Sunday, April 24, 2016

Inside Out: Praying Our Sadness

They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad
Wednesday's worse, and Thursday's also sad

Yes the eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play
Sunday I go to church, then I kneel down and pray

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on me
Lord have mercy, my heart's in misery

The Blues. Born of a fusion of European folk songs and slave work songs that had its roots in African call and response rhythms that are also evident in African-American worship (even preaching!) to this day. Uniquely American, in part due to this fusion, the blues has its roots in deep south. The flatter notes and the cadence of the music allows for the expression of pain, tears, crying out, and sometimes whining, and sometimes lighthearted complaining of the artist.

They call it Stormy Monday is a classic blues song. It is a song of complaint, yet it is not without humor. It speaks to the pain as well as the rhythms of everyday life. A pained week, a raucous Saturday night, and a cry for help and forgiveness come Sunday until the whole pattern starts again on Monday.

Of course the blues have evolved, and infused much of contemporary music. The blues are powerful, because our pain and our heartache, our suffering and our hardship, it all needs to be acknowledged.

As Prince, who is a musical artist that died this week, opined in the introduction to his song, “Let’s God Crazy”, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to get through this things called LIFE.”

In the Psalms, there are these blues notes as well. Jesus prayed one of these songs, Psalm 22, as he died on the cross when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”

The Psalms teach us how to pray our joy, as we discussed last week. They also help us to pray our sadness.

We are looking at Psalm 42 this morning, which is a psalm of lament. As we will see in a few minutes it asks questions, it expresses heartache and doubt, and through the Psalms we are instructed to do the same.

In the movie Inside Out, as we discussed last week, we observe, in a smart, witty, and humorous way, the internal life of a 11-year old girl named Riley who is forced to move with her parents from Minnesota to the city of San Francisco, CA. Inside Out begins movie begins with the emotion Joy, personified by a spritely blue haired yellow girl, pretty much taking control of everything. But slowly, as a series of life circumstances make life much more difficult, Sadness begins to awkwardly interfere, moving into Riley’s “control panel” and awkwardly even messing with her “core memories”.  Sadness is seen as a burden, a problem to be solved, and thus the other emotions attempt to deny her any influence, and seek to give her little if any acknowledgment. The movie, in many ways, is about Riley, the young girl, and her ability to process an increasing sense of sadness and loss.

As the movie shows, and as we have seen, there are many unhealthy ways of dealing with our sadness. Addictions can often be born as a way of coping with sadness. Sadness can lead us to isolate ourselves, harm others, and even harm ourselves.

Yet, if you look at the spirituality of the Bible, especially centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, what we do not see is a denial of the pain of sadness, but a transformation of it. Other Easter Religions, such as Buddhism for instance, seek to avoid and deny heartache. The Scripture speaks of sadness redeemed and transformed.  “Every tear will be wiped away” the Bible says, He will turn your mourning into dancing, God’s Word teaches.

And so, Scripture shows us, through the presence of psalms of lament, that we are to bring our pain, our hurt, our sadness and place it at the feet of Jesus. He told us to “come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden”.

Psalm 42 is one such Psalm of Lament. It expresses a longing for the presence of God when it says, “My soul pants for you my God. My soul thirsts for you, the living God”. It says three times says, “Why my soul are you so downcast? Why are you so disturbed within me?”
The Psalmist is facing difficulty in his personal relationships. Specifically, it appears that he has enemies that are getting the upper hand. Verse 9 says he is mourning. Verse 9 also says that people are attacking him. Verse 10 says that his enemies are mocking him. Furthermore, his friends are mocking his faith.

Earlier in the Psalm he remembers times when things were more joyful, more happy, When he soul felt watered and refreshed. Now even the waters that come near him feel like a storm that he must survive.

Yet, like many Psalms of Lament, songs of sadness, even when he is praying to God, pouring his heart out, he is still doings so from a perspective of trust and faith. Even in the difficult dark moments of his life, he says, “Put your hope in God, for yet I will praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Two of our hymns are statements like these, statements of hope out of a painful time in the song writer’s life. Most of you know the story of “It is Well”, but it bears repeating. Horatio Spafford was a businessman, heavily invested in real estate in Chicago. When the Great Chicago Fire happened, he lost a significant amount of his personal wealth. His two year old son died. In order to get a break from the difficulties and pain, the family planned a trip to England by boat. Spafford was delayed, but his wife and daughters went ahead. There was a boat collision, and as his wife made it to England she sent a telegram, “Saved alone.” Spafford then made his way to his wife, and when he came to the place where the ship sunk he penned the hymn that begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, and sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot he has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Precious Lord, Take My Hand was penned by an African American gentleman named Thomas Dorsey, who began his musical career as a guy who played in the clubs, and then after coming to Christ began to write, play and perform sacred music.
Lets listen to his story. PLAY RECORDING.

