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Lament after Thanksgiving

Lynne Baab • Wednesday December 2 2020

Lament after Thanksgiving

Lament is a big part of my prayers these days. In my lifetime, I have never experienced so much sadness, grief and pain when I look around at our world. Maybe if I had lived in Europe during World War 2 or Rwanda during the genocide in 1994, I might have had this much to lament.  But this pain is unprecedented for me, and lament prayers come easily these days.

My American friends and family members have just celebrated Thanksgiving, and I know they spent some time thinking about what they are thankful for. We have entered Advent, a season of looking forward to Christ’s birth and second coming. We remember that Jesus has to come the first time, and will come the second time, to make the world right – a world of sin, sorrow, pain, suffering, sickness, and death. The brokenness of the world is so real right now.

Almost all lament prayers in the Psalms – so helpful right now – follow a pattern: deep expressions of sadness and loss, then a flip to trust in God and even praise. Psalm 6 follows this pattern, opening with:

     “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,
          or discipline me in your wrath.
     Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
          O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror”
          (verses 1 and 2).

The last two verses of Psalm 6 show the resolution of the psalm writer’s pain:

     “The LORD has heard my supplication;
          the LORD accepts my prayer.
     All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
          they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame”
          (verses 9 and 10).

Many lament psalms end with even stronger statements of praise and trust in God. (You may want to read Psalm 10 or Psalm 77 to see this pattern.)  However, one lament psalm stays sad and expresses pain throughout, Psalm 88. I found a helpful blog post, “How I gleaned hope from the darkest psalm.” But before we try to glean hope from words that express pain, first we need to experience Psalm 88 as an invitation to feel sad. And feel sad. And feel sad. As long as it takes, bringing that sadness into God’s presence.

Psalm 88 has 18 verses, and I’m going to give you the first few. The mood of the psalm doesn’t change throughout the 18 verses, and you can read the whole psalm here. Read these verses, and perhaps the whole psalm, and allow yourself to feel sadness, pain, anger, frustration, whatever comes to mind. The psalm focuses on individual pain, and even if we aren’t experiencing exactly this pain, we know that many other are. After the psalm, I’ll give you the four points from the blog post about finding hope in that psalm, but sometimes God invites us just to sit in sadness for a while.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
     when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
          incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
          and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
          I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
          like the slain that lie in the grave,
     like those whom you remember no more,
          for they are cut off from your hand.
—Psalm 88:1-5

The blog post I found helpful, “How I gleaned hope from the darkest psalm,” was written by Christina Fox, a counselor, writer, retreat speaker, and author of several books. She makes these four points:

  1. You can cry out to God.
  2.  You can share your deepest pain.
  3.  You can grieve the darkness.
  4.  You can trust your Savior.

These are true and helpful. We need God’s wisdom when and how long to sit with pain, and when and how to look for hope.

Lord Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd, help us bring our sorrow and sadness to you. Help us know when to sit with pain and when to push ourselves to look for hope in you. Savior, we need you to save us. As individuals, we need your power to lift us above the pain that the news brings us every day. As communities of faith, cities, and nations, we need your intervention, peace, justice, and love. Help us hear you speak to us about how you are calling us to act. Please give us moments of joy, peace, thankfulness, and connection with your people and your creation. Thank you for your love. Amen.

(Next week: helpful insights about the incarnation from celebrating Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, the first post in a short series on that topic. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

I continue to explore google analytics for my website. The past two weeks I’ve posted the eight most popular pages on my website in the past six months. Here are the ninth to the twelfth most popular pages:

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