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God’s Presence in Suffering

God’s Presence in Suffering

By Natasha Layman 

The call came on a rainy, chilly afternoon when I was preparing for oral surgery the following day. A woman who had mothered me as a young adult and continued to love me generously and steadfastly collapsed suddenly and was on life support. I took a deep breath and turned my attention to Jesus, placing myself in his loving presence. Another phone call came a few hours later. She had passed away. In this loss, I experienced as I never have before the safe, strong, and deep tender love of God as he held me close and invited me to run to him and feel. God invites us to experience his presence tenderly and powerfully in our suffering, grief, and loss. 

This was not my first experience losing a loved one. My dad passed away in my mid-twenties after a short-lived battle with cancer. I was there when he died, feeling the last pulse that went through his body. My relationship with my dad was tenuous at best, and I had no framework for how to sit with a mixed bag of emotions and grieve the losses. I detached and dissociated because that is what I knew, and it felt safer than sitting in the grief. I frequently asked God, “Why?” Why did my dad die? Why did we have such a distant and rocky relationship? I felt alone, angry, and bitter toward God as I tried to make sense of my suffering. A friend graciously recommended a counselor who listened and taught me how to engage with my feelings, my history with my dad, and all the wounds that were part of that story. But something was missing in this process. 

Fast forward a decade and a half to the moment I learned of my friend’s death. How was this time so different? How did I experience God’s presence and comfort in my suffering now? Because of my relationship with my dad, I’d envisioned God as distant, uninviting, and rather cold. I invite you into my past year’s journey, as God has rooted out my flawed views of him to form a deeper, more beautiful relationship between us.  

About a year ago, after years of longing to experience God, and not simply more head knowledge or good theology, I started leaning into habits to create space to meet God. I began sitting on my couch each morning for 5–10 minutes and imagining God sitting next to me, his face lighting up with joy at me. This was hard work—I was easily distracted, my mind prone to wandering. Yet God met me there, gently bringing me back to his presence when I wandered. He began to lay a foundation of joy, delight, and trust. In my daily prayer time, I experienced God’s presence. God fully knows me, my limitations, my wounds, and wholly loves me. In this time, God brought healing to deep wounds as well as freedom, laying the groundwork for deeper trust in him. 

As I prayed during the weeks leading up to my friend’s death, God brought me from a beautiful image in prayer of a safe, secure garden, walking with him, resting with him, and knowing his loving arms that held me, to an image of Jesus inviting me to follow him into the wilderness. The wilderness? When this shift happened I didn’t know what the wilderness held, but I knew God was trustworthy, and I could follow him. Days before my friend died, while in prayer, God gave me an image. I was scared and weeping on the side of a trail, with Jesus sitting next to me, arms around me, comforting me. He comforted me with his presence, not words. This image was at the forefront of my mind the day the call came that my friend had collapsed. God’s immediate invitation was to come, lament, and grieve with him

My journey of grief and lament began immediately. I wept tears that felt like they would never stop. The following day, I sat with God in prayer through the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The verse that the Holy Spirit highlighted for me was verse 4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus was gently telling me that he didn’t say we will not mourn, but we will be comforted. I wept more, with the image of Jesus weeping with me. I grieved that there would be no more hugs from my friend, no more sitting with her and hearing her stories. Most of the time I spent lamenting and grieving, there weren’t words, simply God’s presence; the intimacy of being fully loved by the God who knew my human experiences and limitations and loved me just the same. Jesus didn’t distance himself from me but held me in my woundedness with his scarred hands. The same hands that knew the pain of death were tending me, holding me with gentleness. 

God invited me to sit and lament with him several times in the week and a half following my friend’s death. I knew healing, wholeness, and knowing Jesus more deeply would only flow from continuing to come when he invited me, even when it was hard. In a podcast I heard author Tish Harrison Warren describe a concept from St. Thomas Aquinas as an “arduous good”. The word arduous means requiring great exertion; laborious; difficult. Lament is an arduous good. Lament requires that we be present to our pain and be present to God. Like so much else that God calls us to, lament is a process

My grief over my friend’s death will not disappear this side of eternity. Every room of my house has reminders, large or small, of her influence on my life. Yet, as Curt Thompson so wisely said during his time at Christ Community, “We discover joy finds us in suffering because community is sitting with us in the midst of it.” That journey starts by being present with the community of the Holy Trinity in my suffering and in Christ’s body, the Church. 

