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Sadness: The Psalms as Prayers of Lament

Sadness: The Psalms as Prayers of Lament

Blessed are you who weep now. — Luke 6:21

Unless those who proclaim the Gospel acknowledge honestly that darkness… they might as well save their breath for all the lasting difference their proclaiming will make to anybody. ~ Frederick Buechner1

A Broken World

We live in a broken world. Divorce fractures a family, a child abandons the faith, a friendship sours over a word that has wounded and refuses to be healed, or a prolonged loneliness leads to a crippling depression. The loss of meaningful work provokes suicidal thoughts, while the burden of unpayable debt plunges a family into poverty. An unexpected death leaves one heartbroken, even as experiences of chronic pain rob the joy from life’s simplest pleasures.

And feelings of emptiness, quiet despair, or repeated failure characterize particular seasons of our life in an acute and painful way.2

Other experiences of brokenness occur at a societal level. A city is yet again ruined by floods, which leave its citizens displaced and bitter. Forest fires devour homes and animal life. A terror attack decimates a public market. Systemic racism leads to a nightmarish cycle of violence. Religious persecution turns an entire community into a refugee people without a home. Volatile oil prices put entire industries at risk. And the outbreak of a viral infection causes the death of millions.

Poverty, oppression, disease, genocide, and environmental decay — they all mark our world in some way.

On April 17, 2010, my wife and I lost our first baby to a miscarriage. This took place on my thirty-eighth birthday. For months afterward we carried around a gnawing pain — a pain that slowly ate us up from the inside, leaving us profoundly disoriented. On September 11, 2011, our daughter Blythe came into the world. Hope again surged in our hearts. Other children would now come easily, we thought. Our dream of a big family — five children! — could still be achieved, our advancing years notwithstanding.

Two days shy of Christmas 2014, after months of fertility treatments, we lost our second child to miscarriage. After this our marriage suffered considerably. Our communication repeatedly broke down, and our capacity to meet each other’s needs dissipated. Small hurts flared up into angry conflict, and each of us resorted to surrogates that we hoped might dull the pain but that only made things worse.

There are still days when the pain feels almost unbearable. Neither of us is getting younger, our parents are growing older, our friends’ children are reaching their college years, and the train, so it feels, is passing us by. What we needed then was language to say out loud what our hearts can only grasp at with inarticulate groans. What we needed, quite desperately, was a community to bear witness to our sadness.

Above all, what we needed was to know that God can handle our broken hearts and our raging words of protest.

This is what the psalms would offer us — then and now. Here are prayers of lament that furnish us with language for the seemingly unspeakable. Here are songs to name the sorrow in the company of the faithful. Here are poems that give coherent shape to our incoherent feelings in the presence of our Maker, who has, it often feels, seemingly abandoned us to our inconsolable pain.

Give ear to my words, O Lord, Consider my groaning. Heed the sound of my cry for help. — Psalm 5:1-2 NASB

Turn to me and be gracious to me, For I am lonely and afflicted. — Psalm 25:16 NASB

What the lament psalms have offered us in our hour of need, they offer to all who find themselves in need: edited language to give expression to our unedited emotions.

Excerpted with permission from Open and Unafraid by W. David O. Taylor, copyright W. David O. Taylor.

Watch the Open and Unafraid video message from W. David O. Taylor


Watch the Documentary: The Psalms featuring Bono and Eugene Peterson

Your Turn

If you are in a place of deep sadness, bereavement, loss, or depression? The Psalms are for you right where you are! Pour your heart our to the Lord through the Psalms which don’t blanch at the harsher seasons. There is the language of lament for a reason… to move us to Jesus in our wildest grief. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about sadness and the Psalms. ~ Devotionals Daily