Beth M. Broom, LPC-S, CCTP-II
In August 2023, I created a worksheet called “Asking Hard Questions in the Psalms.” This worksheet received some good feedback from CTHN members, but a few people asked for more. So in September, I created something called “Psalms of Lament: A Reflection Guide.” Hopefully this more extended worksheet will help sufferers expand the exercise and think more extensively about how they view their own suffering in light of the psalms.
I wanted to take one of the psalms of lament and reflect on it in this month’s blog post, in hopes that my process will both encourage and equip you as you use the reflection guide. I chose Psalm 89, because I recently spent some significant time there. I’ll share some things from my own life in this post that you may not have heard before. I’m hoping you’ll find comfort and encouragement as you read.
This psalm spends the first 37 verses recounting the goodness and might of God. Ethan the Ezrahite speaks directly to God about His faithfulness, established from the beginning of time and displayed through creation. He calls to mind God’s covenant with the house of Israel and with King David. He tells of God’s power, as shown through His rule over the raging sea and the heavenly beings. He rejoices in the fact that God set Israel apart and spoke favor over the kingdom of David, promising that David’s kingship will last throughout all generations. Ethan even spends eighteen verses quoting God’s words to His people concerning His steadfast love and perfect covenant. As I read these verses, I’m seeing Ethan as a herald of good news, a worship leader who rallies the congregation to shouts of joy over the love and goodness of their God.
But then verse 38 hits me like a ton of bricks. “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.” Whoa, Ethan. What happened? Where is all the shouting and rejoicing? Suddenly we turn a sharp corner and hear some very dramatic and emotional complaints. He says, “…you have defiled his crown in the dust.” The psalmist expresses his great frustration that it seems everything God has said and done in the past is a lie. The covenant God made has been severed. God has abandoned His people.
Then he writes, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” This is starting to get personal. I can feel it in my gut. I love the Lord – I have seen Him work wonders and felt His presence so deeply. I have known Him as a Father and friend in my deepest distress. But I have also wondered at times if He was hiding Himself from me. I have experienced the burn of what felt like His wrath against me. I have sensed that the pain and fear would last forever.
We can only smile through the pain for so long. I spent several years smiling and pretending after abuse tore at my soul. I thought that’s what good Christians do. Trust. Believe the best. Forgive. Forget what is behind and look ahead. I had been taught that feeling angry and abandoned by God was off-limits. I should not feel that way, because it’s not true.
When I came to the point of exhaustion in my pretending, I asked the same questions Ethan asked. I felt crushed under the weight of the abuse I had experienced, but I also felt crushed by the loneliness of hiding it for so long. I couldn’t shake the thought that somehow God was trying to teach me a lesson by letting me suffer so much. I thought maybe He was punishing me or trying to keep me humble. I believed no one could understand or help me.
Finally allowing myself to feel what Ethan so beautifully expressed was a major step toward my healing. I joined his voice and the voices of so many other people in the Bible. I lamented. I asked hard questions. I cried out. I uttered my complaint. And something in me told me that this might be the end of my faith. I feared I was losing belief in God. But something really interesting happened instead. As I lamented, I noticed that I had stepped further into God’s throne room. I wasn’t standing far off anymore. I was approaching. And He wasn’t going anywhere. Releasing these feelings to God became to me like crying into the chest of my Father. I began to realize that what I was doing was actually exactly what Jesus commanded in Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” I was asking for compassion and mercy in my suffering, and He was receiving my desperate plea and responding. He was not going to give me a stone when I asked for bread. His plan was to give me a good gift – Himself.
If I had not cried out to Him and expressed my suffering, I would not have approached Him at all. I would have stayed at arm’s length. In lament, I came closer to Him than I had ever come, and He scooped me up in His arms and held me close.
Something I’ve always noticed is that a psalmist will lament but then begin to talk about God’s love and power – it can seem like praise is coming out of nowhere after expressing grief. Here’s something to remember: when the psalmists turn their thoughts and emotions toward God’s goodness in the face of suffering, they are expressing their faith by stating what they know to be true even when they don’t feel it. That’s hard to do. So (somewhat reluctantly) I started to try to do it in little ways. After crying out, I sometimes wrote one sentence in my journal: something like, “God can hear me,” or “Jesus also suffered.” Over time, the expression of gratitude began to come alongside the expression of pain. They played in harmony together. I realized I could hold both at the same time.
This is what I encourage you to try. See what happens. Notice what stands out to you. Don’t rush it. Just take one little step at a time toward the throne. Ask for the bread you need. He really is a good Father. I’ve created a worksheet to reflect on a psalm of lament that is available to CTHN members. Learn more about membership.