Finding God on Your iPod: The National and Learning to Lament

On Sunday we looked a song by one of my favourite bands called “The National”. And the song we explored was called “Sorrow”.

The reason we looked at this song was because this was the song that I played on repeat again and again when my dad passed away. It was a song that for me got tied to that dark and difficult time. The singer sings, “I don’t want to get over you” and that was so very true in my life.

He also sings, “Sorrow waited, and sorrow won”. And that was also true in my life; sorrow seemed to be winning.

And that’s really what we wanted to explore on Sunday, how do you move past sorrow? How do you overcome sorrow that grips you? How do you move forward?

And the answer is found in something called the lament.

The lament is really a type of prayer. A brutally honest, bring up the raw stuff within, kind of a prayer. Lament, if it’s about anything, is about honesty. But rather than discuss what it is, we looked at an example of lament in Psalm 39.

Psalm 39 is where David wrestles with maintaining silence before God, and expressing his hurt, anger, and accusation at God. David begins with maintaining silence, in fear that he might sin in what he says (v 1). But this doesn’t last for long because silence can’t last forever. And instead, out comes a torrent of expectations, longings, and hurt.

Listen to some of the raw stuff he says,

Rescue me from my rebellion. Do not let fools mock me. I am silent before you; I won’t say a word, for my punishment is from you. But please stop striking me! I am exhausted by the blows from your hand. (v. 7-9)

Or

Leave me alone so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more.

These are some brutally honest lines. David accuses God of punishing him, ignoring him, or not rescuing him when he should. And he ends with this line, that if God doesn’t help, at least leave him alone so that he can smile again. Being left alone by God is better than being rejected and punished by God. Or so David thinks.

Now do I believe that God is the one punishing David, or that God “strikes people”? No. But that’s not the point. The point is that David brings all that he feels, right or wrong, and brings it openly and brutally honestly before God. David’s reaction isn’t to avoid God, but to bring his accusation towards God. And this in itself is an act of faith, and hope. That even in bringing his desperation, hurt, and anger that God might hear and act.

This is lament. Being brutally honest with yourself and with God about what you feel and where you are at.

And this is what we need to learn. We do not lament. We hide, we paper over pain, we bury pain. We do not address pain and loss. But the truth is that if we want to learn to ever heal or move forward in sorrow, we need to learn to lament. We need to learn to be brutally honest with God and ourselves. And this is something that not only does the Bible authorize, but suggests. One third of the Psalms are complaints, laments, or Psalms of disorientation. Their very existence says that we can come to God with all that’s within us.

So we ended with the main point on Sunday, that we need to learn to lament. And for some of us this might take some really practical points. We might need to journal and let the hurt out. We might need to let a song speak for us (like “Sorrow” which is a modern day lament). We might need to lament with others either in a structured group, or with close friends. Or the best way is maybe to just read the Psalms and let them express our feelings to God.

The point is that if sorrow, grief, or difficulty ever grip and grab you, the way out isn’t to pretend it’s not there. The way out begins with one step. It begins with lament. And life and healing might be a long way off, but lament is the step that begins a journey. And it’s one we need to be okay to take.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to learn to lament.

Teaching Points:

  • You are never ready for grief.
  • “I don’t want to get over you” – The National
  • Lament, if it is about anything, is about honesty.
  • David brings what he feels, not just what he knows, to God.
  • Within lament, even when you accuse God, You are still hoping in God.
  • To the extent we have not learned to lament, we deal superficially with the world’s brokenness, offering quick and easy fixes that do not require our conversion. Chris Rice, Emmanuel Katongole
  • We need to learn to lament.
  • Learning to lament has helped me find healing.
  • Lamenting can be journaling, sharing with others, having a song express your heart, or reading Psalms to lament.
  • We all take each other too much for granted. The routines of life distract us; our own pursuits make us oblivious; our anxieties and sorrows, unmindful. The beauties of the familiar go unremarked. We do not treasure each other enough. Nicholas Wolterstorff
  • I have been . . . grievously wounded. So I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see. Nicholas Wolterstorff

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Was it awkward for you to talk about grief and sorrow? Have you ever experienced sorrow? What was it like for you? Have you ever “lamented”? What might lament look like in your life?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today let your kids teach you. Ask them what they do when they are hurt, and angry, and in sorrow. Kids are much more open and we can learn from them.

Challenge for the Week: Learn and practice the art of lament.

Lent, Suffering, and Bonhoeffer

“Only the suffering God can help.”  Dietrich Bonheoffer.

1208573_69660271This is brilliant, true and full of hope for us during Lent. During Lent the disturbing reality is that we focus on a God, who in the person of Jesus Christ, was beaten, broken, and buried. This is the God we follow, one who died. Is it any wonder Paul said preaching the cross was foolishness…The world follows power, display, and strength; our God demonstrates sacrifice, weakness, and a willingness to enter even into death.

This though is why only the suffering God can help. We do not follow a God who is above suffering, empathy, and distantly removed because of his power. Instead, we follow a God who knows what it is to be beaten. We follow a God who knows what it is to be broken. We follow a God who knows what it is to be buried.

So if you have ever felt beaten down by life…have hope. If you feel broken in body or soul…have hope. If you have lost someone, or feel like you yourself are being buried under darkness…have hope. Because our God felt all those things, but broke through them to show us the way. Our God didn’t stay in heaven removed from the muck and mire of humanity and our struggle. Our God chose to enter into our struggle, to empty himself of all power and privilege to join us. This is why only the suffering God can help, because only the suffering God can understand what we go through. So you are not alone. God knows what it is to feel betrayal. He knows what it is to look forward and see darkness. He knows what it is to die. But the message of Easter is he also knows about resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life. It is through him that all of the world is changed, in a blinding moment of new creation, new life, and a new future. He enters into suffering to lead us out…so may we reflect and remember that this Lenten season. Let us not rush past the suffering to the resurrection of Easter. Let us remember that only the suffering God can help…

Transforming not Transmitting Pain

I have one last quote to share before I move back to my regular blogging schedule and thoughts, now that I’m back from vacations. So here it is for a Monday morning.

“If you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation. Suffering, of course, can lead you in either of two directions: It can make you very bitter and close you down, or it can make you wise, compassionate, and utterly open.” – Richard Rohr

The reality is we suffer. Life has struggles, ups and downs. But this quote reminds me it’s what I do in the struggles that counts. That’s why I like this quote, because it reminds me that what I’m going through doesn’t define me, my choices in the struggles define me.

So I like this quote because it reminds me that even out of bad things, God can bring something good…

Tears as Prayers

Photo from http://www.sxc.hu by dogmadic

I often remark to my church family that if they want a pastor who doesn’t cry, they should get a different pastor. I often cry because I’m moved, because my soul feels something deep, or something deep within me is trying to express itself. But I don’t believe tears are to be avoided but that tears are in one sense prayers. Expressions of our depth.

That’s why I believe tears can be healing. Tears are the prayers of the soul. Tears are what we give when we can’t give anything else. When my dad died we found this quote in his to-do list:

I cry tears to you Lord, tears because I cannot speak. Words are lost among my fears, pains, sorrows, losses, hurts. But, tears you understand, my wordless prayer you hear. – Joe Bailey

There is truth in that. Tears are the prayers of the soul. But we also know that there is a time coming when we no longer need to cry or shed tears. Revelation 21: 4 says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” But in the meantime it’s okay to shed a tear. There is a future that is coming that is full of energy, connection, depth, light-bursting, and life- giving reality. In that place we won’t cry because our souls will be whole.

But today if your soul doesn’t feel whole, if your spirit feels low, it is okay to cry. Shedding tears is a prayer to God, asking him to make whole what hurts, to mend what’s broken, and to give to what feels gone. And if today that’s where you are at…then know that those tears aren’t wasted but that God hears, cares, and, in the end, will act…