Leaving Room for Lament

Leaving Room for Lament

I listened to a wonderful podcast recently from Annie F. Downs (Episode #221) as she interviewed Pastor Eugene Cho. Cho talked about a need to lament in this season of Corona virus.  Have you given yourself permission to lament lately? Pastor Cho asked.

I think it is challenging to make room for lament in a culture that encourages us to move on, avoid, and move past suffering. Who wants to get stuck in suffering’s waiting room?

What is lament?

Lament is a form of prayer where we cry out to the Lord and express our pain point. We see this modeled in the Bible. One third of the Psalms were written in the lament form. There is actually a whole book of Lamentations in the Bible. Even Jesus lamented from the cross in Psalm 22. A great study on lament is tucked into the book of Job. There we see poor Job experience the worst losses perhaps anyone has ever experienced.

In chapter one, Job loses everything. He loses all his adult children, most of his servants, all his livestock, and everything else he owned. Almost all that filled Job’s life to overflowing was systematically wiped out with a brutal efficiency.

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ (Job 3:1-3 ESV)

In this chapter Job launches a volley of questions and laments in a long procession that makes room for the grief he is experiencing. He needs to do this. He must unload the weight of all he is experiencing in the ultimate safety that exists in the sacred space we occupy with God when we pray.

Human nature is to blame others. We try to move as far away from our pain and what we perceive to be its source as is possible. We make excuses and create distance. We try to numb our pain with food, alcohol, busyness, screen time, escape. These avoidance techniques can look different for everyone.

We want to short-circuit the grieving process and not sit in our pain. We want to move on and run to the next experience. When we do these things, we miss an opportunity for growth. Job laments his pain and spews it out word after painful word.

Many of us have experienced loss during this pandemic. Pastor Cho encourages us to work through our losses by naming them and bringing them into the light. This is necessary, explains Cho, because we try ignoring them, excusing them away, minimizing them by comparison, (it wasn’t as bad as someone else’s loss), stuffing them, obsessing on them. None of that is healthy. Cho suggests we make a list with the Lord. Write the losses and disappointments down and then tell God about them. He already knows, but you will be blessed by doing this. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of the losses you may have lost track of. You might even have losses that you haven’t allowed yourself to even think about. Process through your pain. Failure to do this will result in your spiritual growth getting stunted. In this season, leave room for lament.

Prayer

Blessed are those who lament because you promise in your Word God that we will receive comfort. I ask that you bring a blessing of comfort as we take time to lament our losses. We desperately want to grow and bring honor and glory to you. We want to be strong so we can offer comfort to others from the overflow of all we have received from you. Amen