5 Things the Psalms of Lament Teach Us About Emotions

I am an emotional person; it doesn't take much for me to cry. No matter how many times I see one of those heartwarming commercials about family or veterans returning home or babies laughing, I cry. Songs make me cry. Greeting cards make me cry. Memories make me cry.

Having my emotions so close to the surface makes me empathetic to others, which is a good thing. It helps me extend kindness and compassion to those who are hurting. But being emotional also means that my emotions often take the reins and rule my days. Especially dark and painful ones. They consume my energy, direct my decisions, and rob me of joy. In addition, my emotions are not always honest with me. They exaggerate things. They make me think that my circumstances are worse than they really are.

That's where being emotional gets me into trouble.

A Guidebook for Emotions

Can you relate? If you're emotional like I am, there is good news. We're not left alone without any help or guidance. In fact, God's Word has a lot to say about our emotions. The Psalms of Lament are a rich resource for learning about our emotions and how God desires for us to express, address, grow, and learn from them. The laments are those psalms in which the psalmist expresses the deep pains and heartaches of life. They are the psalms where the writer cries out to God about hard emotions as sorrow, fear, grief, and abandonment. In reading the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to face our own emotions.

Here are five things the Psalms teach us about our emotions:

1. We are not alone in our emotions.

John Calvin described the book of Psalms as "an anatomy of all the parts of the soul." The Psalms mirror the emotions we all face in this fallen world, and the Psalms of Lament in particular express the darkest ones we experience—fear, despair, abandonment, shame, rejection, and grief. When we read the laments, we see that we are not alone in our feelings. On our hardest days, we can open God's Word and see that the psalmist felt the same pain.

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping (Ps. 6:6).

2. God wants us to come to Him with our emotions.

The next thing we can learn from the laments is that God desires for us to come to Him with our emotions. All of them. Even the deep, dark, raw, and painful ones.

The Psalms were the songbook for God's people. The Israelites sang these Psalms the same way we sing our hymns on Sunday morning. They sang to God of their fear and despair, their shame and grief. This shows us that our God is gracious. He doesn't expect us to wipe away our tears and pretend that everything's okay when we come before Him. Rather, we need to come to Him exactly as we are and lay our burdens at His feet.

O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you (Ps. 38:9).

3. Our emotions need to be confronted with the truth.

The laments also teach us that sometimes our emotions need to be confronted. Sometimes they exaggerate things or even flat out lie to us. In Psalm 42, the psalmist confronted himself:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (v. 11).

The laments show us that we need to take our emotions to God's Word and compare what we are feeling with the truth. Then we need to speak the truth of the Bible to ourselves, reminding ourselves of who God is and what He has done for us in Christ.

4. God is our comfort, salvation, and peace.

The laments also teach us that God alone is our hope and salvation. In the midst of our sorrows and fears, we often turn to other saviors to free us from our pain. When we are afraid, we tend to run away from our fear or take control of it. When we are in despair, we often try to comfort ourselves with false substitutes or withdraw from the world. But the laments point us to our real hope, our real comfort, our real peace, and our real salvation.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (Ps. 13:5).

5. Joy comes in the morning.

Lastly, the laments show us that joy lies on the other side of despair. Nearly all the laments follow a similar pattern, moving from the negative to the positive. They begin with the psalmist crying out to God and end with the psalmist responding in faith, trust, and worship. The journey of coming to God with our emotions is a hard one, but as we spend that time in prayer, reminding ourselves of the truth, and dwelling on who Christ is, we will see joy again. Hope will rise. Peace will return. Not necessarily because our problems or trials have gone away, but because we know that our real hope is found in Christ and that eternity with Him awaits us.

Want to learn more about the laments? My new book, A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament, takes readers on a journey with the psalmist to learn the art of lament. Log on to the giveaway widget below for a chance to win one of five copies!

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