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Disappointment with God: A Lenten Lament

I didn’t expect to usher in Lent feeling angry at God, but that’s how it went down.

On Shrove Tuesday, my fervent prayers for a dear friend that I love and walk beside went unanswered. The very thing I’d asked God to prevent, happened. I’d asked God to intervene, but God, it seems, has not. I mourned with my friend, held her as we both cried.

I can’t share details, they’re confidential and too complex, but I felt forsaken: as the Psalmist did, as Jesus did. Where are you? I lament, with tears. Why have you forsaken this family? Did you hear my prayers? Did you decide not to answer them?

prayer of lament

Photo courtesy of Lightstock.com

Honestly, I feel nervous about admitting my disappointment with God in this season of repentance. Lent, I know, is a time when I am supposed to be lamenting my own sin, not trying to tell God how to do God’s job. This is to be a season of regretting and repenting of my own shortcomings, not pointing out what I think God’s are. Of remembering Jesus’ pain, not wallowing in my own. What will others think of my anger, my sadness, my daring to speak the words out loud: why have you forsaken us?

I’m worried about how other people will perceive my lament, will judge my lack of faith, my demanding questions of God, even though I could pull my prayers straight from the pages in the middle of my Bible:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

My friend (and I with her) are asking these questions of God. The stark words of the Psalmist accurately describe their pain:

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
    strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
    open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
    it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
    a pack of villains encircles me;
    they pierce my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:11-16)

I know how the Psalm ends—the way those lament Psalms always do—turning a corner from wailing to dancing, from mourning to praise. About halfway, sometimes three quarters of the way, through almost every Psalm of lament, you find this word: “But.” Or sometimes, “Yet.” As in “yet will I praise you.” It’s in verse 19 of Psalm 22. You can look it up but I’m not putting it in this post because to do so would feel utterly dishonest. I’m not there yet. I’m hunkered down somewhere in the first half of the Psalm, lodging a complaint.

Right now, I’m stuck in the dark. Alleluias silenced, my soul shrouded. Prayers seem to have been disregarded, and the Chicago sunshine even feels deceptive as the temperature hovers around 1 degree or so.

I’m not only low on faith, I’m having trouble feeling repentant for that deficiency. My small consolation is that Jesus felt this way—he quoted this Psalm on the cross. Where, it appeared, God had said “no” to (or maybe ignored?) Jesus’ prayer to “take this cup from him.” Though I cannot see him, there’s a deeper part of me knows he’s there, somewhere. Even if Jesus feels far away, these famous words remind me that he’s been in this place of forsakenness too.

My friend, in pain, can’t see Jesus, can’t feel him. So I go, sit with her, cry with her. All I know how to do is just love. I need Jesus to show up through me, to love her through me, even though I don’t have the confidence to believe that will happen.

Oddly, the time I catch a glimpse, as if out of the corner of my eye, of Jesus, is when I am sitting on the basement floor with my friend, holding her as she weeps. What if, when I comfort those who mourn, Jesus is comforting them through me, even if I don’t have the strength to acknowledge that, or even the eyes to see it? Can I be Jesus to someone even in the midst of my own questions and doubts? I don’t know.

Defiantly, I resolve to walk though this valley with my friend, whether or not we feel God’s presence. There is so much I don’t know. But I know this: I will love my friend. I will be with her. I will pray, even when I fear those prayers might be lost in the dark.

10 Comments

  1. You are an amazing friend. The act of lament is something we need to talk about more in the church. And yes–Jesus is using you in her life (as he’s used you in my life). My friends have been lifelines. Love you!

    • Thanks, Susy. I know this has been a lament season for you as well and I’m thankful for our friendship!

  2. Thank you. You call us – by modeling – to embrace a part of our very real relationship with God that many of us have been raised to ignore, fear or question. God can handle the questions you raise here. And raising them in the presence of a grieving friend who also is questioning and experiencing disappointment is such a powerful way of being with. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Tom. So true: many of us “question our questions” and feel some shame or guilt over them. This experience has reminded me that there must be some reason so much of the bible is deveoted to questions rather than answers (Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and as I mentioned, much of the Psalms, are all devoted to questions about life and the pain that is interwoven with the joy).

  3. By the way, friends, if you are looking for something on Lent that might be a little less jarring, this is one of my most popular posts on Ash Wednesday: http://www.keriwyattkent.com/articles/ash-wednesday-spring-cleaning-for-the-soul-by-keri-wyatt-kent/

  4. I have been there and find that those are the months when I really grew in a real and deep relationship with God. I know that when my own kids are disappointed and angry, I want them to pour out their hearts to me. Our God is no different. He can take my frustration and lamenting and has taken it many times over the years of foster parenting and grief.

    • Such profound insight: when our own kids are disaapointed, we want to know. Yes. Thank you. And it’s interesting that you’ve dealt with this in foster parenting. That’s part of my friend’s story. Thanks for understanding.

  5. Mourning and grief wait for no season on the calendar. Jesus’ own grief came at a time when the nation was marking the greatest victory in their history, one that God repeatedly told them to remember and celebrate: Passover and the Exodus. His grief came at the most wonderful time of the year, and it was awful and anguishing.

    Yours can be too, and there is no lessening of faith in it at all from what I can tell.

  6. I picked up this post off of Twitter. I really don’t think God holds things like this against us in times of weakness and loss. I do believe it’s natural to pray or ask for mercy or delay of what we know to be inevitable; it’s times like these that God’s Sovereignty is least understood or even cared about.

    Personally, I’m living on borrowed time as it is for I have a weak heart as well as other complications and I know in my passing, my wife and kids will experience the same anxieties you are experiencing. With that said, my hope is after their grieving has passed, they embrace The Faith in it’s reality as the hope of our resurrection from the dead and life with God rather than the mundane existence we now experience with its everyday pain(s).

    • Mike,
      Wow, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry to hear of your situation. So true: “it’s times like these that God’s Sovereignty is least understood…” yes. Your story is a reminder to live fully as possible in each moment–we never know what we will lose, or when. Thank you and may God comfort you and your family.

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