As I grieve, I have the hope that Jesus will return and set to right all that sin has broken. But there is a more pressing hope for this life right now. Our loving Lord Jesus, whose face lights up with joy and delight at us, is also sitting next to us, arms around us, holding us in all the storms of our suffering, grief, and loss. He invites us to grieve with him, just as he did with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus—death is not how it ought to be. He will not leave us in our suffering because he is “Love Loving,” in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He is inviting us to come to him and abide, even in our sorrows. 

Before my friend died, as I was processing the news of her collapse, I was interrupted by an image. My friend was running with joy and delight into the arms of her Savior. She no longer bore the frailties of her body in this life but was whole, healed, and at peace. The wounded hands of Jesus held her as a beloved daughter. We are his beloved, and he is inviting you and me to experience his presence in our suffering. 

 

Additional Resource:

Comer, John Mark, host. “Luminary Interview: Tish Harrison Warren.:” The Rule of Life Podcast, Sabbath season, episode 5, Practicing the Way, 2022. 

Comer, John Mark. Practicing the Way. Waterbrook, 2024, 

 

Prayer for the Bereaved Mother

In honor of International Bereaved Mother’s Day, we share this prayer to acknowledge the mother whose child cannot be seen—who lives in her heart and not in her arms and reigns in eternity with Jesus Christ.

We must remember, when a baby is conceived, a mother is born. With this prayer, we lift up the women who have children who no longer live among us on this earth. We long for a place with no more death, no more pain, no more tears, and no more suffering. That’s what Jesus promises, and that is why we put all our hope in Him. May our Lord plant visions of what heaven will be like in all of our minds.

May this day be for bereaved mothers to speak honestly, remember, celebrate, and heal.

Prayer for the Bereaved Mother

Lord our Creator, You are relentless with your love and unending grace. No one understands our pain better than You, God. You willingly chose to give Your son, Jesus Christ, away. Thank You.

Thank You for entrusting Your children with us. Even in death, You are so good. You never turn Your back on us. Even when we feel abandoned, we are not. Jesus paid the price of abandonment on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Lord, You turn our tears into laughter—this is Your promise. We long for Your return. As we wait, our hearts overflow with gratitude:

for the beauty of conception . . .
for Your creation of family. . .
for Your love of all of Your children . . .
for the children You have entrusted and loaned to us to parent . . .
for science, medicine, and physicians . . .
for funeral directors . . .
for counselors, pastors, and support groups . . .
for refinement, growth, peace, and healing . . .

for all these reasons and so much more, we give You praise.

Thank You, good and gracious Man of Sorrows, for teaching us how to love, suffer well, mourn, and rejoice. As we honor the bereaved mother, we yearn for Jesus’ return, for the day in which there will be no more sorrow, pain, infertility, life-changing diagnoses, pregnancy termination, or death.

Today we remember in prayer:

the bereaved mother . . .
those who have terminated a pregnancy. . .
those who are longing for a child . . .
those who have experienced adoption loss . .
those who struggle with fertility . . .
those who have experienced pregnancy loss . . . including miscarriage and stillbirth . . .
those who have had a child die in infancy. . .
those who have had a child die in childhood. . .
those who have had a child die in adulthood. . .

We offer these prayers in the name Jesus Christ, our source of hope. Amen.

Amy Balentine is a daughter of the King, wife to Adam and mother to five children. Three children are in her care while two reign in Glory. Amy had two sons die in 2014: Simon who lived one breathing week and Thomas who lived until 13 weeks gestation. The Lord gave her a ministry called You Made Me Mom, which is a Kansas City-based support group that serves mothers who have lost babies during pregnancy or infancy through one year of breathing life. The support group gathers once a month in Amy’s home where she shares the message that God is good even when a baby dies.

Surviving the Holidays

GUEST AUTHOR: Karen Mendrala

Surviving the holidays…if you’re in the thick of grief, you might wonder how that’s even possible. If you are spinning from the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, or another important person in your life; if you’re already dealing with anxiety, loneliness, and depression, how do you add “the holidays” to the mix? It can certainly be overwhelming.

The holidays can cause a magnification of any loss, and there is a very good chance your emotions will blindside you during this time of “Christmas cheer.” How do you face the memories of past holidays while still managing to figure out what you will do about this year? How do you handle putting up a Christmas tree, sending out Christmas cards, preparing a meal, or attending a family celebration? It’s not really an option to just skip the holidays altogether. We are surrounded by them.

