This morning I was reading (for work) an article about suffering for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care (a great resource if you haven't seen it before). In fact, I've been reading a lot about suffering as the entire issue is dedicated to this theme. But something in today's article really impacted me when I read:
"It would appear that nothing is off-limits when it comes to expressing our suffering to God. Yet some sectors of Christianity do, in fact, see some of these expressions—especially those indicating anger at God or doubt regarding his actions—as off limits. Sufferers may respond with guilt when these feelings toward God emerge, or feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God. Their faith may be questioned and their continued suffering seen as a deficit in their Christian maturity." - Liz Hall, "Suffering in God's Presence," Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, forthcoming 2016
I had to read it again: "Sufferers may ... feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God." Essentially, suffering in silence. And how quick our society is to call the victims of abuse of all kinds into the light of community, of not hiding, of expressing their tragedy for healing and accountability of the oppressor. Yet, how often in our Christian communities are we tempted to hold in our anger, confusion, or pain from God? The same article notes that although 40-percent of the Psalms are lament, only 4-percent of Psalms regularly used in Christian churches are lament.
In my own walk with God lament has been like mana (the heavenly food that sustained the Israelites in the Old Testament). I recall distinctly the first intentional time I called out to God in my pain. It was a simple thing that un-corked a well of pain inside me. In my senior year, while walking to sixth period where I was TA for a Bible class, I slipped on spilled water outside the classroom door and landed square on my butt in front of the entire hallway of students making way to their next class. As soon as I hit the concrete floor it was like something inside me shattered and all the pain I had been holding flooded out.
The teacher, the most gentle and compassionate one on campus, rushed to me to make sure I was okay, and once confirmed, let me know I had permission to take as much time as I needed to take care of myself before returning to class. I tear up now even recalling his tenderness. I rushed to the bathroom, cried hard and silently from the embarrassment and all the other emotions that surfaced: pain from a tension filled home life, loneliness, and a lack of hope.
When I returned to the classroom, I sat at the teacher's desk. No papers to grade to distract me. It was a slow TA day. Although the storm inside me had calmed, there were still waves of thoughts and feelings slushing around inside. Almost instinctually I grabbed a tablet from my messenger bag and a pen and began journaling furiously for the first time in my life.
I had kept journals before, the "Dear Diary" type of many pre-teen girls, but this was different. This was raw, and honest, and I later realized a prayer of lament. Though I didn't have words to describe it then, in reflection I realized with each angry, hurt-filled word I felt seen. I felt like God was with me; nodding his head at the unfairness and pain in my words and experiences.
Thirty minutes later the bell rang, class was dismissed, and I felt lighter. I felt heard. The tension at home or the vagueness of my future weren't resolved, but I no longer felt alone.
So today, when I read this article author's words I remembered this incident all those years ago - and how God met me in my lament. How I felt held and loved and so close with God -- perhaps the opposite of what many, maybe you, feel when pain surfaces in your life if you don't feel permission to be completely honest before God.
Maybe today you're sensing God's invitation to share a little more with God in your prayers. Or maybe you feel invited to express your disappointment, anger, or pain with God. Or maybe your invitation is to consider the idea of lament and how it might impact your journey with Jesus.
Wherever God is inviting you, I pray for the courage for us all to live into the life and relationship of grace we have with God through Christ. And may our prayers ever more reflect both the good, the praise-worthy, and the hardship and pain of life.