I received unexpected news recently. The kind of news that made my heart hurt and tears burn my eyes. I felt the pressure of its weight on my entire being. David’s words in Psalm 6 mirrored the feelings in my heart, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6).
Have you ever turned to the Psalms in time of sorrow, fear, or uncertainty? Though penned in a different time and out of somewhat different experiences, the words of the Psalms seem to give voice to our own emotions. As John Calvin said, the Psalms are an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.
Journey with the Psalmist
In particular, the psalms of lament echo our own struggles with loss and brokenness. But the truth is, these psalms go farther than just venting woes. The psalmist follows a trajectory. He is on a journey, and it’s one we can follow as well.
The laments follow a three-part structure. They begin with an expression of feelings. The psalmist comes before the Lord and pours out all his heavy and burdensome emotions. He is honest with God, revealing the depths and degree of his pain. “I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched; my eyes fail while I wait for my God” (Psalm 69:2–3).
As the psalmist goes forward in his journey, he moves from expressing feelings to calling out for help. He knows that it is God alone who can rescue, redeem, and restore him. He asks for what he needs, whether it be rescue, mercy, or justice. “Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (Psalm 6:4). “Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me” (Psalm 27:7).
Stay the Course
Continuing on in his journey, the psalmist’s faith is strengthened as he remembers who God is, as he sees God’s hand at work in his life, and as he reflects on God’s past grace. The psalmist then comes to the end of his journey. He responds in an affirmation of trust in God. He offers a sacrifice of praise and worship. “I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help” (Psalm 56:12). “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5–6).
This three-stage journey through the emotions is not something that happens overnight. The psalmist went through these steps over a course of time. But he pushed through. He followed the path forward. He stayed in the battle.
Too often I have remained in the first step. I have voiced all the pain in my life to God and then stayed there. As though simply voicing my emotions was the end of it all. But it’s not the end. Getting everything out there may bring temporary relief, but it’s not the final goal. We need to go forward, to work through our emotions on the way to our ultimate destination: trust and worship.
Jesus Endured the Cross
This journey is made possible only through Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, who was well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). It was Jesus who paved the way for us as he followed his own journey of lament. On that fateful night in the Garden of Gethsemane, he voiced his sorrow, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). He cried out to God for help saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (13:36).
Trusting in his Father’s will, the Book of Hebrews tells us that “for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Jesus claimed the psalmist’s lament as his own when he cried out at the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
Jesus personified the heart cries of his people at the cross. He became the fulfillment of all our laments. And he calls us to cast all our burdens on him. Because of Jesus and the gospel, we can come to the “throne of grace in confidence and find the help and grace in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We can come to Jesus with all our emotions and cares and know that he hears us, that he cares for us, that he is at work in us.
That’s what we do when we follow the structure of the laments. We cast our burdens on our Savior. We cry out for his help. He strengthens us through his Spirit and his word, refreshing us and renewing our faith in him. And then we respond in the glad affirmation of trust and worship. The sorrows of life try to pull us away from him; but the journey of the laments draws us toward him.
Perhaps you’ve received unexpected news of your own. Maybe you are in a place of sorrow, fear, or uncertainty. If you can relate to the cries of the psalmist, journey through your own lament. Follow the three-part structure. Push forward into the dark night of your emotions, knowing that the light of the Son will rise in you. For “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).