The mere thought of the holidays can cause dread for anyone experiencing loss. The thought of facing them without a loved one can often even bring about a panic attack! GriefShare, a class offered at our church, enables people to walk the journey of grief together in a small-group setting. They begin with a video of a woman saying, “I just want to go to sleep before Thanksgiving and wake up after New Year’s.” How true!

I vividly remember the year I lost my husband. I was struggling to work through my first holiday without him and I asked my mom, “How do you face the holidays?” She wisely replied, “It’s only one day, so you get through one day at a time.” I’ve found in my own personal journey this philosophy is helpful not only for the holidays but for every day.

So, what are some practical real-life ways to face grief in the midst of the holiday season? Here are a few important ones:

  • First and foremost, there’s One who will be with you through all of it. He promises us several times in the Bible that He will never leave nor forsake us. (Deut 31:6; Joshua 1:9 and Matthew 28:20)
  • Recognize that the holidays are going to be tough. Acknowledge their impact on you in every way: emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself. Think through your holidays. What traditions and activities are meaningful and important enough to continue? Visualize how you will accomplish that. Who can you call to help you when you are struggling? What might need to be taken off your to-do list because it’s too painful or you’re just not ready to face it?
  • On your list of activities that you’ve chosen to keep, which ones might cause the most emotional pain and therefore be the most difficult to get through? Understand that while careful preparation will not keep you from being blindsided by emotions, it may give you the ability to give yourself grace when they come.
  • One of the counselors in GriefShare says, “We hear ourselves talking in our heads more than anyone else,” so have a Bible verse ready to use to “self-talk” through difficult moments, such as Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” or Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you…I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • GriefShare suggests writing a “Grief Letter.” This can be a perfect way for you to help others in your life understand what you are going through. They may want to know how you are doing and how they can help. In your letter:

– Describe your experiences and your feelings in an honest manner.

– Describe what they might expect from you (tears, anger, despair, etc.). You don’t know how you’ll react at the time; there are many ups and downs. However, if you can communicate your thoughts it is helpful for them in better understanding you.

– Let them know what you find comforting to discuss and what’s not helpful at this time.

– Tell them your tears are a normal part of your grief process and nothing to be afraid of.  I love what author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “We grieve deeply because we loved deeply.” It’s OK to cry.

– List some specific and practical ways in which friends and family can help you. Perhaps your loved one was the one who carried in the tree and set it up. You want a tree but can’t face that part, so maybe that means someone can do that for you. Maybe you need help shopping or wrapping or placing decorations in the house. Don’t be shy. The people you are writing to love you and want to help you.

Sometimes people just don’t have a clue as to what to expect or what to do for you. Or perhaps they are so caught up in their own holiday plans that they haven’t realized what this time might be like for you. Sometimes they may be afraid to bring up your lost loved one for fear of causing you pain, not realizing it may help and comfort you to talk about him or her. Help them understand. Good communication is such a blessing to everyone!

  • Keep a journal. This is a personal, structured time between you and God to reflect, process, and share your deepest fears, hurts, and desires with Him. It helps to sort through what’s going on and how you’re feeling about some tough situations and, in general, it can assist you in dealing with pent-up emotions. I always say it helps to get things out of your mind so they don’t spin until they are out of control. Journaling is a good way to help with this (as is an honest visit with a good and trusted friend, pastor, or counselor).
  • Finally,

– Think about decorations, Christmas cards, gifts, meals, family time, Christmas parties, and other social events.

– Decide how you might respond to invitations. Feel free to reply with “I’ll try to make it,” or, “I may need to leave suddenly. If that happens, please don’t take offense.”

– You might need time alone. Alert family or friends that you might need to disappear for a few minutes or maybe even hours. This is normal and okay.

Any of these are a good way to clear out your mind.

Surviving the holidays will be hard. There will be emotional triggers from sights, sounds, smells, songs, and activities. When you’re dealing with anxiety or struggling to process your grief, a plan will help you feel less overwhelmed and will give you coping strategies for those rough seasons. It won’t fix the difficult tasks you face, but it can give you hope and help you get through them.


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

-Matthew 11:28-30

See better…live better: Jeremiah

“Every human being is involved in a desperate
attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.”

Richard Powers.

