What I’ve written here is not all that can be said about suffering: far from it. But I’ve published it, somewhat hesitantly, because I think suffering will drive all of us to this point sooner or later.
I sit there stony-faced, staring out the windscreen, driving in automatic, lips pressed together. I’ve had enough. I don’t want it any more: this struggle and these doubts and these unanswered prayers. I’ve had enough. It’s been a long week – a long year! – and there’s nothing left. I’ve had enough.
My 12-year-old son sits next to me. He’s not used to this grim silence, but I don’t have it in me to make conversation. He glances at me, and I can feel the question in his gaze. Finally, in a small voice, he asks me, “Why are you sad, Mummy? You look so sad. I don’t like it when you’re sad.”
Guilt rises to the surface and overflows. I apologise. I tell him it’s not his fault (it’s not), other things besides his circumstances are making me sad (they are), he didn’t cause this (he didn’t). But part of me doesn’t care. Part of me feels like hitting out. I’ve had enough.
We’re on the way to school to pick up some homework sheets. He’s missed nearly a week of school. Four weeks into secondary school, and already his year is disrupted. It’s a particularly bad migraine this time, and there’s no predicting how long his headaches will last.1 A day? A week? A month? A term? We’ve seen them all.
Over three years he’s been sick now, and counting. Over three years I’ve prayed. Prayed and watched. Prayed and hoped. Prayed and given up hope. Prayed and seen whole weeks of his life go past, given over to pain. Prayed and felt the sick discouragement creep in, quicker each time, when I see him ill – again.
I’ve tried to convince myself I can see a purpose to all this. Sometimes I can. When he’s well I can. When I see his courage and patience and trust, sometimes I can. But then he gets sick and his childhood slips away and it’s hard to hold on to hope. Doubt nibbles at the edges of my faith: What is God doing? Does he care? Is he even real?
You tell me (“you” being the voice of a dozen books and talks) to cry out to God, to bring my questions and confusion to him.2 God’s word tells me this. I tell myself this. But sometimes I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to tell God how I feel. I’m sick of saying the words. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes I’ve had enough.
There are not always neat answers. Maybe there will be this time, maybe there won’t. Job never had an answer – or, at least, not one that was revealed to him. The writer of Psalm 88 had no answers, and he wrote the only Psalm that is utterly despairing, without a hint of hope.
How grateful I am that God included Psalm 88 in the Bible! There are others that teach me how to fight for hope when I am discouraged (e.g. Psalm 13, 42, 130), but this psalm tells me that sometimes it is okay just to cry out. At least the psalmist knows who to cry out to. His lament is the measure of his faith:
O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you…
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
(Psalm 88:1, 14)
I might not have hope. Sometimes all I have is a handful of ashes, the crumbled remnants of my faith. But I do have words. I have God’s own words. He doesn’t pretend this is okay. He doesn’t pretend it makes sense. He puts the words of the psalmist in my mouth, and invites me to speak them.
And when I can’t speak – when my mouth won’t shape the words – I know that God’s Son and Spirit speak for me (Rom 8:26-27, 34). I know that once, on a cross, there was One who made the psalms of lament his own, so that, one day, we will no longer have to speak them (Psalm 22:1-2). I know that he is still my hope, even when I can’t see it.
There are times when all I can do is cry out.
There are times when I can’t cry out, but I know Someone is crying out for me.
Lord, give me the strength to at least cry out.