Lament as Prayer

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.
Psalm 22:1-2

This psalm gives expression to our deepest suffering. God absent. God silent. God hidden. God forsaking us. Even Jesus cried out to God from this place of terrible darkness. As he was dying Jesus echoed the words of the psalmist. Jesus lamented, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas’ observations about this prayer from the cross capture the reality of this kind of lament:

Jesus experienced total abandonment on the cross, for although God the Father in fact was with him, God the Son knew nothing about it. In the wilderness of our own desolation we too, like Jesus, may have no felt awareness that God is near….As far as we know we are abandoned and alone. Yet even in the center of apparent abandonment, God is with us. God embraces the void. God doesn’t take it away. God doesn’t wipe it out. Instead, with an overflow of compassion, God shares the void with us. Like Jesus, we don’t see God at all; all we know is the void. But the void is in God. (Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Our Passion, Christ’s Passion. Cowley Publications, 2003. pg. 56)

We may intellectually affirm that God is always with us. We may want to trust that this is true. But our experience is sometimes dramatically different from our intellectual affirmations. Instead of God’s presence, we sometimes experience a terrible emptiness. It is as if the lights suddenly go out and we find ourselves alone.

Often the darkness of the experience of God’s absence is made more painful by our self accusations. We feel in darkness like we are spiritual failures. We feel like something must be terribly wrong with us. Others may add to this pain by trying to fix what cannot be fixed. We may be told to pray harder or longer or more sincerely. Or to “just trust God”. This kind of well intentioned advice may leave us feeling not only abandoned by God but also abandoned by our friends and helpers.

We do well to remember that Jesus knows what it is like to experience the anguish of this ultimate abandonment. And to remember that God did not abandoned Jesus. Nor does God abandon us. But Jesus experienced this pain with us and, in suffering it with us, he demonstrated his ability to carry our deepest sorrows.

When we experience a sense of God’s absence we are in good company. The psalmists, the prophets, many people of faith, and Jesus himself knew this kind of spiritual suffering. We do not need to add to our suffering by seeing these dark times as evidence of failure. What we can do is join the psalmist and Jesus in giving voice to our spiritual distress. We can let our lament be our prayer.

Where are you?
Day after day,
night after night,
I suffer alone.
I need your help,
I need your comfort,
I need your guidance.
But you are silent.
Where are you, God?
Do not hide yourself from me any longer.
Why have you forsaken me?

Prayer suggestion:

Pray your own prayer of lament. Or let yourself enter the suffering of another (near or far away) who may be experiencing a need for God’s presence. Pray a prayer of lament on their behalf.