When Your Faith Isn't Bright and Shiny

I lost the most influential person in my life two months ago. The intense grief of this season has left me tattered and hurting as I struggle to determine who I am without her daily presence.  I’ve found myself in a season of where something unexpected has shaken my faith, causing disruption and pain. It turns out, I’ve found myself in a season where I need the lament Psalms.

Lament is an expression of grief or sorrow.  And the Psalms teach us how to engage in the spiritual practice of lament.

Did you know that lament is the most frequent form of Psalms in the Bible? There are more psalms of lament in the book of Psalms than any other type. Approximately 70% of the Psalms are lament Psalms. To that we can add all of Lamentations, over half the book of Job, and the laments of the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and Amos we can see the lament is a strong biblical theme. There are more Psalms that give voice to suffering, to our common condition of pain, loss, rejection, devastation, despair, shame, disappointment, and injustice than give voice to joy. 

There are more Psalms that cry out to God in pain than cry out to God in praise.

And that, my friends, is a hard reality because it points to the amount of pain and suffering, we will inevitably experience in our human journey.

Walter Brueggemann, in his book Praying the Psalms, put into words something I have felt in my journey with Christ. This rhythm that we find ourselves in as we mature in our faith.  He calls it the “flow of equilibrium.”  He suggests that our life of faith consists of moving with God in terms of this and gives us Psalms that speak to this rhythm.

  • Being securely oriented – that’s a feeling of equilibrium in our lives.  It’s being settled, comfortable, knowing that life makes sense and God feels safe and secure. Psalms of orientation found her reflect a confident belief that the world is well ordered, reliable, and life-giving to the person of faith. Psalm 1 or Psalm 8 for example.

  • Being painfully disoriented – this is when chaos or the unexpected shakes our lives.  Maybe it’s something like a divorce, the loss of a job, a financial crisis, a diagnosis. Maybe it’s a fall out in a personal relationship that comes with hurt. You are mistreated, misunderstood, sidelined. Maybe it’s rejection. Maybe it’s a death, or devastation from a natural disaster.  These Psalms reflect the brokenness of life, when it is no longer orderly. These are spoken out of the depths. Psalm 22 or Psalm 55 for example.

  • Being surprisingly reoriented – this not a return to the previous status quo.Rather this is the new normal.This is what it means by “all things new”. Our existence is stable again.The equilibrium returns but it’s different. It’s richer. We’ve learned. We’ve grown. New orientation Psalms reflect the surprise of new possibilities that are experienced as pure gift from God. They are full of thanks.  Psalm 23 or Psalm 100 for example.

The problem in our Christian culture is that for most of us, we are expected to speak the language of secure orientation. Finding joy, rising above, praising God in all things, saying we are #blessed. Pretending to be ok even if we are not.  We speak a language of cover up as if being honest about our doubt and struggles somehow makes us less Christian.

In The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith” by Christopher J.H. Wright says it this way “Many Christians seem to feel that somehow it can’t be right to complain to God. There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have “faith” (as if the moaning psalmists didn’t)

And what lament does - it asks us to depart from the closely managed world of public survival, and to move into the open, frightening, healing world of speech with the Holy One. - Walter Brueggemann

Lament gives us permission to make our feelings known to God. It’s an important part of our healing journey, a necessary expression of our faith. It’s the way to becoming securely reoriented.

If you find yourself like me, struggling with the emotions of a hard season, it’s ok if your faith doesn’t look bright and shiny right now. Find yourself at home in the Psalms - engage the spiritual practice of lament and you find yourself in a deeper intimacy with God because you trusted him enough to be honest.

For more of what I am learning about lament, check out episode #4 of my Seminary Stowaways podcast, God is a Big Boy.



Luann Riley