by Nicole O’meara

A young mother holding a toddler is leaning out of a train door towards a man standing outside on the platform. He is reaching up a hand, trying to touch his beloved one last time. Their eyes are locked and I can’t tell if the expression on their faces is love, fear, or determination. Whatever it is, it is tinged with sadness. They are Ukrainian and they are being separated by a war thrust upon them, unasked for and undeserved.

For some of us, the plight of Ukraine calls back memories of unjust suffering we too have endured. Pain. Sadness. Grief. It’s all there and the situation in Ukraine is bringing it back to the surface. Anxiety threatens to overwhelm us and our minds create unanswerable questions: Where is God in all this? How will we survive this? Will life ever be good again?

At Foothills Church, we just finished a series of sermons on the book of Daniel in which Scripture makes clear: Despite appearances, God is still in control. How do we process emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, and grief while still holding firm to the truth that God is sovereign over all things, including our emotions?

First, we must realize God did not design us to encounter suffering like automatons, who feel nothing and only endure. God created us as emotional beings. Surely, Daniel felt something when he realized the king’s advisors conspired against him — Was he frustrated? And surely, Daniel felt something when he was tossed into the lion’s den — Was it fear? I take comfort knowing that Daniel was still faithful in his daily prayers and humble in his replies to the king even as he was put into situations that must have stirred up big emotions. Clearly, hard emotions and solid faith can coexist.

Thankfully, we in America need not fear displacement under a military invasion like our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, nor do we live under the threat of being eaten by hungry beasts like Daniel. But we all suffer in some way, at some point. When suffering comes, it may feel like being tossed into a roiling sea with no quick way out. We must tread water as best we can and wait for the sea to settle. In the treading, God is at work, helping us process the waves of emotions that threaten to drown us.

In the psalms, King David, a man after God’s own heart, exemplified how to process hard emotions with faith, even in the midst of suffering. David took his raw emotions straight to God, unfiltered. Unsanitized. Might I say, unspiritualized.

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? – Psalm 13:1

O Lord, I cry out to you, “Come quickly.” – Psalm 140:1

My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? – Psalm 6:3

We call these “prayers of lament.” To lament is to name your pain or suffering.  When we lament, we express all the feelings we have regarding our pain to God.


You can lament for others like the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 13:7). As you take in the news about Ukraine, you may be overwhelmed with heavy emotions for people who have been thrown into a storm and are exhausted from treading water. You can lament for them. God will hear your prayers on their behalf. Just as He is present with you in your storm, and He is present with them in theirs. We never have to tread water alone.


You can lament for yourself like King David. If you feel alone in your grief, know that God sees you in your pain and captures your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).  As you learn to lament, you may want to journal your thoughts and feelings. Write them down as a way to process them with God, or as a testimony for others

Sometimes, we struggle to lament because it seems more “spiritually mature” to elevate logic and diminish emotion.  But the psalms show us we can hold onto the truth of our faith while we are experiencing deep grief or despair. Don’t let this paradox keep you from the healing practice of lament. Be honest, even in the paradox, like Paul did in 2 Cor 4:8-10,

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”

Paul’s brutal honesty did not elevate his suffering like a trophy, neither did it diminish it. As he expressed both the pain and the joy of his suffering, he must have felt perplexed. I appreciate that he didn’t try to explain it. He simply laid it out for God and the church. RC Sproul explained it this way, ”So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us. We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy.”

In the treading water, through honest lament, God is at work healing our emotions. It is God who can and will settle the waters and still our waves of emotions.


A word of caution: sometimes, prayers of lament do not end with praise. David’s lament in Psalm 88 ends with, “darkness is my closest friend,” reminding us that when we lament we leave our emotions at the feet of the cross. We must trust that God is still at work in our hearts even when our emotions remain in turmoil. Surrendering our raw emotions is an act of obedience to the One who is always trustworthy to hear them. As Elisabeth Elliot said, “We are to trust God even when He seems the most silent.”

When you find yourself in the storm of suffering, reaching out to hold onto something or someone you seem to be losing, give yourself space to lament. Keep treading water and speaking out your grief. And remember, Jesus is treading beside you. You are never alone.
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