If you take your story and your wounds seriously, then sooner or later you will find yourself disoriented by tragedy and heartache. The invitation at this point is to lament. When was the last time you just poured out your feelings to God—before editing your words, before making them consistent with some sort of theology? It takes more faith and trust to take our sorrow to God than it does to push down what we are actually feeling. And the surprising result of lament is a renewed sense of freedom and even joy.
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In today’s show, I want to talk about the importance of lament.
And I want to look at the book of Job as a guide to lament. The book of Job demonstrates that lament lies at the core of what it means to engage well with God.
If you take your story seriously, if you take your heart seriously, if you take your wounds seriously—then sooner or later you will find yourself disoriented by the tragedies and heartaches of this world.
Job is the biblical example par excellence of someone whose life is turned upside down by tragedy and heartache. It would behoove us therefore to pay attention to how Job responded to the tragedies of his life.
And the answer is as simple as it is surprising.
Job responded in two primary ways: rage and lament. We talked about rage in an earlier episode. Today we’re going to look at this whole realm of lament.
Before we get into Job’s lament itself, it’s essential to notice that perhaps the most astonishing words in Job 3 are found in the very first verse: Job opened his mouth.
Verse 1 — After this Job opened his mouth. After what?
After he loses his children, his wealth, and his health. After his friends come and sit in silence with him for seven days.
After the silence, after the shock of the pain–as the horror of the pain is actually settling in–Job opens his mouth and speaks.
The first point I’d like to make is that He didn’t have to.
He didn’t have to engage with life, with friends, with God.
He didn’t have to open his mouth and speak of his pain.
He could have taken his own life.
Or he could have killed himself in a different way: he could have numbed himself to his pain.
Pushed his pain down into the basement of his heart. He could have disconnected from the reality of his life.
Job chooses not to deny his pain. He speaks about his pain.
He puts words to his emotional turmoil. He finds language to express his internal reality.
Q: When your world is falling apart, will you open your mouth?
Q: Will you have the courage to express to God what you are truly feeling inside?
Q: If prayer makes you uncomfortable, will you journal your thoughts and feelings?
Q: What would it be like to get a notebook and give words to what is going on inside of you?
When Job opens his mouth and speaks, out comes a lament.
Lament is expressing sorrow, sadness, grief.
Lament is what comes out of you when your dreams are shattered.
Today we find Job engaged in lament:
verse 1 Job cursed the day of his birth.
verse 3 Annul the day that I was born.
and then “Why did I not die at birth?”
He’s wishing that he had never been born. His life is so full of pain that the only thing that brings him comfort is wishing that he had never been born in the first place.
Q: When pain enters your life–whether it’s small or large–what do you think is the Xn response to that pain?
Q: What, in your opinion, should be your attitude when you’re suffering? What are you supposed to do?
It’s common to think,
“I should ask God to increase my faith in Him during this time” or
“the ultimate reason I’m in so much pain is because I have made something in my life more important than God and so I should repent” or
“I should be grateful for what I do have.”
What I want you to see is that Job does none of that.
Job doesn’t ask God to increase his faith, he doesn’t repent of valuing his possessions or his health more than God. He doesn’t think to himself, “I should be grateful for what I have left.”
He doesn’t do any of that. He wishes he was dead. He wishes he had never been born.
Q: Do you feel like it’s somehow ungodly to wish you had never been born, or to wish that you would die?
The problem with thinking this is that there is no shortage of biblical heroes who wished that they were dead.
Rebekah does it in Gen 27.
In Numbers 11 Moses says to God “put me to death right now.”
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah prays that he might die.
In Jonah 4, Jonah says to God “Take my life. It would be better for me to die than to live.”
And then there is Jeremiah, who uttered a lament quite similar to Job in Jer 20:
14 Cursed be the day I was born! …18 Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? Jer 20
Q: What’s wrong with these people? Are they self-indulgent whiners drowning in a sea of their own self-pity?
According to the Bible, it doesn’t appear so.
It appears that wishing you were dead, is, for many people, a part of life with God.
It doesn’t last forever, but it’s real and it happens and there is nothing unChristian about it–in fact, it’s often part of the lives of people who really love God.
Job’s lament gives us permission to feel. And if you’re a Xn, chances are you need permission to feel.
Specifically, you need permission to feel the so-called negative emotions… like anger, fear, and sadness.
We think there is something wrong with sadness and we want to put happiness on our faces.
Q: I mean, What would happen if you walked into church with sorrow on your face rather than rejoicing?
The book of Job, the book of Psalms, the book of Lamentations—these are large chunks of Scripture that show us that it’s okay for our faces to display sorrow. And it’s okay for our hearts to despair.
There’s nothing ungodly about it. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Not only does Job give us permission to feel, but he gives us permission to talk–and here’s the key word–candidly–about our feelings. To talk candidly about our feelings.
In other words, Job invites us to pray our feelings.
To pray your feelings is to pre-reflectively pour out your feelings to God.
Pre-reflectively—before you’ve reflected on your feelings and judged them as good or bad.
To pray your feelings is to pour them out to God before editing your words.
When you try to give words to what you are feeling, it helps you to identify what is going on in your heart.
Q: When was the last time you just poured out your feelings to God—before editing your words, before making them “appropriate” for expression to a holy God, before making them consistent with some sort of theology?
Q: More specifically: when was the last time you poured out your sadness to God?
