Have you ever wondered what it actually felt like for David when he wrote about the “valley of death” in Psalm 23 or the “anguish in his soul and sorrow in his heart” in Psalm 13? Was he exaggerating his reality and being what some call a “drama queen”?! Or might he have been leading by example in a type of worship that many of us normally don’t know how to express?
Even though there’s no way to know exactly what David was experiencing when he wrote Psalm 13 and 23 (and many other psalms), one thing I notice about his life is David is not hesitant to be honest in his expression of grief, fear, anguish and even questions, while at the same time reminding himself of who the Lord is. This is worship through lament, and it’s safe to say I’m becoming familiar with it.
You see, these past 18 months have been my own “struggle with anguish in my soul and sorrow in my heart” and even a “dark valley of death.” For more than two months, I did not leave my home in Peru while living under an extreme military-enforced quarantine. Then in May 2020, I abruptly boarded a repatriation flight, leaving a country and people that the Lord has invited me to live and serve alongside since 2016 for his kingdom purposes. I did not know when I would return home to them.
I grieve the heaviness that comes with a world stricken by selfishness, hate, violence, racism, pride and idolatry. I grieve and mourn the loss of more than 30 family and friends in south Texas and the many in Peru that have passed as well, primarily due to the COVID-19 virus. I personally contracted COVID-19 in December 2020 and experience debilitating symptoms to this day. The COVID-19 virus “activated” at least one autoimmune disease (and potentially more), and I do not yet know how it will affect my life from here on out.
“When will this end? Will I ever catch a break? How long will this last, O Lord? Are you listening?”
Lament is a type of worship many of us are not accustomed to because we were not allowed to express it. We don’t know how to lament. “Don’t ask those questions! Don’t talk like that!” is what I’ve heard many times throughout my life as responses to what I like to call “people crying out their own Psalm 13s.” In our lives we want to recite Psalm 13:5-6 without Psalm 13:1-4.
But the reality is that grief is the evidence of someone or something deeply loved or cherished and then lost. We all grieve at some point of our lives. And when expression of grief is denied—when lament is not allowed—I’m learning we actually reject the reality of love. We also reject the reality of the confidence in the relational intimate trust with the Comforter and Shepherd. I’m learning a new depth that, like David, we can be honest and raw with our emotions and our grief before our Lord who is well-acquainted with grief and sorrow himself.
I can easily say that these past 18 months have been some of the hardest months of my life. But I can also say that they have been some of the most authentically intimate months of my life with Jesus. Is it because I received all the answers to my questions or that my prayers were answered the way I hoped? Most definitely not.
Rather, it has been because of the Lord’s with-ness with me. He is Immanuel, God with us. And even if—like Habakkuk, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Jesus himself—my prayer isn’t answered the way I hope, I will remember who he has been, is and forever will be. I’ve learned that as I cry out my own Psalm 13 and “even if” prayers, his with-ness is constant. That is the fruit of lament.
Joanna Chapa has served with Multiply in Peru since 2016, where she comes alongside the Peruvian MB churches in their desire to see Jesus’ kingdom come in Peru as it is in heaven, something she is deeply passionate about. Chapa has been stateside since May 2020 due to the reality and impact of COVID-19. Before moving to Peru, she served as the Multiply short-term mission mobilizer in the U.S. Midwest and as an elementary physical education educator after graduating from Tabor College in 2009. Chapa was born and raised in Grulla, Texas, where she was commissioned by Grace Point Church (formerly Grulla MB Church).