31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 24, 2016
Psalms 44 & 55
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Play video clip of “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow”
There is an old joke: what do you get when you play a country song backwards? You get your wife back, your dog back, and your truck back.
It’s not true of modern country music however the lament was a staple of traditional country music and its subset, bluegrass. It seems odd for lamentation to be a popular form of music. I mean, who wants to hear someone else bellyache about their problems?!
Clearly the ancient Israelites did. Laments are the most frequent type of psalm. Strange, right? Psalms, which translates directly to the word ‘Praise’, is filled mostly with laments.
Why did those who compiled the Bible think that these words of sorrow and complaint were helpful for our journey of faith? Why did they think they were holy?
Maybe because these words are so real, so honest, so authentic. Have you ever had a time in your life, when like in the 44th psalm, you wondered how God could let everything in your life go so wrong? When you wanted to yell and scream and curse because you had done nothing to bring this illness, this layoff, this personal attack, upon yourself?
Or have you ever had a time when a friend, a loved one, betrayed you? When someone you trusted cut you like a sword? When someone you thought was journeying with you instead was plotting against you, plotting against you the entire time they walked side by side with you?
Suffering, betrayal, abandonment, grief. They make us feel terrible. They cause our minds and our hearts to well up and overflow with pain. And at that point, we have two choices. We can push the pain down. We can take our anger at God, our anger at others, and we can lock it away saying, “It’s not very Christian to be angry. It’s not appropriate to express my anger, my sorrow, my pain, my hurt, out loud.”
Here’s the thing though about tamping those emotions down. They never stay down. They burst out in unhealthy ways. They fester and eat at our souls. They make us behave in the most un-Christ-like of ways.
There is a place for denial in life. Sometimes, denial is a tool that helps us survive until we can get to a place where we can deal with our anger, our disappointment, our sorrow, but denial is only a tool – not the long-term solution.
So while we have two choices when it comes to dealing with pain in our lives, the first choice will actually kill you. If not with anxiety and depression, then with the physical ailments that come along with chronic stress and anger. And you will not be alone in doing yourself harm – those around you will also be affected.
So what do we do with our suffering, our pain, our betrayal, disappointment, and sorrow? We lament. We express it – with words, with tears, with screams to God.
We lament as did the writers of psalm 44, 55, 56, 74, 77, 79, you get the picture.
It’s healthy; it’s Biblical; it’s faithful to lament.
It’s healthy; it’s Biblical; it’s faithful to lament.
And yet, we don’t. I can’t tell you how many people, that when I visit them in the hospital, tell me they are fine. You are in the hospital! Unless you are having a baby (and I do on occasion get to make those visits) but otherwise, hospitalized people usually are not fine. And when I gently ask again – “how are you really?”, I quite often hear something like this – well, others have it worse off than me.
Others have it worse off than me.
Is that the prerequisite for expressing grief and sorrow, that you have it worse than anyone else?
Funny, how it’s never the same prerequisite for happiness and joy.
Keep calm and carry on. Keep a stiff upper lip. We don’t share our business with others. It reminds me of Miranda Lambert’s song, “Mama’s Broken Heart” where the chorus says,
Go & fix your make up, girl it’s just a break up
Run & hide your crazy & start acting like a lady
Cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together
Even when you fall apart
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart.
Hide your crazy. Start acting like a lady. And as we all know, ladies and gentlemen do not cry in public. They do not come to worship and sob great big sobs after or in anticipation of the death of a loved one, as they grieve a miscarriage or deal with issues of infertility, as they deal with the pain of a broken relationship. Somewhere, somehow, we have been taught that proper Christians do not cry in worship.
We might not even express to our closest friends our utter shock at being laid off or left by our partner because we have learned that people are uncomfortable with such raw emotion. People smile and say “There, there”, but we learn, person by person, occasion by occasion, to hide our feelings of pain, pushing them deep, deep down inside of us.
But not the psalmists. They were real. They were honest. They were authentic. They expressed it all. Psalm 55 is not the eloquent piece of poetry we expect from the psalms. It is disjointed. It is chaotic. The psalmist is not hiding his or her crazy. They plead with God to hear them; they confess their terror and desire to flee far away. They express their bitterness at being betrayed by a friend, by someone who walked beside them as they went together to worship.
The psalmist is not afraid to express all of their feelings to God: their trust in God as well as their anger at their former friend. “Give your burden to the Lord, who will be your support. If you are faithful, God will not let you fall. O God, hurl the bloodthirsty into the pit of destruction. Let traitors live only half their days. But as for me, I trust in you.” (Psalm 55:23-24)
Admit it, if only to yourself and God. Haven’t you ever wanted to say to God ‘throw my enemies into the pit of destruction.” “Let those who have betrayed me fall into Sheol alive?
Haven’t you ever wanted to say to God, “why do you ignore how much I suffer?” “Wake up and help [me]. Rescue [me]! Your love demands it.” (Psalm 44:27)
It’s okay to be angry. It’s even okay to be angry with God. We need to process our pain, but it’s all about how we express that anger, disappointment, and sorrow. It’s all about processing it in a healthy, productive way.
Again, look at the psalmists – how did they express their disappointment, their sorrow, their pain? They expressed it to God. They shared their pain and anger in private times of prayer and in communal times of worship. They knew it was okay to lament.
Do we know its okay to lament?
It’s okay to lament. It’s really okay to lament. It’s Biblical, holy, and faithful to lament. It’s okay to sing, “I am a man of constant sorrow.” It’s okay to show your crazy and not always act like a lady.
And when you do, remember that God is always with you. God has faithfully walked with our ancestors. God faithfully walks with us. Even if we were to be betrayed by the entire world, we can always trust God. We can always trust in God. God will never fail us. God’s love will never desert us.
And so we are free to cry, sob even, rail against our circumstances, ask ‘why me?’, lament. And when the pity party is over, we will discover that we have been wrapped in God’s everlasting arms, safe and secure from all alarms, the entire time. The entire time.