Books and Reading / I've Been Thinking / Spirituality

A prayer in the “depths of despair”

“You’re not eating anything,” said Marilla sharply, eying her as if it were a serious shortcoming.

Anne sighed. “I can’t. I’m in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?”

“I’ve never been in the depths of despair, so I can’t say,” responded Marilla.

“Weren’t you? Well, did you ever try to imagine you were in the depths of despair?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then I don’t think you can understand what it’s like. It’s very uncomfortable feeling indeed. When you try to eat a lump comes right up in your throat and you can’t swallow anything, not even if it was a chocolate caramel. I had one chocolate caramel once two years ago, and it was simply delicious. I’ve often dreamed since then that I had a lot of chocolate caramels, but I always wake up just when I’m going to eat them. I do hope you won’t be offended because I can’t eat. Everything is extremely nice, but still I cannot eat.”

From Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash

Losing hope

And it is true, isn’t it? Being in the depths of despair is a “very uncomfortable feeling indeed.” You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t concentrate. You wonder, “if I lose hope, how will I possibly go on?  Move forward. How can I find my way in the dark?”

The sun may shine, the sky be brilliant blue, but our hearts are heavy.

Psalms of lament

So, the Psalms of lament are a gift. As a genre, they are more numerous than the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Our fallen world – grievous and full of tragedy begs for lament. And, beautifully, God makes room for lament. Room for our sorrow. Far from being rebuked for sorrowing, He invites to enter into mourning. To express it, to cry, wail, and weep.

Photo by _Mxsh_ on Unsplash

He is the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with our grief. Isaiah 53:3

Still, G. Brooke Lester assistant professor of Hebrew studies describes lament this way: “Lament gazes unflinchingly at the present reality of pain and at God’s apparent slowness to save.”

Elements of lament

Most of the Psalms of lament are characterized by the individual crying out to God. Typically, a lamentation has these elements:

1) An opening invocation – a direct plea to God, sometimes aggressive, even accusatory.

2) The complaint and distress – including frustration with God, the situation and our enemies.

3) A petition for help and a move towards trust in God to save and vindicate.

4) On offer or vow to praise God in resolution.

The Psalmists may play with the genre, moving the elements around, repeating some, or leaving some out altogether. Often in communal laments the last element is removed or only suggested. 

But, really when we are hurting, bereft, and feeling lost, lament is perfect no matter the elements or make up. Our hearts are broken and it devastates us. Rips us apart.

It’s fitting to head to a Psalm of Lament. To pour out our hearts to the One who hears our every cry.

A Psalm of lament

Save me, O God, For the floodwaters are up to my neck.  Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, And the floods overwhelm me.  I am exhausted from crying for help;  My throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, Waiting for my God to help me.

Psalm 69: 1 – 3

And I have marked these verses in my Bible – A Prayer in the “Depths of Despair”

Psalm 69 continues;
vs. 13 – 18
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, {but quickly, Lord, quickly}, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.  Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies. And from the deep waters.  Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, Or the pit close its mouth over me.  Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; According to your abundant mercy, turn to me.  Hide not your face from your servant, For I am in distress; Make haste to answer me.  Draw near to my soul, redeem me; Ransom me because of my enemies!
and vs. 29
But I am afflicted and in pain; Let your salvation, O God, set me on high!

Hope and lament

So, here and now in the midst of our lament, we ground ourselves in Him, and in His mercy. We turn to the book of Lamentations and stake our very lives on hope. Hope and lament are sisters who cling together in the storms of life. Though they may be bowed low with grief, one day they will stand.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

So now, this is our heart’s cry, this we declare:

 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S loving-kindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.

Lamentations 3: 21- 25

And we pray with every fibre of our being – Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.



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