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  • Rev. Annie McMillan

“How Long, O Lord?”

There’s a joke I’ve heard a few times recently. I’ll ask someone how they

are, and they’ll respond, “Can’t complain. And nobody would listen if I did.” I

know it’s meant in good humor, but I started to wonder: do we feel like we can’t

complain? Even more than that, do we feel like it’s wrong to complain to God?

That it’s ungrateful or disrespectful? We know God knows what’s best for us and

is in control: so we think we shouldn’t complain or question.

And then, maybe we think about the Israelites in the wilderness. I’ve been

listening through the bible and something struck me when I listened to Exodus,

Leviticus, and Numbers: the Israelites complain, or grumble, a lot. They grumbled

to Moses and Aaron. And at one point they grumbled against God about the manna

and quail and ended up with poisonous snakes killing some of them. Is it really ok

to complain to God when things go wrong? Is it ok to think or pray “My God, my

God, why have you left me all alone?” or “Will the Lord reject me forever?”

Because sometimes things go wrong. A loved one is sick and we don’t know

what to do. We’re stuck and don’t see a way out. Nothing goes right. We've tried

praying, but nothing seems to be getting to God. No answers are coming. So we

wonder “Where is God in this?” “Is God really here?” And then we feel guilty.

Luckily we have these psalms to help us. The Psalmist absolutely complains

to God. And these laments are recorded in Scripture, insinuating that this is one

way that we can come to God. When life seems to be falling apart and God feels

far away and we realize “I can’t do this by myself.”

Whenever you feel like this, first and foremost I give you permission:

complain to God! Yell and scream, or if you’d rather not bother your household or

the neighbors, then write in all caps in your prayer journal. God can take it.

Then take a moment when you find some downtime, and write your own

Psalm of Lament. I found some great instructions from a resource by Marcia

McFee that I’d like to share.

First: Start as the psalmist often does and name God. Who is God for you

right now? My God who is there when I cry late at night. Lord, my God who hears

my loneliness, my aggravation, my fears.

Then, having named and described God in this intimate address, tell God,

specifically, what the trouble in life is. What’s wrong? Psalm 13 says: “How long,

O Lord, will You forget me? How long will my enemy keep defeating me?” How

long will my loved one continue to suffer? How long will I be unable to work?

Whatever is going on in your life that seems too much to bear: Tell God!

Once you’ve told God specifically what the trouble in life is, then focus on

the petition. Ask God to act. And then give God some good reasons for acting.

Why do you need God to intervene?

And then feel free to repeat as needed, going back to telling God what’s

wrong with the most colorful descriptions you can imagine. Do you tend to

exaggerate just how big that fish was? Now is the time! Exaggerate, be colorful,

use hyperbole. “My couch is soaked with my tears from crying all day long”

“Everything keeps going wrong; nothing is going right.”

Finally, when you have nothing more to add, it’s time for the second half of

your psalm. See, I only read the first half of Psalm 77 before. Verses 11 through 20

go like this:

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?

14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.

15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were


17 The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows

flashed back and forth.

18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth

trembled and quaked.

19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your

footprints were not seen.

20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

When you have said everything that you can think of, it’s time for the

change. Psalms of Lament always end with praise and rejoicing. Take a deep

breath. Remember how God has acted in your life before. The Psalmist notes that

when God led the people through the waters, God’s footprints “left no trace.” We

don’t always see the evidence of God’s presence, but we know God is with us.

Remember who God is: that you are a beloved child of God. Remember that God

does answer prayer. Remember how God has been with you before, and praise God

for being with you then, as with you God is now.

The Israelites would often complain. But when they had a legitimate

complaint, like “There’s no water; we’re going to die” or “We have no food”, God

responded. God provided drinkable water. God provided manna in the morning and

quail at night. When the Israelites actually had a need, God provided. As the Psalm

says, God led the people of Israel under the care of Moses and Aaron.So go to God

in prayer for whatever you need. And know that it’s ok to complain to God. God

can take it. Then remember how God has come through in the past. God will be

with you now just God was with you then. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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