These are beautiful statements of faith, these hymns. But we do not have to The willingness to come to God in prayer, vulnerable, wounded, full of questions about why God seems so far away and distant and uninvolved in rescuing him from his suffering—all of this is an expression of faith as well.

Sometimes our tendency, as people, is to run away from God when hardship comes our way. We try and handle our problems ourselves and blame ourselves. Our we become angry with God and for some reason believe that we can avoid God. Or we deny God’s existence because we don’t want to deal with God anymore.

Praying prayers of lament, of sadness, shows that we have the faith to have difficult conversations with God. It shows that we are not afraid to bring to him our more difficult emotions, and to trust him to help us with them, to heal us, to be with us, despite our struggle with the moment that we are in.

When I read the Psalms, and pray through them, I find praying the sad Psalms especially helpful.

I read through the Psalm the first time, then I pray through it again, sometimes in my head, and sometimes aloud. I slow down. I read it sentence by sentence. I then use the concept in each line as a prompt to then make that prayer my own, expanding on the psalms words with my own words. Or sometimes I just pray the prayer by reading the Psalm, and I just let my mind bring situations I am dealing with before the Lord, with or without words, and I place those hurts and difficulties in his hands.

The Psalms show us to be brutally, straightforwardly honest in prayer.
The other things that can be healing about praying the Psalms, especially Psalms of Sadness, is that as we pray these psalms, especially if we are in that place in our life at that moment, we feel heard and affirmed in our journey.

Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, was a brilliant student of the Psalms. One of the reason he preached and taught them so well is that he both struggled with what we would call depression, and debilitating depression at that, and found healing in the Psalms, and because at times encountered what we would call the “dark night of the soul” and had the Psalms to sustain him in those moments.

There is so much in our world that tries to put on a plastic, chipper face, and pretend to be overjoyed with every moment.

The truth is that we can be both joyful and sad, and we can find a deep abiding joy, even in our sadness.

Last year, I went to a continuing education event in Loveland. It was on the Future of the Church, and there was so much to absorb. I plan on sharing some of it with you in the near future.

In the process of being there, they challenged us with some unique worship experiences. One of those unique worship experiences had us go to a station, and read a Psalm that corresponded to our age, and then sit with that for a while, reflecting on what it meant to you in that moment.

I am 42. I got this Psalm, Psalm 42. It corresponded to right where I was at. Frustrated. Discouraged. Feeling like nothing was going right, even though I was trying to do everything I was supposed to do, and everything I was called to do. I read through the Psalm and I found a sense of peace. I can’t get into all of it right now, but I had the Spirit give me a sense of peace that it was ok to be where I was right then. It was not weird. I was not wrong for feeling the way this Psalm expressed. I was not abnormal. I was in fact, in good company. So I prayed through the Psalm, and even though the words were rather sad, they gave me a sense of joy and hope. I was known. I was heard. I was who I was. Right where I should be. And that was ok. And I was able to accept the discouragement I was feeling instead of fighting against it. And that sense of praying it and accepting it, and experiencing God’s acceptance, helped me and is helping me find my way through the difficult and dark places in my life with an abiding peace and joy in the midst of the storms. Can’t explain it all to you. Just know that by praying this Psalm, I sensed that I was heard and acknowledged. And I know that this is part of the blessing of praying through sadness and pain.

Because, when you pray your sadness through praying the Psalms of Lament, you can gain many things. But perhaps the most meaningful thing that can come out of this kind of prayer is that by speaking your heartache, and praying it in conjunction with the saints throughout the ages, you learn that you are not alone. Not alone because many souls have prayed the prayer you are praying while carrying similar burdens and having similar questions. Not alone, because even as you come sensing God as being somewhat distant, as you pray with the Psalms there can be a sense of being heard by God, and a new realization that for those that place their hope in Christ, they are never alone.

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