Do you feel safe enough with God to be honest?


Here’s Do you feel safe enough with God to be honest?

We sat across the table as she blinked back her tears. She hadn’t expected to be this emotional. I listened as she poured out her childhood trauma, her disappointments in young adulthood, the ways she felt lonely and abandoned in her grief. Her pain had left deep wounds.

After she recounted her story, I asked if she was taking all this to God – pouring her heart out to him as she had with me.

I’ll never forget her response. “I don’t think that would be right – to tell God exactly how I’m feeling. Aren’t we supposed to just praise God and thank him all the time?”

I thought for a minute and then shared how that attitude had hurt my relationship with the Lord years ago. I’d learned that honesty is what draws us closest to God.

She shook her head, “I’m not sure where it would lead me if I started being honest with God…” Her voice faltered but then she declared, “I really am fine. I’m looking at the positive and putting the negative behind me. I just need to push back my tears to find joy.” Then she added, “You’re right, though, God does feel distant even though I’m trying to connect with him.”

That conversation was years ago, and I still remember it. This young woman was convinced that God calls us to “fake it until we make it” and that it was more God honoring to act happy all the time than it was to be honest with him.

Why We Need Lament

God condemns mere lip-service saying, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT) God knows our hearts. He knows when we are pretending. He knows when our worship is insincere. I’ve found that honestly talking to God, even complaining to him, draws us so much closer than when we mouth empty platitudes.

When we lament, we express our deep aches and longings, confident that God cares about our pain and will not condemn us for our words. At the core of lament is trust.

While lament underscores the idea that naming our sorrow is important, it may take time to process the weight of what’s happened. Job praised God immediately after his tragedies saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20) He was able to see that God was behind his suffering, that his life was in God’s hands, and still praise him. When we first hear difficult news, we often fall to our knees as we beg God for mercy and strength. We feel close to him. His presence surrounds us. He carries us.

However, as loss drags on and the reality of what’s happened sinks in, other emotions surface. Job began to express his doubts and pain to his friends over time. God no longer felt close, and life was in shambles. But Job continued talking to God – his praise turned to lament and then ultimately turned back to praise.

After my son Paul died, I was initially full of faith and ready to proclaim the Lord’s goodness. I spoke at his funeral and declared that God never makes a mistake. I meant it. Yet months later, I wanted to pull back every word I’d said. God felt distant and I didn’t know where to turn. It was then that I truly discovered the beauty and language of lament which brought me back to God.

How Lament Can Lead to True Thanksgiving

The Psalms of lament bring us back to a place of praising and trusting God. It is not a forced place – where we are saying things that we don’t mean – it springs from a place of honesty. We begin by pouring out our hearts, verbalizing everything that’s hard, naming our disappointments. God meets us through this type of conversation, which can be a life-changing interchange.

We can also ask God to help us refocus, as our eyes start adjusting to darker surroundings. Gratitude has helped reframe my perspective and reflecting on God’s faithfulness in trials has encouraged me to press on. But finding things to be thankful for does not mean I cannot lament, cry, complain and pour out my troubles to God. They can all co-exist as we move between lament and praise.

The Bible doesn’t whitewash our pain or grief but encourages us to acknowledge it. Lamentations 3, which may be one of the harshest and most troubled laments, highlights how our honesty turns us to God. After Jeremiah pours out his complaints and questions to God, he turns and makes this stunning declaration: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).

This declaration is the turn we make in heartfelt lament. As Dan Allender says, “Lament opens up the heart to wrestle with a God who knows that sorrow leads to comfort and lament moves to praise as surely as the crucifixion gives way to resurrection.”

If you are struggling today, consider this exercise. Write the words “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” from Lamentations 3 on a page and then write everything that’s on your mind. Tell God what’s hard, what you’re grieving, holding nothing back. Then write “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” and offer your words of hope, trust, and thanksgiving to God. Recall his past faithfulness and the mercies of today.

People Need Space to Lament – Especially During the Holidays

The holidays are hard, especially because reminders of what we don’t have are everywhere. Waves of grief can come unexpectedly. Friends often don’t know what to do – they want us to move past our pain rather than through it. But the Lord wants to walk with us through our grief, so go to him with your unedited emotions.

If you are close to someone who is hurting this holiday season, rather than rushing their grieving along, perhaps simply sit with them in it. Consider lamenting aloud with them, reading a psalm, crying out to God with them and for them.

In a corporate lament, you can begin by reading each verse of a short lament psalm like Psalm 13, and then adding your own words of sorrow or hope. Lamenting together is a tender way to bring our friends to God, acknowledging what’s hard and giving them space and words to grieve, while affirming hope in the one who loves them extravagantly, will never leave them and will one day make all things new.

If you are looking for more ideas on how to help your hurting friends, especially at the holidays, I wrote a detailed guide to remind myself of what to do. It’s available here for free!

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