“God! you walked off and left us, kicked our defenses to bits and stalked off angry.
Come back. Oh please, come back!
You shook earth to the foundations, ripped open huge crevasses. Heal the breaks! Everything’s coming apart at the seams.” Ps. 60
Maybe you’ve heard this line of prayer alone in your car; after a fight with your spouse, a run in with your boss, or when you found yourself betrayed and beat down.
But in church?
And that’s a loss. Most of us have been taught that we shouldn’t complain, that you ‘get what you get and don’t throw a fit.’ In fact, many of the people I’ve worked with see complaining to God as a sign of weakness or disrespect.
Many of us are afraid to show God our anger, hurt and confusion at how the world seems to be spiraling out of control, and so we pray pretend prayers where we put on our best face and try to squeeze out thankfulness.
That’s not what you find from David. Or even Jesus. Definitely not Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Asaph, Paul, or a whole lot of other folks throughout the Bible. In fact, about 1/3 of the Psalms, the prayerbook of the Bible, are laments. Meaning that about a third of the written prayers in the Bible are complaints, shouts of anguish, pleas of grief, and statements of betrayal and hurt.
When we don’t learn to lament, when we try to bypass pain and move onto ‘positive thoughts and feelings’, we avoid trusting God. Which means our prayers remain shallow, though sweet sounding, and we stay stagnant in our trust of Him.
Here’s a short breakdown of a lamenting prayer found in Psalm 142 (MSG). I’d encourage you to get out a pen and paper and begin writing out your own laments, following the pattern given to us in this and many other Psalms.
Laments tend to have 5 basic parts:
An address/introductory cry
A statement of the problem (lament)
A confession of trust
Address and Introductory Cry
I cry out loudly to God,
loudly I plead with God for mercy.
I spill out all my complaints before him,
and spell out my troubles in detail:
When was the last time you did this? When was the last time you cried out loudly to God? When was the last time you groaned or yelled when you were in your car alone? Can you remember when you spilled out all your complaints or spelled out all your troubles?
Lament (the problem)
As I sink in despair, my spirit ebbing away,
you know how I’m feeling,
Know the danger I’m in,
the traps hidden in my path.
Look right, look left—
there’s not a soul who cares what happens!
I’m up against it, with no exit—
bereft, left alone.
How often have you felt pinned in on all sides? That no matter what you do, somethings gonna come up and knock you out? Alone. Forgotten. Abandoned to chaos.
Confession of Trust
I cry out, God, call out:
‘You’re my last chance, my only hope for life!’
Listen to this confession of trust. It’s not pretty. It’s “God, you either show up and take care of me, or else I fall apart.”
Prayer of Petition
Rescue me from those who are hunting me down;
I’m no match for them.
Get me out of this dungeon
so I can thank you in public.
When did you last beg God to save you from your troubles? Whether they be coming from inside or outside of you? Maybe your dungeon is the critical thoughts that beat you down 24/7 from the inside. Maybe addiction is hunting you down, maybe it’s adultery, pride, religion, or something else.
Your people will form a circle around me
and you’ll bring me showers of blessing!
David trusts that God will get him out of this, and then he knows it will turn everyone’s attention to God.
Try writing out your hurt, bewilderment, anger, complaint, or grief on your own.
Here’s a lament I recently scratched out:
God, what happened? What’s going on? Why do I feel like you up and left.
I’ve been doing everything you put in front of me. I’ve been taking ‘the next right step’, but I feel like I stepped in a trap.
I can’t take any more blows. I’m tired, worn out and exhausted.
I know you can take care of all this. I’ve seen you do it before. Countless times I’ve seen you show up and put things in order.
Almighty, please don’t leave me in this. Don’t leave me hanging. Show up. Fight alongside me. Help me know where to land my blows. Gather up your angel armies and wage a fight against the apathy, divisiveness, fear-mongering and gossip that surrounds me.
When you show up, people will see. They’ll see how good you are, how strong you are and how gracious you are.