Lament. To express grief for or about. To mourn.
Sometimes when you’re in the midst of darkness, you can’t see the light shining behind. It’s there. But you can’t see the sun. You can’t feel the warmth. All seems like shadow and you wonder if the clouds will ever roll away, like your soul just might be entombed forever in the dark.
I felt that way.
I’ve felt that way a number of times in my life. The bouts of dark and the hard lament were not brief. They were crushing seasons where I prayed to die. I would rather have died than suffer as I was.
Some call me too emotional.
Some think I’m too sensitive.
Some think I dramatize.
None have walked in my shoes.
Has anyone really walked in your shoes? Has anyone really lived your life, in your body, with all your strengths and weaknesses, with all your particular trials?
I remember one summer day after returning from a friend’s house with our daughter, then 21. After reminding her repeatedly to remember her purse with the keys to her apartment inside, she told me she had forgotten to grab her purse when we were a half-hour north of my friend’s.
No big deal, right?
Something inside me burst—or died—or maybe both. It wasn’t just about an isolated incident of forgetfulness. It was about 15 years of trying to run my own life—and hers—and two other kids—all three kids with frontal lobe brain damage because of mothers who drank while these little ones were growing in wombs.
It would take a book to describe what it’s like to love and live with people who can’t plan, organize, or remember the innumerable things involved in daily living that most of us take for granted and do automatically. A neuropsychologist who evaluated our kids several times over the years told us our kids all needed—and would need for their entire lives—an “external brain”. They need someone to help them think—to help them remember—to help them function on a daily basis. They will always need this help. And none of them look like they need anything. They’re beautiful. Really.
But most people don’t get it. Most people who know Todd and/or I don’t get it. Most people who know our kids certainly don’t get it. Our kids look normal. They’re nice. They’re polite. They’re caring.
So after the purse incident, I pulled up our driveway. I walked into the house, and grabbed the phone. In tears, I called my friend. She volunteered to drive up with Anna’s purse. Good thing. My eyes were too blurred to drive all the way back. And I was beyond exhausted, physically—emotionally—spiritually.
I hung up the phone. Out the deck door I flew, heading straight for the south trail.
I walked a few paces and then started running. I ran and ran as fast as I could. I don’t know why. Maybe I was hoping my heart would just burst and I would drop dead. I wanted to.
And then, about half-way down the trail, I collapsed—on purpose.
Down to the ground I went, face-down, completely sprawled out.
And I started screaming. I screamed till my voice hurt. I wondered, for a couple seconds, if the neighbors in our rural area might hear me. Then I decided I didn’t care. I screamed . . .
“I can’t stand it anymore, Lord! I can’t stand it! I can’t keep living like this! WHY won’t you heal them? WHY won’t you HEAL us? Why—why—WHY?”
I was in a full-blown lament. And I was in a completely complaining vent.
“YOU SAID A BRUISED REED YOU WILL NOT BREAK! YOU SAID IT! WELL, I’M BREAKING HERE AND I’M BEGINNING TO BELIEVE YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!”
I knew differently because I know Scripture. But I had had it.
Yes, I dared to yell—at God.
The God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them—I dared to yell at Him. I gave Him not just a piece of my mind. I let Him have all of me—right there—face-down—fists pounding—into the ground.
“I don’t even care if you squash me like a bug for yelling at you! I’d rather die anyway!”
I wasn’t being a good girl.
I wasn’t being a proper princess of the King.
I was being a BRAT (I think!).
But I figured God knew what I was thinking and feeling on the inside so I might as well yell it.
And then along came my husband, Todd.
He saw me, laying flat-out on the trail. He came and sat down beside me. He didn’t say a word. He placed his hand on the small of my back.
I stopped yelling.
And then, as if the biggest dam in the world had been torn in two by an earthquake, my heart broke and I began sobbing like I’ve never, ever sobbed before in my life. Deep, guttural groans poured out. I had never experienced such an expression of lament. I never knew I had such a deep well of sorrow, years and years in the making.
My husband just sat there.
Not a word.
His hand stayed still on the small of my back. Might as well have been God Himself because I did not feel judged or condemned in the slightest. I felt love and acceptance like I had never, ever felt in my entire life.
There I was, screaming my lament—my complaint—to the God of the universe—to the God of ME—and He gave me someone who stayed with me, not saying a word, with His hand on the small of my back.
I knew then that something holy had happened.
I had battled with God.
And God let me win.
What did I win?
I won an awareness that God loves me so much that He will let me lament and scream and complain because lamenting and screaming and complaining to Him is far better than distancing and ignoring and hiding from Him.
I won a realization that the God who created the universe is so invested in intimate relationship with me—so desiring HONESTY from me—that He’s willing to sit there on a lonely trail with His hand on the small of my back, letting me pour out the depths of my grief until I’m so completely emptied and exhausted that I give up and beg Him to fill me, again and again. Then, and only then, am I ready to receive Him completely with all He wants to give me—the fullness of Himself.
Some may find my way of relating to our Lord offensive. Some may criticize. I get it. (Some wanted to crucify, way back when . . .)
We all are heavily influenced by our cultural up-bringings. I get that.
In his latest book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, Timothy Keller wrote an entire section on the legitimacy of lament in prayer, mostly quoting J.I. Packer, a British-born, Canadian theologian, considered to be one of the most prominent evangelicals of our time. J.I. Packer calls lamenting “complaining” and adds:
“European-influenced culture has historically embraced the stiff-upper-lip ideal of human behavior, and habitually looks down on people who voice personal complaints as morally inferior weaklings.”
Keller goes on to quote Packer:
“Complaints . . . are integral to this new, regenerate life of communion and prayer [with God] . . . so complaint will be, or at least should be, a recurring element in the praying of the born again.”
So I’m not crazy—or irreverent—after-all! At least according to Keller and Packer.
What a relief.
All I want is honest, real relationships in life.
I do believe that’s what God wants most also. He wants honest, real relationship with all of us. He wants relationship where we reveal freely what He already knows so we can fall flat on the ground, emptying and readying to receive all He wants to give us.
But will we?
Or will we continue with our upper lips stiff?
Will we continue with our pride intact, like crocodile-infested moats around our fortresses?
Will we continue so that others might not criticize—or ostracize—or demonize?
What will drive us to the ground so we can be found . . .
Ready to meet our Maker this side of heaven?
I praise you, O my God, for all things you have allowed in my life that have made me fall flat—that have made me scream out of unbearable, internal, invisible pain. I thank you for all the pain! Because my flesh is so strong—because my pride is so thick—because my sin is so dark that my days hide Your face from me, the One who desires nothing more than to set me free to be real and be with You, no matter how damaged—or tainted—or even completely saturated with flaws.
YOU love ME!
YOU died for ME!
You loved me so much that You will have me—NO MATTER WHAT!
Oh, how can I thank you enough?
You, God of the universe, my God—You not only put up with my lament, with my complaints.
YOU place your holy hand on the small of my back and You sit until I am done . . .
Until I am done in by Your love . . .
And then you pick me up.
You embrace me.
There are no words.
Just a forever thankful heart.
And eyes that are now not darkened by clouds.
Sometimes you don’t see that God has kept His promise to prepare a place for you until you’ve been stripped of all the leaves you hide behind.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (KJV)
The Lord is my strength and song . . . He is my God, and I will praise Him . . . Exodus 15:2 (NKJV)