Driving home one evening, my youngest was rather suddenly hysterical. Crying in his car seat, he was behind me, and in relative darkness. I couldn’t see what was wrong, and it was tearing me up inside. I hardly had to recruit his big brother to solve the mystery, when Bingham said, “He’s crying because he is scared.” “Why is he scared?” I asked.
Bingham: “I think he had a bad dream… Billy, are you scared from a dream?”
Billy: “Yeah, I am scary.”
Bingham: “Are you scared of a monster maybe?”
I jumped in… “Oh William, I’m sorry you had a bad dream. There’s no monster here, and you are safe.”
“Mhmm! You’re safe!” Said big brother. “I know you’re afraid. But do you know what? You can say my Bible verse… “When I am afraid, I will trust in You. Can you do that? Trust Jesus, Billy.”
The sweetness of my oldest with his brother; the way he cares for him whether or not he is asked to do so, fills my heart with tender love and joyful pride. I am so thankful for him. But even -more than this, I marvel at his simple yet confident assurance that we can trust Jesus.
It’s so often difficult for me to trust Jesus when I am afraid. While I know that is the right and even the best way, I continue to struggle with anxiety.
For me, it can be crushing and even debilitating. When depression is added into the mix, I easily find myself in a cycle of panic… “all is unwell! Nothing is ok! Everything is broken!” And quickly thereafter, a threatening numbness… “What does it matter? why is anything worth it? Nothing can be fixed, so all is lost.” And these mental oppressors take over my body as if they were beings with deadly weapons or venom.
I’ve been looking at the laments in Psalms as I realize I am not nearly the only one who struggles or has encountered anxiety, depression, and other very real mental enemies of well-being. David, especially, expressed himself in the dark times through laments like the one in Psalm 56.
1 Be merciful to me, my God,
for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
all day long they press their attack.
2 My adversaries pursue me all day long;
in their pride many are attacking me.
3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
5 All day long they twist my words;
all their schemes are for my ruin.
6 They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
hoping to take my life.
7 Because of their wickedness do not[c] let them escape;
in your anger, God, bring the nations down.
Record my misery;
list my tears on your scroll[d]—
are they not in your record?
9 Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise—
11 in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can man do to me?
It surprised me to learn about laments and realize that the central goal is not discouragement. The structure of Psalm 56 gives space for so much more than complaints. The focus of these eleven verses, instead of the fear and darkness expressed in them, is God’s goodness and faithfulness. While invoking his rescuer, David affirmed his trust in God with even praise. Lamenting is the work of acknowledging and not denying the hardships like enemies, personal sadness, grief, depression, shame, anxiety, and loneliness. It’s giving an honest voice to the hard and saying, “this is the situation, this is awful.” But it doesn’t stay there. After David stated his fears, he trusted in God. He then went into further detail, giving air to his worry rather than bottling it up or hiding it under a rug. He put it all out on the table before God, called for help, believed that God would take care of him, and turned to praise his rescuer. While David was writing his laments, he might not have felt any of the affirmations, he might not have even kind of wanted to sing praises. The fear did not likely vanish as soon as he penned the words, because historically, neither did the pursuers disappear. But, David chose trust anyway, because even if he didn’t feel the words, his writing of the lament itself was an act of trusting God.
In 1 Peter 5:7, we’re instructed to “cast your cares on Him for He cares for you.” I don’t know about you, but I generally think of this as a passive exhale. This verse, though, is in the center of a list of instructions for the body of Christ. Just as we are to humble ourselves before God (v.6) and to remain alert (v. 8), we are to actually give Him our worries. It’s like throwing a ball, rather than dropping the laundry basket. As Jerry Bridges said in his book, Trusting God (1988), “Trust is not a passive state of mind, it is a rigorous act of the soul.”
But maybe you are lacking the energy, or your heart feels so heavy that lifting your eyes to trust just does not seem possible. Maybe you’ve fallen to the literal ground and your anxiety, grief, loneliness, sadness or anger is holding you in a paralyzing clutch of darkness. I hope you hear me: you are not alone. You do not have to do this on your own. The instruction is to give God your hard, but He does not expect you to do it on your own ability. “We are responsible to obey the will of God, but we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit for the enabling power to do it.” (Bridges, 1988).
I could give a list of things that are hard for me right now. I could also explain my way down the list with the silver linings around each cloud. I could try to invalidate my struggles by comparing them to the hardships of others. I could tell you honestly that I’ve been crying, and then quickly turn to tell you that “tears are to the soul what soap is to the body.” I could remind myself and you that it’s a good thing to struggle. Many of these things are helpful for seeking and finding healthy perspectives, but there is not a place for them in a lament.
I appreciate that this form of writing isn’t about making excuses or good returns on each negative. Lamenting is not about silver linings, comparisons, and judgments. God doesn’t ask me in my sadness to invalidate it with shallow statements of the “good” I think I see. He asks me to acknowledge that this is hard for me. He wants me to recognize that I need Him. My response should be to give it to Him, actively, with trust. If I lean into Him, He will do the rest. And even if I don’t feel my words, I will turn back to praise my God who is faithful beyond measure, abounding in love, and whose Holy love and sacrifice give me a reason to hope for a future free of anxiety.