BY HANNAH STAPLETON, GRACE ATTENDER
I’ve had a hard time praying lately. Every time I try, I feel the words choke up in my throat. My brains gets so overwhelmed that I can’t formulate a half coherent thought. I struggle to find things to praise, though I know God is still faithful. I struggle to give thanks when so much is so clearly broken. I can’t begin to articulate requests or supplication when I think about the struggles in my life, in my families’ lives, in the community, in the world. I get overloaded and I shut down, the words all dried up in a desert of anxiety.
I’m sad and I don’t know how to not be sad and I don’t know how to bring my sadness to God. Isn’t that so weird? I bring so many emotions to God, but sadness - I can’t figure out how to lay that one at His feet. Maybe because I feel like I should always be grateful, since the Holy Spirit is inside me. Maybe because Romans says that we should “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3) but I can’t figure out how to do that and then I feel like a bad Christian.
But right here, right now, at this moment in history, I’m sad. And I’m not ready to move past that yet. I want to lament. I need to stay in this place of grieving all the ways the world is changed, all the things and people we’ve lost, everything that is different and not right. And I don’t know how to pray in this space, this space that I know I need to be in.
But then I think about Hannah, my Biblical namesake. I tend to think about her a lot, about the legacy I knew my parents wanted me to have. And right now, I remember the way she wept before the Lord. Hannah desperately wanted a child. Her husband’s second wife was very fertile and would flaunt her babies in front of Hannah. Eventually, Hannah couldn’t take it anymore and she went to the tabernacle and “was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.” In fact, she was crying and grieving so bitterly that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk (I Samuel 1: 10-13). I think about how upset she was, how fervent she was in her silent prayer to the Lord, for an observer to think she was drunk.
Though the Bible doesn’t share her prayer, my namesake was not afraid to bring her grief to God. She could pray out the desires of her heart that seemed beyond articulation.
And then I turned to the book of the Bible I almost always turn to in moments of grief: the Psalms. The Psalms are honest. They call it like it is in a way that has always been more resonant to me than even Job. The Psalmists exposed their grief, their suffering, their fear.
“My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration.” Psalm 42:4
“I am bent over and racked with pain. All day long I walk around filled with grief. A raging fever burns within me, and my health is broken. I am exhausted and completely crushed. My groans come from an anguished heart.” Psalm 38:6-8
“My heart pounds in my chest. The terror of death assaults me. Fear and trembling overwhelm me, and I can’t stop shaking. Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest!” Psalm 55:4-6
“Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?” Psalm 77:8-9
“Listen to my prayer, Oh God. Do not ignore my cry for help.” Psalm 55:1
“Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears.” Psalm 39:12
When there aren’t words for grief, when praising God is hard, they echo back what they’ve been taught. They’re honest with God about their pain.
Because God can take it. God can take our laments. God can take our grief. God suffers with us. God’s heart is breaking with ours. God is sad with us.
God wasn’t scared of the Psalmists pain. He wasn’t scared of Hannah’s tears in the tabernacle. He wasn’t even scared of Jesus’ anguish in the garden before His crucifixion. He didn’t push them out of their sorrow. He didn’t tell them to get over it. He didn’t even tell them that they weren’t grieving right.
He knew the sorrows of their hearts no matter how they communicated it. And all I can do right now is trust that He’s doing the same for me. That whether I groan from an anguished hearts like the psalmists, weep and grieve like Hannah, or simply say God’s name in a strangled cry from a throat suffocated with words that cannot be spoken, He’s listening. And He’s crying with me.
For more on this topic, see Barry's sermon on lament.