I do not know who Richard Powers is or why he wrote this, but he is right about me. If I get to be in charge of things, especially my life, I will most certainly narrate my story away from conflict. Away from risk. Away from pain. Away from suffering. Toward comfort. Toward ease. Toward safety.

This creates a significant problem for me, especially if I want to have anything to do with God. Spend about two seconds reading the Bible or looking at the world, and it is painfully obvious: God is investing very little energy into narrating anyone’s story toward safety.

Think about the implications of this. God wants something for you, for me, other than safety. This means that all of the energy I am spending trying to get somewhere safe is a waste. God is narrating the direction of my life away from safety, away from comfort, and toward somewhere else.

Where? Where is God taking me? Where does God want to take you?

That question is why Jeremiah has become the prophet guiding me in my current life. God forced Jeremiah into a life he didn’t want; a hard life, a life of suffering and persecution. A life where the primary thing Jeremiah had to do was tell his city—including his friends and his family—that one day they were going to be destroyed. They had abandoned God, so God was abandoning them.

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah offers to quit the vision of life God has for him many times. Fortunately for us, God told Jeremiah to write down these moments, to record his life and his prayers so that we could listen in on what happens between Jeremiah and God when Jeremiah tries to grab control of his life and narrate his story into a place of safety.

My favorite moment is in Jeremiah 12:5. Jeremiah is ready to quit the hard, painful, difficult life God has put in front of him. So God asks Jeremiah a question:

So Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,

What makes you think you can race against horses?

It’s such a God question.

Jeremiah is just trying to keep it together. His life is hard—people want to kill him. The people he lives with hate him. His hometown is embarrassed by him. And on top of all this, he knows the city he loves—Jerusalem—will be destroyed one day. War and violence are coming. Jeremiah is limping along, struggling to walk, to stay on his feet. And so God asks Jeremiah another simple question—one question that is simple, but which we rarely ask ourselves:

Jeremiah…what do you want? Do you want it easy? Do you want it safe? Do you just want to limp along in life, like everybody else? Do you want to embrace mediocrity?

Or do you want salvation? Do you want to run with horses?

Again, I come back to Richard Powers’ statement: “Every human being is involved in a desperate attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.” And all the human beings said, “Amen.”

That is my problem. Because salvation, in the Christian sense, is not about becoming a moderately improved human being. It is not about sinning slightly less than I used to sin. God calls us to something impossible. Not to struggle along, limping in life. Rather, He calls us to a life that runs with horses.

Most days, I don’t want that. When I think about the life ahead of me, a life filled with challenges I never asked for and don’t want, I want to quit. I want out.

Then I hear God’s question to Jeremiah turn to me. Tim, if you are ready to give up in this footrace with men, how are you ever going to live the life I have for you? How are you going to become the person I am going to make you intoa person who will run with horses?  

Don’t you want to be someone who can run with horses? I really hope your life’s ambition is not to be like everybody else, to find a safe and easy life and never put anything on the line. I hope you want to grow and become the kind of person only God could make you.

The place to start is to understand where God is taking us, and it is not to safety. God is not creating in us a slightly improved human being. He is not making us slightly less judgmental or prideful. No, God has a far more significant vision in mind for us. C.S. Lewis laid out God’s vision for who we are to become:

God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature…

And apparently, a way God produces that in us—in me, in you, in Jeremiah—is by narrating our lives into danger. Into suffering. Into pain. It is in the places where we would never narrate our stories that we get our wings. It is in those places God teaches us to not just run a little faster but to begin to run with the speed of horses.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Praying the Blues: In the Depths (Part 2)

[SERIES: Part 2 of 3]

When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues.

And there is one lament that spans two psalms—Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out. Previously we learned how to pray our longing in the drought. Now we learn how to pray the blues in the depths.

THE DEPTHS

Returning to the Psalms, we discover that as the psalmist pours out his prayers, he fights to remind himself of God even though he can’t feel Him, and it’s anything but a walk in the park. Look at verses 6 & 7:

 My soul is cast down within me;
                therefore I remember You
        from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
                from Mount Mizar.
        Deep calls to deep
                at the roar of your waterfalls;
        all your breakers and your waves
                have gone over me. (Psalm 42:6-7 ESV)

The irony is that his thirsty soul panting for the flowing streams of God’s presence is now an image of him surrounded by waterfalls and raging waves that threaten to drown him in the depths. What happened? Here’s what happened: the rush of memories of who God is made the pain of God’s absence all the more acute.

