I scanned the congregation as we finished our third song extolling the wonders of God and our joy for all God has done. As we started the fourth song with the same spirit of energetic celebration, I glimpsed a friend, sitting in the back, who had told me that week that his wife had cheated on him and wanted a divorce.
At that moment the lyrics kicked in, and we started singing joyful thanks for God's abundant blessings. The words I was singing suddenly felt forced, false, and even mocking. I had to spend the rest of the song looking away from my friend, who stood with his mouth shut, staring out the window.
After the service I approached him and said, "I was thinking about you the entire service; it must have been painful sitting through some of the songs."
"Yeah," he said. "I'm not sure this is a good time for me to attend church. It is painful to observe celebration and not be able to join. It accentuates my loneliness."
I left thinking there was something very wrong with this situation.
Worship is often equated with joy and celebration. It's a kind of pep rally to inspire thanksgiving and excitement about who God is. While this is a legitimate aspect of worship, it is incomplete.
This comes into full relief when we consider the experience of my friend and even more so when we read the book of Psalms as a record of ancient worship and a rich resource for our worship today.
An important pattern in the psalms is that they repeatedly employ a narrative arc, a movement from grief and lamentation to celebration and joy. This pattern is strikingly absent in many worship services today. We tend to deny our suffering in favor of celebration.
Perhaps this is because we mistakenly believe that to acknowledge suffering might mean we are ...