Sad Worship

Photo by Jonatán Becerra on Unsplash

It’s Sunday. We just finished week two of online worship due to social distancing requirements. It was a good service. Even so, a pre-recorded service has relational limitations, so I choose to add some mental enhancements while I participate.

During the audio-only recordings of the choir, I envision their smiling faces and syncopated swaying. During the liturgy, I dub-in voices of those typically sitting in the pews near me as we collectively offer an amoeba-like recitation. And when the Word is preached, I mentally insert several raised-voice, pulpit-slapping, jump up and down exclamations of, “Isn’t that good news!” for which our pastor is known. I’m grateful to be part of a vibrant Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent, cross-cultural community of faith.

Yet in this morning’s blend of digital worship and my mentally inserted animations, I sensed a longing. An ache. An unsettledness in my spirit. It felt like I was grieving. Reflecting now, it was lament.

Lament is generally described as expressions of sorrow, regret, grief, or mourning. I prefer a more faith-centered definition given by a former pastor who said, “lament is sorrow but with confidence.” Confidence in a loving, ever-present God who sees, hears and knows our circumstance. A God who can sympathize with our anxieties, frustrations, losses, and desires. A God to whom we can safely bring our anger and our angst.

As I allow my feelings from this morning to percolate, I’m mixing in this quote from Michael Card: “Lament is not a path to worship, but the path of worship.” (A Sacred Sorrow, p.21) Oh, boy! My conditioned response is that worship be a positive, joyful, happy endeavor. Through that lens, I’d write-off what I felt this morning as inadequate or distracted worship. Yet if Card is right (and I believe he is), I can’t—and shouldn’t—discount what I’m feeling. Instead, I should embrace my sadness as a portal to worship.

While no one welcomes or wishes for loss, I can attest that painful and anxious moments have heightened my desire for God’s involvement in the particulars of my life. When I’m inconvenienced, frustrated, thwarted, or just plain don’t get what I want, those moments are ripe for lamenting worship. Embracing that perspective is tough. But I’m choosing to pray against the pull of bitterness and bring my grief to God.

In our longing for what’s normal, like being face-to-face with family, friends, and everyone else, it’s okay to be sad. But in that sorrow, we must sustain our confidence that God is more than enough and is worthy of our worship—whatever form it takes.