It would be like a child remembering how her father used to take her out to a coffee shop every Saturday morning, and then suddenly he stopped showing up. In one sense, the memories are sweet, but it makes the pain of no longer being together all the more intense.

And before his thoughts can go any further, the psalmist stops himself in verse 8. “Yes. God you are my life. My rock!” And then he returns to lamenting again in verses 9-10, “but why have you forgotten me?! Where are you?!” He’s trying with everything he can muster to hold on, and the result is this back and forth tug of lament on his heart. Don’t miss this. It’s so rare we get a window into the authentic wrestling of the soul.

What’s he wrestling with?

The psalmist believes something radical. He believes God is actually present in His world. If God burns bushes and they aren’t consumed, parts waters, rains bread from heaven, crumbles walls, and on and on, then God will fulfill His promises to His people – even to the psalmist himself. He believes it down to his bones. But then he also feels the real oppression of the enemy. He hears the taunts and mocking of his adversaries, the success of the unjust, and he’s trying to reconcile the two.

When the psalmist laments, it’s not just because there is injustice in the world, but rather, he’s terrified that God is nowhere to be found, that God has forgotten about him. And that is like a deadly wound down to his bones. The injustice around him emphasizes the gap between the just God he loves and whom he believes is engaged in his life everyday, and the pain and despair the psalmist is wading through. Where are you, God?! Are you going to stand by and watch me drown?

You know what’s astounding though? When the psalmist wrestles with his doubts and fears, when he feels like God has abandoned him, he brings it all to God, even his harshest accusations.

And so we discover another reason in this psalm why we need to learn to pray the blues: not only do our souls need to be poured out, they need to specifically be poured out to God, which has two amazing implications.

First, this means praying the blues has room for strugglers. You can be wrestling with God and still pray to Him. Did you know that when you compare the laments in the psalms to all other discovered Ancient Near Eastern literature of the time period, it is the most brash language from a human being to their deity. No other literature is this intense. In God’s orchestration of His holy word, we find an invitation for all who are wrestling with God to bring it up with Him. Lament has room for strugglers. I know I’ve been there, and maybe you’re there today.

But this also means praying the blues has no room for complainers. Ok. What’s the difference? One commentator helps show the distinction between lament and complaining when he writes:

“It is crucial to comprehend a lament is as far from complaining or grumbling as a search is from aimless wandering. A grumbler has already reached a conclusion, shut down all desire and postures with questions that are barely concealed accusations…A person who laments may sound like a grumbler – both vocalize anguish, anger, and confusion. But a lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God” (Dan Allender, Mars Hill Review).

I’ve heard it once said that complaining is whining to someone else about God whereas lament is bringing our case to God. Do you see how that’s a sign of faith? The psalmist goes from drought to drowning, and he keeps talking to a God that feels absent.

Do you know who is an unlikely story of lament? Mother Teresa. No, let me say it this way: The Mother Teresa. That’s how we think of her, right? But, did you know that she had a deep crisis of faith that lasted for 40 years? As they were perusing her letters after her death, they found a series of correspondence that began nearly around the time she arrived to start her work in Calcutta. In one of those letters, this is how she expressed her lament:

“Lord, my God, you have thrown [me] away as unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith? even deep down right in there is nothing. I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

Mother Teresa knew how to pray the blues. While she fought to never complain, her life was wrought with struggle, and if this is you, I think it’s safe to say you’re in good company.

Praying the Blues

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[SERIES: Part 1 of 3]

At some off-the-map place, on September 16, 1925, in a plantation down around the Mississippi Delta, Riley B. King was born. We know him by his legendary stage name: B.B. King. This man—the man behind Lucille, his black Gibson guitar—was shaped by the care of his mother, Nora Ella King, who made sure King was refined by Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church and the preaching of Luther Henson. He was taught the church songbook full of gospels and spirituals.

And like every black man in Mississippi, B.B. King grew up knowing another king in the south: King Cotton, a slogan thrown around by pre-civil war politicians to highlight the importance of the cotton trade in the south’s economy. Even though more than 50 years had passed since the end of the Civil War, B.B. King was mentored in the blues first and foremost by the voices of African American men and women singing those church songs with large sacks hung over their shoulders, going through rows and rows of cotton.

