This is How We Cry Out to God

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Abby Norman -Seminary -Learning Lament3

This year I started seminary. It is exciting, and hard. Very often in my classes I hear something that blows either my mind or my heart right open. That is the exciting part. Tests are the hard part. Here, at my new monthly column “Seminary for Everybody,” we’ll do bites of the good stuff without any of the tests. I’ll share what am I learning so seminary could be for everybody, not just seminarians. That is what we’ll do.

In my Old Testament class we are in the midst of the Wisdom Literature. This means that in one week I read all the way through the Psalms. One week. All the way through. It was a lot. There are a lot of Psalms. If you do read all the way through the Psalms in a week you will find ones that you are intimately familiar with. You will see your favorite lines from your favorite praise Psalms. You will remember Psalms you haven’t heard since you were a little girl.

In the midst of all the familiar praise, you will find a lot of Psalms you maybe haven’t heard before. There are tons where frankly, the content seems a little inappropriate for the Bible. I mean, are you really allowed to talk to God like that? Are you really allowed to tell God you hate your enemies so much you want to watch their babies being smashed against the rocks? Are you really allowed to tell God you can’t believe God would abandon you like this? Are you allowed to ask God why? Are you allowed to demand answers of God?

All these things happen in the Psalms. I know. I was shocked too, but it is all in there. The Psalmists talk to God any kind of way. The Psalmists talk to God in ways I was not allowed to talk to my parents. The Psalmists never really hold anything back in the Lament psalms. These laments weren’t just used to tell off God. They were used communally, as a way to express sorrow.

The Hebrews taught the next generation how to lament, together.

I love this idea.  I love the idea that the Hebrew people came to their God and told all their business. They told God the truth about their lives. Y’all. Some bad stuff happened to those who were writing the Psalms. They were conquered. Their homes were destroyed. They were pursued by their enemies. People they loved died senselessly. Of course they were mad at God. Of course they were angry with their enemies. Of course they were confused and frustrated and wanted some answers about the sense of life. Of course they did.

Some of us, many of us, were raised in churches where being honest about our feelings was not okay. Some of us still go to churches where everyone is always fine, great, blessed. But the Psalms teach us that it is okay to not be fine; it is okay for the whole community to not be fine! They didn’t just give permission to lament, they taught people how to do it. It was a regular part of the communal worship and lament was considered a kind of praise.

The Psalms teach us that it is okay to say what we need to say. As long as we are talking TO God and not ABOUT God, we are still faithful. It is still a faithful act, even if the act is to tell God about himself and how he messed everything up.

I look at the Psalms of lament and I long for a church where we would do this. Not just that we would hold space for anger, frustration, brokenheartedness, but that we would teach people how to cry out to God. The lament Psalms were taught. This was taught as a way to worship God. Just like my small children need to be taught the words to name their emotions instead of lashing out, I think the people of God today also need to be taught how to properly adress God while in pain. Because the crazy and beautiful thing about the lament Psalms is that still they end up saying, “I will trust God anyway; we will love God anyway.”

I long for a place where we lament together. I think God longs to hear us. That is what the Psalms are for.

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Abby Norman
Abby Norman lives, and loves in the city of Atlanta. She lives with her two hilarious children and a husband that doubles as her biggest fan. When not mothering, teaching, parenting or “wifeing”, she blogs at accidentaldevotional.com. Abby loves to make up words and is excited by the idea that Miriam Webster says you can verb things.
Abby Norman

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  • Lori-Lyn Hurley

    I love this so much. Thank you. I often find comfort in (and find myself shocked by) the Psalms for this very reason. They are songs like breadcrumbs, reminding me that no matter what I’m feeling (or how separate from God) I might be feeling, there is a path and I can keep walking.

    • Abby Norman

      oooh, I love this. Lament as markers for staying on the faithful path.

  • Maybe it’s a character flaw, but I find myself coming back to those psalms of lament all the time. I love knowing that God invites me to bring all the ugly feelings directly to Him, and most of all, I love hearing His voice quietly whispering, “Sing it, my child. I will listen.”

    • Abby Norman

      I don’t think it is a character flaw. I think it is a sign of your intimate relationship with God. I also think it is a sign of mutual faithfulness. You have to REALLY trust your relationship with someone to say those things to them.

  • First – I am delighted that this idea, this excellent idea for a series that was discussed at Rise Up is happening, right here on the screen. I am here for this.

    I loved this: “As long as we are talking TO God and not ABOUT God, we are still faithful.” I, too, have experienced churches where everyone is “too blessed to be stressed” and I’ve stood there confused because sometimes, if you’re not stressed at all you’re simply not paying attention. Hard things happen. Really hard things, and we make it even harder when we required people to smile through it all. Thank you for this reminder that God is okay with all of our feelings. I’m excited to see where this series takes us ❤️

    • Abby Norman

      Me too! ha! I am totally able to be blessed and stressed at the same time. Maybe I am special.

  • Saskia Wishart

    I love this idea Abby! Looking forward to following this column.

  • fiona lynne

    YES! Love any chance to learn what is currently blowing open your mental boxes! And this need to lament, this permission to lament is so so important and I’m barely even beginning to understand what it looks like.

  • Yes! It’s so important to talk about the bits of scripture that make us uncomfortable, too. Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward to this new column.

  • I love this Abby! “As long as we are talking TO God and not ABOUT God, we are still faithful.” What a mind blowing and humbling thought. So often I talk about this need for lament, for the church to embrace this practice and language but I still struggle to do it myself – so many ingrained falsehoods about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to prayer. I’m so excited for this new series – thank you for sharing!