by Esther Fleece
I leaned over and placed my hands over my face. The tears wouldn’t fall but my heart was shattered again. It was so hard to find joy and happiness after hearing of his death. I had just gotten married, I had just enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon, yet my heart of happiness so quickly diverted back to the deep, deep pain of loss and abandonment. What do we do when we are an unhappy Christian?
When I received the news that my biological father passed away I felt crippled, yet again, with grief. Didn’t I just write a book on lamenting? Shouldn’t I know by now how to be strong? My biological father had abandoned our family decades earlier, yet as he left his earthly body I was struck again by the grief of his absence. Losing a parent, even an absent parent, is not an easy pill to swallow. And in the holiday season where we are supposed to be happy – at a time when Christmas carols fill the air, and love and joy and peace abound, what do we do when our peace is no where to be found?
Following God does not ensure a pain-free life. Obedience to God does not give a free pass from hurt and suffering here in this world. How do we move forward if we are disappointed Christians?
Even in the midst of our pain, God does not spiritualize our pain away. All throughout the Bible God is deeply attracted to people in their brokenness. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5.) God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit (Psalm 34:18.)
Lament is a prayer to God that says, “God, I’m hurting- will you meet me here?” It’s a language I missed out on knowing from growing up in public school education and it’s one I never experienced being raised in a broken home. Growing up, it seemed as though I was punished for even good things, so why on earth would I ever let God see my bad? And not only bad, why would I ever let God see my hurt, pain and the areas where I fell short? I wrongly perceived God as a boss who wanted my best, instead of a Father who comforted in brokenness.
From my experience, here are five things we need to know about lament. Lament is not for the weak in faith, lament is for the spiritually strong who know they need God. And as we become dependent on God, we know there is room for lament.
- Lamenting is Praying
Lamenting prayers are raw prayers. Unfiltered, unedited, just as they are. And raw prayers are refreshing prayers. God does not silence laments throughout Scripture, and neither does he expect us to silence ours. We benefit the most from taking our cries up to God when life is not going as planned.
- Lament to God Out Loud
So often I get stuck in the cycle of worry and debating circumstances over and over again in my mind. Just because we are thinking about something, does not mean we are praying about something. One of the most effective ways to process pain is to honestly speak it aloud. Pain sometimes just needs to be heard.
- You Can Move Forward in Faith Even While You Are Disappointed
Sometimes we will need to walk backward with God in order to move forward more freely. Lamenting and facing fears head on is not being stuck in your faith. It is spiritually mature to admit our need for God, even in pain we would rather keep in our past.
- Our Emotions Can Be Used for the Glory of God
Emotions are not weak, and feelings are not to stay locked up inside our hearts or behind the closed door of a counseling office. When we pretend to be okay when we really are not, we hold back from communicating with God. To know God is to need God, and our need for Him is expressed by way of lament.
- No One Laments More Than God
Lamenting is precious and powerful to God. Lamenting is one of God’s love languages. Not only is He deeply attracted to you in your brokenness, He gives us an example of lament through the death and burial of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ let us in fully to his lamenting prayers, and if He exemplifies this language, we must know striving for a life without it is not His will for us.
Where do we go when our faith runs low on hope, and our lives full of grace are simultaneously surrounded by pain? Our pain can serve a higher purpose if our pain leads us back to God. It doesn’t make our circumstances less painful and it doesn’t make them go away, it just means that the sadness doesn’t have to be the end of our song. A lament opens the door for happiness to be found again.
If your church series on joy no longer speaks to you the way it used to, when you lose hope in your circumstances and need God to perform a rescue—this is exactly where a lament can be found. It is more than okay to be an unhappy Christian. God gives us a way forward through the language of lament, and meets us right where we are, not where we pretend to be.
Esther Fleece is the author of the new book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan), an international speaker and writer on millennials and faith, leadership and family. Fleece was recognized as one of Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” As founder and CEO of L&L Consulting, she works to connect influential individuals and organizations to their mutual benefit. Keep up with Esther’s global adventures on twitter and at EstherFleece.com.