A few years ago I sat with a group of high school students and asked them to share as many biblical and spiritual emotions or ideas that they could think of. They came up with a list of over twenty things including love, faithfulness, mercy, and grace among others.
I was surprised that none of the emotions, feelings, or ideas that they came up with were negative. All of these students had experienced loss and hardships in their lives. But they hadn’t been taught how to express those negative emotions when it came to their faith. While I was worried by this outcome I wasn’t surprised. It made me reflect on my own experience of losing my father when I was in high school and my inability to express my negative emotions, especially to God.
As a global culture, we are in the middle of circumstances that are causing pain, anger, and loss on a daily basis. People are getting sick and dying due to the Covid-19 virus. Jobs are being lost due to the resulting economic downturn. We are missing milestone events due to lockdowns and shelter in place orders. We need a way to process these losses. And we need to know that we can share our emotions, even the negative ones, with God.
Fortunately the Bible gives us plenty of models to follow. The word “lament” occurs over forty times in the Bible. Lament is defined as an expression of grief or regret about something. The book of Psalms contains many examples of lament. In Psalm 13, David cries out to God and says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” The book of Lamentations contains corporate laments from the people of Judah over the destruction of the temple. Jesus himself expressed lament on many occasions. In John 11, he stood outside the grave of Lazarus and openly wept for his friend.
So, how do we bring out grief and sorrow, our lamentations, to God?
Biblical laments often begin with a statement about who God is, especially in that he is connected to us. This can be helpful for us as well. In the middle of sorrow and pain, our vision of who God really is can become clouded. It is a good practice to remember exactly who God is and what he has promised to us. God is sovereign and holy. God is forgiveness and grace. And God sent his only son to become human in flesh and blood to bring us salvation. All because he knows us and cares about us. Timeless reminders of who God is, even when we are in the middle of pain and sadness, can help us orient ourselves to God.
So often we hold back when talking to God. We don’t want to be too harsh or too raw. But God can take it. If we truly believe that God is sovereign then God already knows our anger and sorrow; anything we have to say won't be a surprise, so don't hold back. Bring that pain to God. Express it in whatever terms come to mind. Tell God what is happening and what you a re feeling. Express fear, anger, sadness, frustration, and pain to him. God created us with emotions, Jesus expressed emotions, don’t hold back your emotions in front of God. When my father died when I was in high school I found hatred in my heart and directed it towards God at times. Those were the emotions that I was feeling and God needed to hear that from me. God is big enough to take the worst of our emotions. He wants to hear them from us and bring us through them into a place of healing.
Tell God how much you miss your family. Tell God how you feel about missing graduation or prom or the senior year of your favorite sport. Tell God that your afraid that you will lose a beloved family member or friend who is sick. Tell God you wanted to be together with your church family to worship together. Tell God that you aren’t sure where the next mortgage payment is coming from since you lost your job. God wants to hear our emotions and can handle anything that we can throw at him!
Your brothers and sisters in Christ want to hear your pain as well. In Romans 12 Paul tells his readers to mourn with those who mourn as we live together in love. Confide your pain in a pastor or church leader, a family member, a friend, or a sister or brother in Christ. We have committed to walk alongside of each other in our journeys. Let someone else into your pain and sorrow and allow them to walk along side of you. If you simply can’t talk to anyone else, try journaling your feelings and using that as a way to express yourself to God.
As hard as it might be, this is an important step for us to take as we express our feelings of sadness and loss to God. As Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest he was asking God to take away the crucifixion he was about to experience. He was lamenting to God the pain and anguish that he was about to go through. But in the end of his prayer Jesus confessed his trust in God by saying, “...not my will, but yours be done.” Even in the middle of our pain that we don’t understand, God is in control. And God isn’t a vindictive and hateful God. He is filled with kindness and compassion for us and is always watching over us. He cares about every detail of our lives and loves us more than we can imagine.
Even in the middle of our greatest pain and suffering, God is there for us. Bring your laments to God. Express your grief and sadness to him and let him know what you are feeling. God is big enough to hear everything you have to tell him. And put your trust in him. He is our great shepherd and will never leave us or forsake us.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster