despair grief

Permission to Wail and Scream

9:23 AMHeather

I cannot deny that I was a temperamental child. Okay, okay. My sister would probably interject here to say that it was far more than that. So, alright already. I had temper tantrums. For some reason, age 7 stands out to me, as I can recall episodes when I would become so overcome with emotion and frustration that I would sprawl on the floor and cry, deep and heartfelt, with all the woes of childhood.

My mom happened to be earning her bachelor's degree in Counseling Psychology at the time. I'm thinking my behavior must have been fodder for classroom discussions. 

Do you want to know what happens to a child prone to temper tantrums with a mom getting a degree in psychology?

Happy Grams. 

Oh, yes. Behavior modification at it's finest. I would earn a Happy Gram for every day that I didn't throw a fit. These were half-sheet certificates my big sister would draw for me and they were promptly and proudly taped to my bedroom door. If I went an entire week earning one daily, then I got a FULL SHEET certificate and a reward, such as a new pack of crayons, or construction paper, or some other art supply.

Listen, it worked. I worked so very hard to earn that praise and accolade. I wanted to stand in the hallway in front of my room and have the entire family verbally applaud my efforts as I taped my Happy Gram on the door.

Except for one problem. Somewhere in all this behavior modification, I extracted some falsehoods about myself and how I relate to others. Most damaging, I projected some deceits about God. I thought I had to stuff the bad feelings and hard stuff. Anger and frustration were to be hidden away. Conflict resolution boiled down to avoidance and keeping my mouth shut. My negative feelings -- all of them -- were bad and were never to be expressed. 

I thought God cared more about my performance than he did about my authenticity. I began to see him as the God of Happy Grams, doling them out in generous measure if I can just be good enough and behave properly.

This all came crashing down during my tumultuous college years when my life completely unraveled. I tried. I really tried. To say the right things like how God doesn't give you more than you can handle (Completely untrue, BTW. He doesn't give us more than HE can handle). I'd work so hard at really believing all the cliche statements of faith, while secretly coming to resent them, and all the while thinking something was wrong with me because I was feeling so at-odds toward God. Because I was boiling over with anger and sadness and despair.

I can pinpoint the moment when this falsehood began to lose its grip on me. I sat on my bedroom floor, leaning against my bed, utterly exhausted by my own game of faith. I was done playing by what I perceived as God's rules or else. I was worn out trying to be the good girl and earn, earn, earn. There, a very strong and urgent thought came into my mind, as I considered how I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up. 

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"Just say it. Just be honest. God knows how you feel. Don't you know that God perceive your thoughts? That he knows the number of hairs on your head? So, lay it on the table. Lay it all out there. If I'll just be honest, then God and I can really get to work toward healing. Time to shoot straight and deal with all the messy feelings."

What I now know is that God was directing me to lament. He was giving me permission to wail and scream and pound on his chest with all of my feelings. ALL OF THEM. He was encouraging me to hold nothing back and to quit squeezing him into these preconceived boxes I'd created about who he is and what he expected of me. 

It was a pivot point. It was the turning of the tide and I took a huge leap toward gaining some footing. It's the moment when I discovered, there at rock bottom, that he really is the Solid Rock.

It's why I earnestly encourage others who are hurting to go ahead and wail and scream. It's why I have this soap box about how lamenting has become a lost art. It's why I'm writing this today.

Because lamenting before God in raw and honest expressions of all the feelings has numerous Biblical precedents. David, the man after God's own heart -- he was a master at lamenting. Over and over again, we see him pouring himself out in heartfelt and genuine expressions of grief, anger, despair, fear, sorrow over his sin, and feeling rejected by God. Or read the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. 

We have so much to learn from the example of Jeremiah and how he lamented for his people, their sin, and over his very life. 

Jesus himself sets a vivid picture of lamenting honestly before God as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He laments over the cup he is being asked to drink. He begs for any other way to accomplish what needs to be done, mindful as he does so of God's sovereignty and his Father's love.

Last week, I blogged about the truth of the darkness. Today, I remind you that when the darkness comes, an appropriate and Biblical response is to lament. From deep within, in utter honesty. 

For we CAN approach the throne of mercy boldly and with confidence. We have no need for pretenses or holding back. For although God is the Lord Almighty and the Creator of the Universe, he is NOT a King who requires that his ears be tickled. He is not a distant dictator demanding a blind devotion marked by good behavior and expressions of only positive feelings. 

He is, instead a Father who invites us to be near. He calls us to be held in his lap, in his righteous right hand (Isaiah 40:10). He wants us to pour out to him where it hurts. He is in our midst, mighty to save, rejoicing over us with singing, and quieting us with his love (Zephaniah 3:17). He invites us to a true relationship with him. And real intimacy comes only when we are authentic and honest. 

