Guest posting by Dave Beach, author, licensed counselor, ordained chaplain, and spirituality coach. You can find more information about Dave at Soul Seasons. Dave is co-author of The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms.
When I was a boy, I learned so many nice choruses in Sunday school. One started something like this: “I’m in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time.” Another went similarly, “I’m H-A-P-P-Y happy all the T-I-M-E time.” For most of the first 30 years of my life, I believed I should, would, and could be happy all the time.
So when my first wife was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma, I kept trying to practice happiness all the T-I-M-E time. Finally, after six long years of caregiving and feeling powerless to stop the onslaught of disease, I began to feel keenly the need for a different chorus book in my heart.
At night, sitting in the St. John’s transplant house near a Mayo Clinic hospital in Rochester, MN, I met an old “new” chorus book – the Psalter. For the first time in my life, I felt my desperate need for new “songs,” songs that “give sorrow words,” as Shakespeare wrote so long ago. Words far more ancient than Shakespeare, words that have voiced the sufferings of the faithful for millenniums.
The language of lament.
Language of protest and faith together.
Language filled with questions that press through and grab a hold of God and pull.
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 10:1 (NIV)
“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Ps. 88:14 (NIV)
These laments pushed my faith out into the deep, which felt congruent with my soul. And there I met the man of sorrows acquainted with grief; he’d been waiting for me there for a long time.
After my wife did not survive the bone-marrow-transplant process, I needed them even more.
I keep looking for collections of songs for caregivers. Collections that balance so appropriately lament with praise, like the Psalter. We need faithful people who have traveled the paths to the ICUs and cemeteries to write new songs, songs congruent with the suffering faithful, songs voicing the questions, the grapplings, the “whys” and “how longs.”
I can’t sing those old choruses anymore; I have an affinity for the blues at times. I often wonder, where is lament in worship; where are lament’s questions given voice in our churches today? I’ll keep looking, listening, hoping, and waiting. And I’ll keep following the man of sorrows, singing his songs.