My dear friend Marcus asked me a question this week. "What do you think God is doing in you as you wait on His timing?"
In my response, I noted that there are times I want to gloss over my disappointment and not "sit in it" before the Lord. I imagine some of my British "chin up" tendencies are still well entrenched. But on reflection it seems to me that proper lament is vital to a healthy spiritual existence.
Because if I can't complain to the Lord, I'll probably just end up complaining about Him.
Complaining might be jokingly seen as a great Western past-time (the customer is always right, right?), but when it comes to our faith, there are certain pockets of the Church where complaining is tantamount to heresy. We are the people of the Resurrection. We sing anthemic songs of victory. Yet sometimes we suffer under the lost art of lament.
We should learn to lament before the need is present in our personal stories. We must learn to lament in order to follow with Biblical precedent to "weep with those who weep." (Rom. 12:15)
In this season I have struggled to grieve about leaving Cornerstone. I missed raw moments of emotional honesty with Jesus. I got trapped in the idea that to complain or express struggle was to reject faith. I tried to de-tooth the very tools God was using to take the rough edges off of me.
The perceived delay in our deployment has allowed this weakness to surface and be exposed. You see, Scripture makes no demand on us that we misfile complaints. Instead, it gives us a righteous framework for complaining. (See Ps. 55 and Ps. 102 for examples.)
As I ran this morning I meditated on why we must bring our complaints to God, and how failing to do so leads us to become complainers about God. Here are three reasons to practice the art of holy complaint:
When you swallow your disappointment and fail to bring your complaints to God, you fail to come face-to-face with God. When David, future King of Israel, was hiding in a cave, hunted and afraid, he wrote these words:
1 With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him. (Ps. 142:1-2)
His complaint was before the Lord. David had sought to honour Saul, and to follow God's ways. And here he was, holed up and assaulted. He could have kept the feelings inside, or shared them with his men, and thereby allowed his heart to become embittered. Instead, he took his complaint to the safe place of relationship with God.
One of the marks of intimacy is the capacity to share feelings of disappointment without fear of rejection or retaliation. The sharing of our "complaints" when done with an attitude of honour and trust allows a deeper understanding and view into our souls, and builds even stronger bonds of relationship.
Painting over our pain is nothing more than hypocrisy. We won't convince anyone of the goodness of God by pretending that our shattered dreams and hopes are really our preferred outcome. Nobody is fooled. A burned cake is a burned cake and no amount of frosting can change that.
But if we can live mask-free, transparently sharing our complaint and disappointment and simultaneously affirming our trust in the Father and his goodness, then we are offering others a real glimpse of following Jesus. The difference between Christians and non-Christians is not in degree of suffering but in how we suffer. Followers of Jesus suffer in hope.
So take off the mask and be real. It will expose your actual state, but if you will take that as an opportunity for growth, the cause of your complaint may be the best gift you've received of late.
This could be the most pragmatic and theologically significant reason for complaining to God, not about him. Are we going to make like the first Adam or the second Adam? When we complain about God, we get entangled in the Garden with the serpent like Adam and Eve. We believe lies about God without addressing him. We magnify each others' fears and doubts and respond emotionally and logically to false premises. God is the problem and independent action is the perceived solution.
But, there is an alternative. There is nothing holy about hiding our complaints in our hearts. Jesus didn't do it. In the Garden he pleaded for a different plan. On the cross he cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" In loneliness and brokenness, Jesus addressed the Father with a complaint that preceded the shattering of darkness and liberation for all peoples. Even in agony, he still brought his complaint before the Father.
When we bring our complaint to God, we stop treating God as the problem - the hold-out, the obstacle, the Big-Meanie-In-the-Sky - and instead approach humbly with our situations and needs, seeing God as the answer to our problems.
Complaining to an impotent but available ear is merely venting. Normally it seems we are seeking sympathy or affirmation from another person. We want to be validated. But validation is not the same as resolution.
In my complaints, I want resolution, even if that means finding out the problem is me, not my circumstances. When I complain to God, I am declaring my belief that he can do something about this situation. I'm not merely venting. I'm actually building faith. It turns out that complaining to God is an act of submission, not the grievous rebellion we may have feared.
I want to practice holy complaining, the kind that takes me nearer to God. I want to live without a mask. I want to come to God with hope and trust in a submitted way. Because ultimately, all these circumstances will pass, but he remains.