Maybe you think that’s depressing; you’d rather focus on the psalms of praise and thanksgiving, even if they are fewer in number. I like those psalms, too, but the sheer volume of lament says something very important to me: It’s okay to be sad. God does not expect me to paste on a plastic happy face before I pray or gather with others to worship.
A few years ago, I took an incredibly insightful spring school course at Regent College taught by Prof. Darrell W. Johnson entitled “Praying By the Book.” In our discussion about incorporating psalms into our prayers, I learned that lament keeps me from pretending that everything is okay when things are really not okay. Laments give me words to express my pain when I cannot formulate the words myself. Lamenting engenders true healing because it opens up those deep, hurting places of my soul, rather than trying to hide them with a plastic happy face. It’s okay to be sad.
But who really thinks that today? Voices in our culture tell us to pursue happiness at any cost because there’s gotta be something wrong with you if you’re not happy.
This is both an unhelpful and harmful message. In his enduring book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Auschwitz survivor Viktor E. Frankl writes how “the burden of unavoidable happiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy” (p. 114). Further on he expands on “certain unhealthy trends in the present-day culture of the United States [and Canada] where the incurable sufferer is given very little opportunity to be proud of his suffering [lamenting?] and to consider it ennobling rather than degrading so that he is not only unhappy, but also ashamed of being unhappy” (p. 146).
As the Spirit-inspired writers of the lament psalms have been telling us for a long time, sadness is not a curse. But we also do not need to unnecessarily add to it by being sad because of the fact that we are sad.
Our loving God embraces us in His open arms whether we’re having a fabulous day or we are grieving. We don’t have to try hiding anything, putting on a more “acceptable” exterior. God welcomes our sadness and lament. Because, as I learned from Prof. Johnson, that’s where healing begins.
A shout-out for Regent College:
If you ever have the opportunity to take a one- or two-week spring or summer school course at Regent College in Vancouver, I highly recommend it. Classes are taught by some of the foremost evangelical scholars of our day in the areas of theology, art, missions, spirituality, history, Bible studies, church leadership, marketplace theology, and much more. Check out their website for course details, registration info, free audio and video of lectures, and more.