In Job 3, we meet a man in a state of disorientation. Job is disoriented. And he is writing–candidly–out of his place of disorientation.
Job’s world has gone on tilt and he’s expressing himself from that place.
He’s not denying that he’s disoriented, that he can’t figure out what is going on and which way is up.
We think we are living in a well-ordered and just world. A fair world. And this carries us along for some time. But then something tragic happens—
a life threatening illness or the loss of a job or marriage problems or a whatever it is for you, something bad happens—
and what you thought was a safe, fair world comes crashing down.
You’re disoriented. God’s invitation to you in that moment is to lament.
When the world as you understood it falls apart, God’s invitation to you is to lament.
Lament consists of two things.
Allowing yourself to feel your sorrow.
Expressing that sorrow.
We’re reluctant to use the language of lament b/c it seems to be an expression of distrust in God, rather than trust.
We read Job say in v. 11 Why did I not die at birth? and we think, “A Christian shouldn’t be saying things like this–Who are we to question God.”
Let me put it this way.
If someone came up to you and was in a state of great pain and full of lament and said to you, “I wish God had just let me die at birth,” what would your response be?
Q: What would you think about their words to you?
The tendency is to think,
“Hold on, God has created you for a reason, you need to trust him with whatever he is doing with your life. Wishing you were dead is basically saying you don’t trust God with your life.”
Q: Isn’t saying “God, I wish that I was dead” evidence of one’s distrust in God?
What I’d like to suggest is that these words depict the anguish of the soul, yet they are characteristic of a life of deep faith.
It takes more faith and trust to take our sorrow to God than it does to push down what we are actually feeling.
Now, whenever I talk about lament, I’m invariably asked, “What’s the point of it? What’s the goal? Isn’t it self-pitying? Don’t you just end up in despair? ”
Q: Does lament–expressing your sorrow to God–merely result in despair?
Q: Well, where did Job end up? Where did Job’s lament take him? Did he end up in despair?
Job’s lament took him to getting angry at God, to engaging with God, to calling God to account for his actions, and ultimately to actually having God speak to him.
The path of lament need not lead to despair. Despair results when we lament without hope.
The resurrection of Jesus shatters all hopelessness. And it does so in two ways.
First, the resurrection means that
Your reality can be changed. If Jesus rose from the dead, then there is no situation that cannot be reversed.
The starting point of our faith story is the reversal of hopelessness.
In Genesis 12 God says to Abraham, “Go forth from your land and your 2 birthplace and your father’s house to the land I will show you. And I will make you a great nation.”
But a few verses earlier in Genesis 11, we read “Now Sarai was barren she had no child.”
You can’t become a great nation without a child.
Listen to biblical scholar Walter Brueggeman’s commentary on this passage. It’s so beautiful:
Barrenness is the way of human history. It is an effective metaphor for hopelessness.
But the marvel of Biblical faith is that barrenness is the arena of God’s life-giving action.
After Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Hannah were barren.
Now, because the Bible is so relentlessly true to real life, chapters 12-14 come and go and Sarah’s still not pregnant.
So the promise of God delays… and Abraham and Sarah understandably are moved into a season of doubt.
It is part of the destiny of our common faith that those who believe the promise and hope against barrenness nevertheless must live with the barrenness. Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around? WB
Can the closed womb of the present be broken open to give birth to a new future? The utter impossibility of the promise becomes evident. Abraham knows what is possible. He lives in restless torment. WB
The second reason that the resurrection of Jesus shatters all hopelessness is this:
Even if the situation is not reversed, you have Someone who will be with you in the fire, in the heat.
More than wanting our circumstances to change, we want to feel the presence of Someone in the fire with us.
We want to know–at an experiential level–that God himself is with us in it.
IOW, it is not pain that we fear; it is aloneness and meaninglessness in the pain.
The good news of Xnty is that resurrection exists.
Which means that reality is no longer fixed.
Because of the resurrection, because of redemption, there is now no situation, no condition—no reality—that cannot be turned upside down, reversed.
And it means that there is a power and presence in this world that will be with you–tangibly, experientially–in the pain.
That is the hope with which we enter into the sorrow of lament.
Many Xns have stuffed their real feelings because they don’t believe those feelings are consistent with a life of faith.
You feel deep sadness and you think, “I’m supposed to rejoice in the Lord always” and so you pretend like you’re not full of sorrow or you push it down to try to get it out of awareness.
Most of us are deeply uncomfortable with our feelings.
But here’s the thing: Feelings give us a window into what’s going on in the deepest parts of our heart.
You are powerless to control your feelings. Your feelings happen in a fraction of a second, much faster than you could ever control.
What God calls you to is NOT getting rid of your sadness or your anger or your fear–what he calls you to is HONESTY about whatever is inside of you.
To deny sorrow is an odd inclination for people who take the Bible seriously, given the huge chunks of text where people pour out their sorrow to God.
We can’t go through all of them, but let me give a few examples of people pouring out their unedited sorrow to God.
Psalm 6 – My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?
Psalm 10 – Why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Psalm 13 – How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?
Psalm 119 – My eyes fail, looking for your promise. I say, “When will you comfort me?”
God has put these expressions of sorrow and despair into the Scripture.
Q: Why would God have done that? He’s inviting us to give ourselves permission to feel our real feelings and then he’s inviting us to pour those feelings out.
Q: Have you poured out your sorrow to God–before editing your words?
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