One of life’s harshest lessons is to recognise that it doesn’t quite measure up to expectations. Life disappoints. This has led me to seek out some reason for some of the injustices that I see during my own life journey. My heart says that if I can find a reason for going through my difficulties then there is a purpose for continuing on. Otherwise, my life would be a series of bitter defeats that ends with a despairing final defeat when I die.
A lament can be defined as a formal expression of deep sorrow. Once written, or brought to a community, or shared with someone else the issue is made official. It can’t be ignored. To fully understand the sorrow of disappointment creates the place where a life transformation can begin. The experience of lamenting for something or someone allows the beautiful truth of hope to be brought forward as a solution that enables a more positive future to be attained.
For a number of years my wife and I have been involved with an orphanage that helps children with HIV in Asia. It started with a couple of ordinary people who heard the cry of a young girl whose future looked very limited. She was malnourished, not getting her needed medication and was close to death. Her life today is full of hope, she is healthy and happy and has a loving family.
Once that child’s cry was heard they sought to discover how justice could be given to children like this little girl. From that simple beginning came a hopeful response to those children whose future didn’t have much to offer. The number of children helped through the organisation that grew out of this response grows each year.
Therefore, for the children an appropriate response to the deep sorrow about the injustice of their situation is to create a place where they can be known and loved. This is an immediate practical outcome of the recognition of a need. The children also require internal healing that comes from their own experience of abandonment and uncertainty because of what they have already faced in their brief life. This is a much more difficult path that I think will take a long time for many of them.
In my own life there are also disappointments that have come in my brief fifty years. My life like most others has had the gamut of human experience. I have experienced the loss of loved ones and known the deep grief that comes with saying goodbye. I have had dreams quashed by harsh words. There have been friends who have deserted me in times of great need. All of these experiences are to some extent unremarkable because they happen to us all at some point in our lives.
One of the things that was most helpful to me was to acknowledge the deep sorrow that comes with those disappointments. I could choose to try to explain them as inconsequential, or excuse the behaviours that caused the disappointment. But, if that as the only way I had to deal with all the injustices that I see in the world would end up even more disappointed.
My Version of Psalm 13
I have waited impatiently Lord,
Trapped in my own fears,
Sad and full of self blame,
For my failures.
Waiting means uncertainty and anxiety,
And, in the meantime,
It looks like I am passive,
Letting others run over me,
They say I am a failure,
They even think they are better than You.
Waiting means trusting,
Certain of your love,
Instead of being anxious,
I will look for expressions of your eternal love,
Life’s eternal breath,
Breathed into me,
Gives me a confident voice,
Daily declaring your goodness.
The steps that I have discovered out of my reflection on Psalm 13 that contribute to a healthy lament are as follows:
- Uncertainty and anxiety
There is a progression from being let down in some way to a gamut of emotions and responses that lie between it. Part of the healing process always involves listening to God’s voice. My experiences in the Psalms are crucial expressions of me learning to listen to God and be more responsive to his words, rather than just hearing some of the less helpful words that can be said to me.
In this reflection on Psalm 13 I was thinking about how out of my own sense of failure and anxiety some beautiful truths emerged. Learning to trust in the midst of uncertainty was one of the hardest lessons. My first response is usually to try to create my own solutions. There was one period in my life when I was depressed and even with my optimistic nature I couldn’t think of a single way to help myself. No matter what my desire was I was helpless to bring about my own solution.
For a period of time I had to wait. This was a difficult time of uncertainty and anxiety where I was forced to do nothing. I used the words, “I have waited impatiently Lord” to express the internal conflict that often is there when waiting. For a long time I felt like I was waiting with no expectation of what was arriving. This was a daunting prospect to face each day.
Deep sorrow, properly lamented points to hope. It helps us find our true north again. This new certainty began emerging for me as I spent more time in stillness and listening to God. To be fully realised it started with a lament about my deep disappointment. But, as I waited and listened I discovered a fresh sense of hope emerging. I found that over and over I was able to find more and more to celebrate in my life. Even just over two years since he died there are still times when I think about my Dad and feel a tinge of sadness that he’s not with us anymore. Yet from that sadness I am able to return to a more hopeful place much more quickly because of a future that I look forward to.
Finally from Psalm 35 is another lament where David is reflecting on his own deep disappointment with the way he was let down by those who had once relied upon. He struggled with the way they turned on him after he had offered these people friendship and loyalty. Sometimes he even put his own life on the line for their sake. All this was received with little gratitude. Plots betraying the trust that David gave seemed like regular occurrences throughout his life. Yet it was these experiences and his responses that gave him the recognition that he was a, “man after God’s own heart”.
A reflection on Psalm 35
Why do some people seem hell-bent on my destruction?
They are well armed,
Wielding their weapons of mass destruction,
Against me personally.
What do I do with my enemies God?
I don’t wish ill on anyone yet I still have enemies,
God I am turning to you to protect me.
When someone comes against me,
With attacks that don’t let up,
Even when they have me down,
They keep coming with more vindictiveness,
Watching for every opportunity
To put in the knife,
Stabbing me in the back,
Twisting it to cause maximum pain,
This is really is an attack against you, God.
For a long time,
I thought you were ignoring me,
Enemies were gloating at my distress,
I was trying to do my best,
My best was never good enough,
Every little failure was an opportunity,
To twist that knife a little more,
To make sure that I could never feel good.
One day justice will be done,
All in your good time God,
You will turn their gloating into a cry for help,
Lies will be exposed,
Truth will win out in the end,
This will be your opportunity God,
To set things right.
In the meantime,
I will keep serving you wholeheartedly,
I will keep trusting you have my best interests,
This will be an opportunity to tell others about you.