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?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
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.
Lament is a foreign concept to many of us. I can’t speak for everyone, but in the evangelical context I grew up in the faith in, we had praise and worship music, and prayers of thanksgiving and petition. The takeaway for me is that God doesn’t want to hear about what I’m really feeling, unless it’s praise or thanksgiving. That He is pleased for me to fake a smile and raise my hands and sing, the way that everyone around me is.
They don’t want to hear about what I’m going through, so why would He? They don’t want me to get up onstage and tell the testimony that goes “I prayed for God to heal my [mother, father, sibling] and they keep getting worse instead of better. I prayed for provision and I’m still unemployed. I’ve been praying for a husband since I was 23 and I’m 36 with no prospects in sight. God has forgotten me. He’s let me down, and he’ll let you down too.” (Fictitious examples, taken from the subtext of real examples.)
I don’t know if they would actually boo me off the stage if I did that, but I can tell you that they would be very uncomfortable, and I would probably be taken aside and talked to afterward.
We Western Christians don’t know what to do with unanswered prayers. When we pray for someone’s healing and they pass away, we somehow spiritualize it away. Talking about how God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his plans are better than our plans.
But what happens to us?
Our hearts become calloused. From the mounting pile of wounds inflicted by God’s seeming silence, we start to build a hard shell around our hearts. We fake another smile.
I want to offer you a new way out, the way of lament.
In a lament, you tell God exactly how you feel, and don’t worry about spiritualizing it. You tell Him that you feel abandoned, fighting for your life to hang on to what little faith is left. You tell Him how the people around you are whispering, and saying that He doesn’t answer prayers after all. You ask Him how long he’s going to leave you like this, and if it’s really true that you don’t matter to him.
Lament doesn’t often fix the situation. Lament is not a cheat code for getting God to finally answer your prayers, but it does do one thing, and it feels a bit like magic.
God comes to be with you.
Think about John 11, when Mary and Martha send a message to Jesus that Lazarus is sick. Jesus ignores them, and says that the sickness won’t end in death. What is he doing? Doesn’t he care? Two days later, he finally sets out for Judea to go meet with the sisters. Martha believes in him, and Jesus reassures her that Lazarus will live again. But Mary comes to him weeping, and when he sees it, Jesus weeps too.
When you tell Him what a horrible mess you’re in, and how if you hear one more platitude, you’re done with church forever, and how even though you prayed and prayed, there’s no sign that He’s anywhere to be found, He comes to sit beside you, and weeps with you.
From deep within, there comes a remembrance, an awareness of His unfailing love, and His faithfulness. A Knowing, that He has always felt it with us. And somehow, that changes everything.