Challenge: Inner Healing
This is a beautiful article that I think captures what the journey of mentoring can lead to as another voice helps us to bring our inner struggles honestly before God. The mentor, in this case a counselor, gave Esther permission to be honest with God by assigning her to record her laments to God…
A Surprising Path to My Healing
by Esther Fleece
January 10, 2017
I left my counseling session feeling defeated. My normal afternoon run was replaced with lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t see God’s kindness in letting me find out things about my past that were even more painful than what I already knew. I wanted nothing to do with any of it.
“Blessed are those who mourn . . .”? (Matthew 5:4).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness . . .”? (Matthew 5:10).
I didn’t know if I wanted God’s “blessings” anymore. His “favor” was scaring me.
Something had to change about my understanding of God, or else my faith was not going to make it.
I couldn’t sing the happy songs at church anymore. I struggled to know how to pray, because the only way I had learned how was to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But I couldn’t honestly give thanks anymore, so I didn’t know what to say to God. I was losing hope.
I went to counseling for a second day and murmured a complaint that the only part of the Bible I had been able to read over the past three years was the book of Psalms.
“You are resonating with the psalms,” Pete said, “because you need to lament, Esther. The psalms are full of laments.”
And so he gave me the dreaded homework assignment of recording my laments.
I hadn’t even heard of this word before. I needed Pete to define it and explain it to me. I still didn’t get it. I began quoting the familiar Scripture about not grumbling against God: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Philippians 2:14), and it had been so ingrained in me as a child to not disrespect authority that I didn’t understand what it meant to be honest within a relationship of love. I went back to my hotel and lamented about lamenting. I am not about to complain about God, I thought. The last thing I needed was for Him to be upset with me.
I had spent more than two decades trying to convince everyone—trying to convince myself—that I had it together, that I had put my past behind me, that I was an overcomer.
Lament, in my mind, threatened to undo all that I had built in my life so far.
I left that counseling session feeling overwhelmed. Is this what depression feels like? I wondered. I was remembering from my high school days the exhaustion and hopelessness a person feels to get to this place.
By bedtime, I had no recorded laments to hand in the next day. I couldn’t finish the homework, and I really didn’t care. I was physically and emotionally drained, and I prayed to not wake up the next morning. I just didn’t think I had the strength to face all the pain I’d tried so hard to put behind me. I just wanted it to be over.
But I couldn’t sleep. My body, mind, and spirit were all exhausted, but I was wide-awake. Hour after hour, I tossed and turned. When 3:30 a.m. rolled around, I sat up in bed and said out loud, “God, why are You punishing me?”
I was angry. I rarely get angry, but I was furious.
“I am doing everything I can here. I have asked for Your help. I have told You I need You with me, and You’re nowhere to be found. What more do You want from me?”
I was speaking the language of lament right there, but I didn’t even realize it.
I poured out a torrent of grievances.
“Why won’t You listen to me?”
“All night long I’ve prayed, and I am not comforted.”
“It hurts me to even think of You!”
“I am overwhelmed!”
“I am looking for Your help, and You’re not even letting me sleep!”
“I am too upset to even pray!”
“What am I supposed to do?”
The lamenting wouldn’t stop.
“Are You ever going to give me a break?”
“Do You even love me?”
“What happened to Your promises for me? Have they failed? Have You forgotten to be gracious to me?”
“Where is Your compassion?”
Previously, I would have viewed this type of prayer as disrespectful or as an evidence of weak faith, but raw honesty was all I had left in me. I was worried that God’s hand and face would turn against me. If He hadn’t forgotten me yet, surely He would dislike me now.
But I didn’t have the strength to pretend anymore—not even with myself.
I lay back down, and the number 77 popped into my head. I had no idea why. I rolled over, and 77 flashed again in my mind’s eye. What on earth does that mean?
I sat up as if someone was talking to me and asked God what 77 meant. I opened my Bible and took a guess.
“I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!”
Well, that sounds familiar . . .
“When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted.”
Didn’t I just say those exact same words?
“I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help.”
This was me. I was overwhelmed. I was desperate for help.
“You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!”
This psalm was reading my mind.
“Has the Lord rejected me forever?”
“Will he never again be kind to me?”
“Is his unfailing love gone forever?”
“Have his promises permanently failed?”
Every single lament I just yelled out to God, every single one of them, was expressed by someone who was trying to follow God millennia before me!
“Has God forgotten to be gracious?”
“Has he slammed the door on his compassion?”
“This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.”
The psalmist questioned God’s goodness. The psalmist questioned God’s love. Whoever was lamenting in this psalm was asking the very same questions of God that I was asking. And, as it turns out, coming to the wrong conclusions.
Abilene Christian University professor of Old Testament Glenn Pemberton says, “Of the sixty chapters of lament in the Psalms, only nineteen mention thanksgiving or a thank-offering as the goal or eventual outcome of their prayer.”