It was heat, cotton, family, racial injustice, and, lest we forget, the church that formed this man. Beauty and chaos that formed his songs. And though, on May 14, 2015, at 89 years of age, he passed away, he keeps on teaching us to sing songs and to pray prayers that we have far too often forgotten.

Like most blues songs, King’s music forces the pain and brokenness we know all too well into the light. They bring a realism to how the past impacts the present. Old relationships leave scars. Social injustices still prevail. And while King was brilliant in bringing this pain to bear, he wasn’t all that original. What King and others have called the blues, Scripture has always called lament.

While we may not all sing with King Everyday I Have the Blues, we all know the feeling when King sings The Thrill Is Gone. We’ve felt a righteous dissatisfaction with the way things are in the valleys of the shadow of death. A holy discontent. But is it ok to sing the blues just because we chalk the word “holy” onto the uncomfortable word “discontent”? Because it kind of feels like complaining at times, and who wants to be a whiner?

What do we do? When the shrapnel of a broken world knocks the wind out of us, and we feel like we can barely breathe—let alone pray—how do we keep praying? When life transitions to a minor key, we take a note from the Psalms once again. We need to pray the blues. But how?

There is one lament—which spans two psalms, Psalm 42 and 43—that is just the one to help us figure it out. The psalmist is going to guide us a little further in the landscape of prayer: what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.

THE DROUGHT

The psalmist begins his prayer in verse 1 with the image of a deer in the midst of drought, searching for water. The word used to describe the deer is “panting.” A sort of shortness of breath that comes as a result of frantically running from this place to that. In desperation, its tongue is sticking to the roof of its mouth, hoping water is just around the corner.

But he’s not looking for literal water. Listen again to Psalm 42:1-3:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

The psalmist’s whole life is unraveling, and he’s desperately looking for God. Yet it’s as if God is nowhere to be found. Feeling alone in the mess, the psalmist isn’t sleeping, and he isn’t eating. Disillusioned  and broken tears are the only thing he’s eating, and to top it off, with every new sunrise, instead of the rooster crowing, he hears from those around him: “God still hasn’t showed up yet, huh?”

Have you ever been there?

It’s in these moments that if our only authentic option is to pray the blues, we’d rather just stay quiet and keep to ourselves. Why? Because we convince ourselves that it’s all our fault. We believe the blues could have been avoided if we would have just done the right things.

But that’s not what we find here. Instead, at the heart of being a child of God comes the freedom to lament. We are free to admit that there are certain things broken in the world that I didn’t break, and there are certain things in life that I can’t do anything to fix. And when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But when you are your most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer.

Why? Because keeping quiet makes it worse. There is an article in The Onion, a mockumentary news site, titled, “Study: Pretending Everything’s Okay Works.”

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A study released Thursday by researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology has found that the simple act of pretending one’s life is not in complete shambles threatening to collapse at any moment…works. “Even when everything is coming apart at the seams and disaster is almost certainly imminent, putting up a good front for friends and loved ones makes everything better,” said Professor Christine Wanamaker, who explained that smiling a lot and evasive answers were usually enough to get by. “Tell everyone that things are fine, and they will be fine. Just don’t over-think it.” When asked about her study’s methodology, Wanamaker said the research was rock-solid, had been looked over by a bunch of scientists, and definitely wasn’t anything to worry about.

We can laugh at this, because it sounds ridiculous when you put it that way. But the reality is that many times in our own lives we actually live like that, and sometimes we can even treat church like that too. I’ve heard from folks before how they didn’t want to come to church on a particular Sunday because they couldn’t put on a smile when they walked through the doors. “Everyone else seems to have it together, and I just don’t want to be a burden.”

You can’t live like that. It seems like you’re expected to have it together in our culture. But we all know that no matter how big the smile is on the outside, we don’t have it together. None of us do. There are times we feel miserable. There are times when we just feel far from God. When injustice rocks our world and we can barely stand. There’s a reason that a majority of the 150 psalms in Scripture are prayers of laments, and as the church, we are called to be a lamenting community. A safe place. A people where those who are struggling with depression, loss, death, disease, frustration with injustice—you name it—can come and pour out their souls.

We need to pray the blues. When you are most thirsty, that’s when your soul needs to be poured out in prayer. Let it ring out.

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Continue to read in PARTs 2 & 3 of this series as we talk more about what it looks like to pray our longing in the drought, in the depths, and in the dwelling.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]