Psalms of Lament express anguish, Mother’s Day losses, during sleepless nights

Have you ever experienced a sleepless night?

It seems that when we are anxious or grieving, we become most vulnerable at night.  There is something about resting our bodies and minds that brings about jumbles of thoughts and emotions that keep us from falling asleep or getting our souls to simmer down after a long day’s work.

I remember some sleepless nights in college when I was getting serious about a great girl I met on campus.  We both felt right for each other, and we knew that we were tired of the whole “dating” scene.  We talked for hours about our dreams for the future and shared a lot in common.

But was that the girl God wanted me to marry?  At the time, I was very insecure in my relationship with God.  I never knew exactly what God wanted out of my life, and my uncertainty left me indecisive and anxious.  I would spend night after night in prayer trying to figure out God’s will for my life.

It was my father who finally sat me down after one too many sleepless nights and told me that I would be making a mistake if I didn’t ask that girl to marry me.  Thanks to that intervention, my best friend and I will be celebrating 13 years of marriage this month.

My story is a familiar one because there are many people who have sleepless nights about all sorts of situations.  Some people lament over having to make decisions related to employment; others can’t sleep because of lack of employment.  Some grieve in the midst of night, while some can’t sleep because of unfinished business the day before.  Yet others become sorrowful around Mother’s Day, when thoughts of a long-lost mother haunt us in the quietness of our bedrooms.

Whatever befalls us, our darkest hour is the time of our deepest need.

I’m sure that the poet of Psalm 77–a musician under the leadership of the priest Asaph–wrote this prayer in the midst of a sleepless night.  “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying … You keep my eyelids from closing” (v. 2, 4).

Over the past three weeks, my columns have outlined various ways the psalms give voice to our prayers.  In the case of Psalm 77–a psalm of lament–we find words that express grief, frustration, and loss in the midst of night.

Psalm 77 does more than express despair and grief, it prays honest words to God and asks God why God is so silent or hidden in the midst of a sleepless night.  The poet asks questions of God that society often shuns: “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (v. 9).  In other words, “God, where are you?”

As with any psalm of lament, however, the movement of these emotional prayers always goes from despair to hope, grief to praise.  Psalm 77 is no different.  Whereas the first part (v. 1-10) grieves and wonders about God’s absence, the second and third parts (v. 11-15 and v. 16-20 respectively) affirm that God never fails and always provides for His people.

Even if God “forgets,” the one praying will remember what God has done in the past.  “I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds” (v. 12).

We remember that even in the midst of darkness, dawn will soon come and the light of God’s love will shine brightly in us again.  Our grief may last for a season and may linger throughout Mother’s Day weekend, but God always delivers us to reach new heights and discover new ways of falling in love with him.

“Sorrow may last for the night,” Psalm 30:5 reminds us, “But joy comes in the morning.”

Hold out till the morning; but if you must, make Psalm 77 your prayer of lament during your darkest hour.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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