Could the Word of God really speak like this? I was in my hotel room alone, yet I was experiencing God’s presence in a way I hadn’t in years. I believed His presence could be felt during powerful worship or in community, “where two or three gather” (Matthew 18:20)—but here, all alone, with nothing to offer Him but the cries of my heart, God drew near to assure me that every one of my laments was already recorded in His scroll. God wasn’t expecting my thank offering or my gratitude; He wanted my heart in its entirety.
You see, the envelopes we opened in Pete’s office revealed more than I could handle. Things were actually worse than I thought. My father was involved in more things than I ever realized, and the timelines my mother told me were incorrect. As I sat in that counseling office, I realized I was never legally emancipated. Even though I was told these things for years—of course believing it was true—it was not true. Falsehood does not become truth just because we have believed it for a long time. I felt the sharp pain all over again. The wounds felt fresh, and I wanted them to go away. This is why people don’t go back into their pasts, I thought to myself. It’s easier to numb ourselves than to face things head-on.
Yet just as God meets me in my laments, He was meeting me with this unfortunate news. He was tuning in. The timelines were revealing truth, and God desperately desires we get to truth, even though the process entails pain. As I let out my lament, it was giving me space to breathe in the truths of what really happened. I would breathe in truth and breathe out lament. I went back through the timelines, and more things became clear. My stepfather actually filed for divorce long before I ran down the stairs with those charts. That divorce wasn’t my fault either. I could see where the enemy was lying to me and keeping me in this cycle of guilt and blame for something that had nothing to do with me. Facing our pasts can be so very painful, yet more painful still is living out of the lies we come to believe as truth.
I saw that the writer found a way in the second half of Psalm 77 to turn his thoughts around completely. God knew how desperately I needed hope in His goodness and promise of deliverance. This psalm pointed to how my remembering could be a resource instead of a hindrance. Even though the psalmist was feeling despair, he chose to remember God’s goodness and His wonderful deeds.
Could I try the same thing? Could I find something to praise God about? The enemy wants us to stay stuck in despair, but God wants our laments to lead into a deeper recognition and understanding of Him.
I read in Psalm 77:11–20 (NLT):
But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
I remember Your wonderful deeds of long ago, I prayed. I remember how You rescued me.
I remember how You brought people into my life to help me.
I remember how You came to me in my darkest night.
I continued reading verses 16–20 (NLT):
When the Red Sea saw you, O God,
its waters looked and trembled!
The sea quaked to its very depths.
The clouds poured down rain;
the thunder rumbled in the sky.
Your arrows of lightning flashed.
Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;
the lightning lit up the world!
The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.
When I thought my fear and pain over my parents would take me down, God, You set me in families, I prayed. Even when my father was stalking me night and day, You kept me safe. You are an amazing God like that—You make a way, even through the darkest, most dangerous situations. You make a way for those You love.
Even I was shocked to hear my most painful memories turning to gratitude. Suddenly remembering became a tool for my healing, not another way to resent my circumstances. In those moments, my perspective changed, and I was looking up. The sun was rising now. I could see the streams of light spilling into my room through the blinds. For a moment, I was forgetting my dire circumstances and focusing again on God with hope. As He was showing me a new way to grieve, I found myself in the middle of the most honest—and the most intimate—conversation with God I’d had in years. Maybe He was bringing painful things from my past to the surface so I could have a new memory of Him healing me. Suddenly I could see what Pete was talking about, and why he wanted me to lament.
I didn’t understand why bad things kept happening in my life. But as it turns out, the Word of God understood me perfectly—giving voice to the thoughts I had denied for so long.
I was afraid to revisit the past I’d been trying to outrun for so long. I was afraid to voice the pain I’d been trying to put behind me. But going backward with God to bring His healing presence into our past is much better than moving forward without Him. And going backward with God is actually propelling us deeper into mystery and intimacy with Him. None of us move forward seamlessly and without pain. Sometimes we will need to walk backward in order to move forward more freely.
Lamenting is a painful process. But it is even more painful to live a life of pretended strength, of keeping God an arm’s length away because you’re shutting down the conversation with a “fine.”
I didn’t want to do that anymore. I was tired of pretending.
I was ready. I was finally ready to learn a new way.
Heavenly Father, I often have a hard time imagining that You hear me. Many times You feel far off from my shouts for help, and so far from saving me (Psalm 22:1). God, I cry out day and night, but You do not always answer (Psalm 22:2). Come quickly to me and be my strength (Psalm 22:19). When I lift up my soul to You, let me not be put to shame (Psalm 25:2). I am lonely and afflicted (Psalm 25:16). I am calling to You for help (Psalm 28:2). I look to no one else. Please show Your presence to me. Amen.
Taken from No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending by Esther Fleece. Learn more at EstherFleece.com.