There is a question I cannot get out of my mind. I have been thinking…
1. 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.
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.