“This was not how my life was supposed to turn out”—I’ll never forget when my friend uttered these words to me. It was such an honest and piercing confession, coated with grief over a season of life that had been lost and subsequently replaced with one that was unwanted and unwelcome. I found myself empathizing with her sorrow because I, too, have had that same pain—a heart that longed for the life I dreamed about rather than the life I had.
All of us have some sense of longing—a dull pain constantly reminding us of the things our hearts desire that we currently do not have. Whether it is an absentee parent, a broken marriage or feelings of loneliness, this longing is birthed from circumstances we desperately wish would change. Any longing that persists over an extended period of time grows wearisome. Many times, it leaves us looking for an escape—we endlessly scroll through social media, binge Netflix shows and overbook our calendars. But these escape routes lead to dead ends, masking our pain without ever healing it.
While culture urges us to escape our pain, the story of the Bible tells us to embrace it. In the Old Testament, the people of God are no strangers to struggle and hardship, especially David. His psalms of lament are a moving expression of the anguish and despair he experiences because of numerous difficulties. Psalm 13 serves as a beautiful example, demonstrating a progression of three basic principles of lament and showing us what it looks like to embrace our pain and find hope in the midst of sorrow.
In Psalm 13:1–2, David expresses how he feels abandoned by God. Four times, he repeats the phrase “How long,” revealing his frustration over the extent of God’s absence. In his mind, he is overcome by his enemies while God is nowhere to be found. David’s words are honest, direct and unhurried. It is as if he throws his cares to the Lord, seeking to release the weight of sorrow his soul has been carrying.
The longing in our hearts represents a grief of sorts, as our hope for a specific reality has died. While the hope for a new reality is always possible, we tend to move past our grief too quickly and miss the healing power of lament. In order to embrace our pain, we have to acknowledge it. Lament allows us to openly and honestly express the loss we feel to God. Whether it is from the pain of prolonged singleness or the burden of caring for an aging parent, crying out to God allows us to fully process our grief in a space where we are known and loved.
The entirety of Psalm 13 is grounded in David’s beliefs about God’s character and nature. He cries out to God because he believes God can actually change his situation. He also knows that God is committed to him based on the Lord’s repeated promises to provide for his good. So in verses 3–4, we see David empowered by these truths to fearlessly ask God for deliverance.
Our longing represents situations in life that we wish would change—situations we are powerless to change on our own. Yet in our lament we are reminded that what seems impossible to us is possible for our God. Our relationship with God is one grounded in covenantal promise by which we can and should confidently petition Him to intervene in our lives.
David ends Psalm 13 with a declaration of praise. But his praise is not for what God will do. It is for what He has already done. In verses 5–6, David talks about how he will sing God’s praises because He has “dealt bountifully” with him and will trust God because of how He has previously delivered him. In spite of his pain, David chooses to praise God for the many ways He has already blessed him.
In life, there is no joy without sorrow. The fallenness of our world guarantees that these two dynamics will forever be interconnected until Jesus returns. So our goal should not be to live a life devoid of longing, but to be a people who remember and rejoice over the blessings of God in the midst of it. Lament reminds us where God has shown up in our difficulties, moving us from a place of anguish to a place of hope as we trust that God’s blessings of provision, justice and restoration will extend into both our present and future realities. Even if it’s not until eternity, we can trust that one day our God will make all things right.
In the seasons where our hearts ache with longing, a pathway to healing can be found through lament. This powerful expression of sorrow and grief allows us to acknowledge the depth of our pain while reminding ourselves of the love and faithfulness of the One to whom we cry out. It teaches us that in the midst of our deepest hurts, there is always joy to be found.