“We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.” ~ C.S. Lewis
“Into your hand I commit my spirit.” ~ Jesus and David
One of the truths I grip with all my strength is the fact that without suffering in this life we will never know a deep aspect of the character of God—His presence. Jesus promised us that we would feel the comfort of our heavenly Father when we mourn, and he said we would experience the blessing of God because of it.
Comfort from our heavenly Father and on top of that “blessing” or “favor” —when we mourn.
When we tell our story of pain, we gain authority over that story. Our painful experience transforms in the telling. I believe that is why there are more Psalms of Lament in the old Jewish hymnbook than any other genre.
The late Dawson Trotman reminds us, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they flow over the lips and through the fingertips.”
Two things might help you when your heart is broken:
1. Write it out or talk it out.
Describe your pain. Talk about the impact that pain has had on your life to God. Find a spiritual friend with whom you can share your story. Or go for a long drive or walk and yell out your pain to the God who is there. Hold nothing back. He is patient enough and gracious enough to withstand your tantrum. Tell it exactly like it is in your heart.
That is what the psalmist and prophets did over and over again in the Old Testament.
2. Read ancient words of scripture and literature as prayer.
Why did God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preserve those ancient prayers of complaint? So that we could pray them back to God. This is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. He prayed those ancient prayers. They gushed out of his soul like water from a rock.
(You can find his references from the Garden of Gethsemane in Psalm 75:8 and from the cross in Psalm 31 and 22.)
A few years ago I was struggling with a season of spiritual melancholy and while camped beside an alpine lake here in Colorado I began to pray aloud the Beatitudes from Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message. And when I did I was shocked to feel a subterranean flow of emotion come through my voice as I read the words.
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
The combination of the ancient words with a modern twist and the solitude of that alpine lake caused a spiritual catharsis. I read them aloud about 20 times.
It was very healing.
I was talking to a man recently and he told me of a time when he was a young man in the sixties and was a part of a small group studying the bible and trying to help each other grow in Christ. The man said the group, in a loving way, mentioned to him that they thought resentment was keeping him from deepening his walk with Jesus. They asked him why he was so resentful.
He said, “I told them about my father dying when I was twelve years old. I grew up without a father. I missed my dad. Then, my mother tried to fill that void in a misguided way by becoming overprotective, controlling and domineering.”
The man continued, “The more I talked about my Dad and my Mom, my emotions came closer to the surface of my life.”
He paused. Fighting back tears and through a shaking voice he said, “Joe, I may cry telling you this right now.”
He went on to say that the leader of the group suggested to him that he tell God about the pain in his heart. Asked if he had a place where he could really have it out with God. The man said, “I drive 60 miles several times a week to seminary in the car by myself.”
They said that sounded like a good place to meet with God about the pain in his heart.
The man said for months, when he would drive to seminary, he would talk to God about his dad who had died too soon. About his mother and about how abandoned he felt by God. He said it got intense. Said he yelled at God. Said there were times he cussed at God. But then he said that even though his heart was broken by affliction, the pain diminished, and he began to feel the sweet presence of Someone else in the car with him.
And he said, “That’s when hope came and something like a window opened into my soul.”
Maybe you would like to read the words below slowly and out loud from the old Jewish hymnbook (Psalm 86) and let them speak what’s in your heart, not what ought to be in your heart.
Bow down Your ear, O Lord, hear me;
For I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am holy;
You are my God;
Save Your servant who trusts in You!
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
For I cry to You all day long.
Rejoice the soul of Your servant,
For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
And attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.
Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.
All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.
For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.
Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.
For great is Your mercy toward me,
And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
O God, the proud have risen against me,
And a mob of violent men have sought my life,
And have not set You before them.
But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious,
Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me!
Give Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
Show me a sign for good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.