The reality is that God does not invite us to participate in the ritual of lamenting for his sake, as if he needs us to fill him in on our truest emotions. As I've said, he already perceives our thoughts. No, God invites us to lament and wail and be authentic for our sake. So that we hold nothing back and approach him, trusting him with it all. With all of our thoughts and feelings. 

Do we not bear our truest selves with those whom we trust the most? That is heart of lamenting.

When distressed, God desires that we cry out to him. That we pour our hearts out to him. That we lift our hands to him. That we run at him, toward him, with every emotion and question and thought. 

We can and should honestly lament before God. We should hold nothing back. We should be transparent and open, expressing our feelings to him. 

But, we aren't to wallow there. We aren't to linger there or get stuck there. We are to bring truth to mind. That is how and where we find hope, is by bringing truth to mind. The truth of who he is. Of his great love that protects us from being consumed. Of his new mercies, fresh daily to meet the needs of each day -- starting over anew at each sunrise. We are to bring to mind his faithfulness and how he has shown up before in order to tell our hurting souls that he will show up again. For his faithfulness is so great and so expansive and so immeasurable (Lamentations 3:22-25). We tell our anguished heart of God's sovereignty and goodness, within all of life, in both the good and the bad.

If you are in the darkness and holding back, because you think you have to earn a Happy Gram, then spend some time in Lamentations 3. It's been my anthem in my deepest sorrows of life.

He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, "My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord." I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Lamentations 3:16-19

Oh, Jeremiah was a prophet alright, and Jesus often quoted his writings from the book of Isaiah. Jeremiah was also a contender for a gold medal at lamenting. Haven't you ever felt the depth of the emotion behind these words? 

My question to you is this. Are you confident enough in God's love and grace to approach him with even these hard and difficult and angry emotions?
That we would all remember that lamenting is a Biblical rhythm. God does not require us to shove our negative emotions under the rug. He says bring them to me. Trust me with them. And then, remember what Jeremiah says next.

YET this I call to mind and therefore I have hope; 
Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him." The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:22-25 

Lamenting. Heartfelt expressions of angst, honestly brought to God through prayer. And then, the author preaches truth to his soul. Like the Psalmist David, he pours out his heart and then says, "YET, this I call to mind." 

He allows his emotions to pour forth, but he refuses to let his mind dwell there. Instead, he preaches the truth of who God is and how God has shown up before in order to gain footing to believe that God will show up again.

God does not require us to be happy, emotionless robots. He does not require us to be mindlessly obedient, expressionless and "yes" men. He asks us to commune with him in raw and authentic and heartfelt relationship, running to him with all that rages within us. 

He invites us to trust that his unconditional love and sovereignty will withstand our questions and our doubts and our times of absolute anger at what has happened in our lives. He comforts us and meets us there, in those dark nights of weeping. 

And through the examples we find throughout Scripture, he says when we find ourselves lamenting, we practice the liturgy of singing songs of truth over our souls to quiet the feelings. 

Yet, THIS we bring to our mind. We tell our feelings who's boss by instructing our mind to recall the unchanging truth of who God is. We literally sing songs of Biblical affirmation from old hymns and theologically sound worship. And we recite and pray Scripture and cling to the truth that will become our anchor in the stormy seasons when wind and waves pound against us.

Because he is the God of the empty tomb. 

He says come and mourn and cry out. Let him in to the deepest and darkest places of our mind and heart. And then, look squarely into that place of death and brokenness, and see that Jesus burst forth in victorious life. 

For he is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our afflictions so that we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). He says that the rhythm of the gospel was death to bring life. When our hearts feel sick and heavy, there is life to be found in the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I'm still unraveling tangled deceits and assumptions that I created in my mind and heart during childhood. I'm still ripping out the unbelief that God's love is conditional and must be earned. I'm ever relearning, and have embraced that I ever will be. 

But oh the glorious freedom I've found in knowing that my God does not require me to perform a certain way or say certain things that are disingenuous to the storms that rage within me. 

Instead, he is the Almighty who knew that we could never abide by a code of conduct. The law was flawed from the beginning to point us all toward the only redemption we might find through the perfect Lamb of God.

Too great a price was paid for us to refuse authenticity with him. Instead, he extends an invitation to come and lament and wail and scream, falling hard into his faithful and loving arms. And then, lift our heads to look long and hard into the truth of who he is.

Yet this I call to mind. He is the One who is faithful when I am faithless. He is the God of new mercies, unconditional love, and great faithfulness.

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