My faith journey started out simple. I grew up in a Christian home, and I loved the Lord and wanted to follow Jesus from a young age. As I matured through my teenage years and into early adulthood, I still had a sense that a relationship with God was pretty straightforward: Do what’s right, don’t do what’s wrong, read your Bible, pray, go to church, and serve. Still great ideas, right? But even though I wouldn’t have qualified it that way at the time, I think I viewed our relationship as more transactional than personal. When difficult circumstances and emotions came up, I just needed to push through them to trust God and pray, and then it should be easy to be happy and peaceful because God is taking care of everything.
To be perfectly honest, sometimes it seemed to work. Of course, God really is taking care of everything, and He always offers us His peace as we come to Him. But as time went on and life challenges grew heavier and heavier, I found that a key practice was missing, and I couldn’t go any farther on the journey of faith without it.
Lament might not have been the word I would have chosen at the time, but I reached a point in heartache and discouragement where my prayers struggled to find words, and the Psalms of lament became my lifeline.
“How long, Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?”
- Psalm 13:1-2 (NIV)
The words of David so resonated with my heart that they became my own. The cries of the psalmists gave voice to the cries within me that I didn’t know what to do with or how to express. I distinctly remember many times in that difficult season where my fingertips would touch the anguished words on the page of a Psalm as my eyes filled with tears. “This is what I want to pray, Father. Please hear the cry of my heart.”
And in that moment I truly knew the Lord heard that ancient Psalm of lament as a fresh prayer from my heart to His. As I continued to lift up prayers of lament and grief--sometimes with the words of the psalmists, sometimes with my own, and sometimes even just letting my tears be prayers before Him--I began to become more aware of the nearness of the presence of Jesus in the midst of my pain. He didn’t need me to hold it all together. Instead, He allowed me to experience the truth of Psalm 34:18 (NIV):
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
But it was only as I honestly poured out my grief, pain, and questions to God that I could also honestly come to the same place in my heart as David’s conclusion to Psalm 13. Only after bringing his “how long” questions and the fullness of his grief and lament did he pen these closing words:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.”
- Psalm 13:5-6 (NIV
The lessons in lament I learned in that season two decades ago are ones I have had to revisit often over the years and continually as well. While I especially think of the big experiences of grief such as my husband’s illness and passing a few years ago, broken friendships, the division in our nation, and the heartache and difficulties surrounding the pandemic, I am often reminded that the practice of lament is helpful in the everyday struggles and comparatively smaller losses, too.
When we sidestep the opportunity to pause and lament, we miss something of intimacy with Jesus, the One who bears our burdens and carries our sorrows. (See Isaiah 53:4.) But when we fully open our hearts to lament in the presence of God, our hearts can open more fully to receive His comfort and embrace His joy as well. Our hearts are free when we hold nothing back. So my prayer for you echoes the words of David once more:
“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”
- Psalm 62:8 (NIV)
*Photo credit to Paola Chaaya from Unsplash
Ruth Heinzmann lives in southern Illinois and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in spiritual formation. She enjoys serving in the worship and student ministries at her local church, spending time in nature (with a soft spot for sunrises and sunsets), and hanging out with her niece whenever possible. Ruth has a desire to look for the gifts of grace God provides in every season and circumstance, and she writes a weekly “Treasure Hunt Tuesday” email to share some of those gifts and encouragement. Her website is outofhisfullness.com, where you can read more of her writing and sign up to receive the treasure hunt emails. You can also connect with her on Instagram and Twitter at @rheinz22.