Darkness is my closest friend. — Psalm 88:18 (NIV)
How can we meet with God in the midst of our grief? The last promise of Jesus before he retuned to be with the Father was that he would be with us to the end (Matthew 28:20). Yet, when we are grieving or experience brokenness, knowing how to pray to the God who is with us is almost always a struggle. Too often, our vocabulary is marked only by positive and encouraging words whereas our real-life experiences are agonizing, confusing, and depressing. Where do we turn to learn how to pray in the midst of our grief?
About one third of the psalms are written from what Walter Brueggemann describes as “a place of disorientation.” To be disoriented is to lose your sense of direction, kind of like an emotional dizziness. These ‘psalms of darkness’ are included in the Scriptures by God to teach us how to pray and process through the very real pain that exists in our very broken world. This disorientation can manifest itself as anger, confusion, frustration, feeling lost, fear, or shame. A common way the scriptures speak of this condition of disorientation is being in “the pit”:
To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. — Psalm 28:1
I remember reading the psalms of disorientation as a teenager and thinking, “David shouldn’t be speaking to God like that.” What privileged ignorance. Not only can we speak to God in our pain the way the Psalmists do, but, if we are to be like Jesus, we must. Jesus’ vocabulary in praying to the Father comes straight from Psalm 22, a psalm of disorientation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“The Psalms are God’s gift to train us in prayer that is comprehensive and honest.” — Eugene Peterson
If we don’t learn to pray comprehensively, there are whole sections of our life that we will end up not talking with God about. This is a problem. If we don’t learn how to pray honestly, that is, telling God exactly what we are dealing with and how we are feeling about it, we end up feeling like we need to hide parts of ourselves and our experiences from God. This is silly, but common. We cannot hide anything from God.
Trying to hide from God what we are feeling is actually motivated by a form of legalism that says, “I must clean up myself and my thought life before I come to God.” This is contrary to the good news of Jesus which says, “come as you are.” The psalms of disorientation teach us to bring our unfiltered thoughts to God, trusting he is powerful enough to love us as we are in our messy brokenness. Here are some examples:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? — Psalm 13:1-2
My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. — Psalm 88:3-6
With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. — Psalm 142:1-2
Will we be a people who trust God by giving ourselves to him in the midst of, not after, we are in a disoriented state? Will we bring our broken, doubting selves to him?
Do you want to pray through grief and brokenness honestly and comprehensively, but aren’t sure how to begin? “The Psalms lead us to do what the psalmists do” (Tim Keller). Begin by reading and praying the Psalms of Disorientation. By doing so, you will be able to enter into how mature and godly people pray when they are grieving – they will begin to provide a vocabulary for your pain. These Psalms are: 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 14,16, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 63, 64, 69, 71, 77, 86, 88, 90, 94, 102,109, 120, 123, 126, 129, 130, 140, 141, 142, and 143.