23 March 2020 is etched on all our memories – it was the date that the UK first went into lockdown. I will remember it for different reasons. It was the day that my emotional life unravelled. For a period of about two months, I had no control over my emotional state. I felt like I was covered by a blanket that was suffocating me. I cried every day and couldn’t explain why. My thoughts were haunted with darkness, and I couldn’t seem to understand how to walk towards the light. I’m conscious that my experience only scratches the surface of what many people face. As Charles Spurgeon movingly writes:
‘The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.’
The Christianity of our day and age is so often one of painted on smiles and yet the Bible is a book full of tears. Those tears are given to us as a gift, accompanied by words that we often wouldn’t dare say. Lament in the Bible reminds us that it is OK not to be OK, that our heavenly Father is big enough and loving enough to take us as we are, not how we think we ought to be.
Psalm 88 has been described as the saddest Psalm in the Psalter. But it’s well worth a read. It is one of only two Psalms to end on a note of darkness. As you read it, you’ll discover that Heman – the author – is overwhelmed, alone, hopeless and perplexed. Darkness truly feels like his closest friend.
Psalm 88 reminds us that submitting to God doesn’t mean we lose our voice – walking with the Lord gives us a voice in our sorrow. It helps us look in four different directions when we feel overwhelmed by darkness. Firstly, we can look inward and see that anguish and grief are intrinsic to the nature of faith. Just because you feel like you are walking in darkness doesn’t mean that you aren’t a child of the light. Secondly, we must look around. Our Christian communities must be places where other people’s pain is real, not imaginary, where we allow people to linger in the place of suffering. Psalm 88 helps us to say, ‘I know’ when someone is suffering rather than ‘at least...’ Thirdly, we must look upwards. The difference between grumbling and lament is that whilst grumbling complains about God, lament weeps to God. Heman’s tragic, engulfed circumstances drove him to God. Whilst Heman must have thought that his prayer wasn’t heard by God, it resonated so much in the heart of our heavenly Father that He enshrined it in Scripture.
Finally, Psalm 88 encourages us to look forwards. In Church tradition, Psalm 88 is read on Good Friday. In the darkness, God doesn’t say ‘at least…’; He says ‘me too.’ Psalm 88 is a prayer that Jesus would have taken on His lips and a reminder that no matter what you are facing, you have a friend in the darkness.
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