The tradition of Hurtin’ songs is well entrenched in country music today. In fact, one of the things that distinguish country music from other music genres is that the other styles don’t emphasize the Hurtin’ song nearly as much. We can even see the difference rather clearly if we look at the themes that seem to dominate the genres.
Pop is: Things are Great Baby!
Rock is: Things aren't great Baby, but we can make them great if we try!
Country is: Nothing is any good and it never will be Baby no matter what we do!
And so that’s why in country we see so many songs like Aaron Lines, “It Would have been Cheaper, to Keep her Around” or Travis Tritt’s “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’ Anymore.” Then of course there is Shane Yellowbird’s song “Pickup Truck.” Although these are light hearted songs, there are undercurrents and overtones of pain. However, there are the real tear jerkers, Michelle Wright’s “He Would Be Sixteen” or Chystal Shawanda’s “You Can Let Go, Daddy” would make even a Hell’s Angel cry.
It shouldn’t be too surprising if I tell you that Hurtin’ songs have been written and sung for thousands of years. Indeed, there are many of them in the Bible. If we know anything about the life of King David, it really shouldn’t surprise us too much. For much of his life, David was hurtin’. This might be surprising because many people think that someone who is blessed by God shouldn’t have a life like that and David was indeed a man who was blessed by God. You would think that someone who is passionate about God shouldn’t be allowed by God to go through a lot of pain but God himself called David a man after his own heart and yet David was a man who deeply knew pain and he knew it on many levels. He knew physical pain. He knew the pain of betrayal. He knew the pain of being unfairly accused. He knew the pain and hardship of being on the run for his very life.
In our series on David’s life, we have seen his fortunes rise and fall. We saw him go from the darling of Israel to Israel’s Most Wanted. We have seen him drink in the praise of Israel’s ladies and the curses of Israel’s king. We saw him rise to Saul’s chief musician and bodyguard and we have seen him driven from the palace and civilization by Saul’s murderous rages. We have seen him pursued in love by a princess and by Saul’s soldier s who hunted him down like a mad dog. And so, at this point, we see David on the run. And he ran. Into the desert wastes and rocks and crags, he ran. He never had a moments rest. He never had a moment’s peace. He ate whatever he could find. He slept in trees – always with one eye opened. He sought refuge in hidden caves. Before David, mothers would warn their children that if they didn’t behave they would end up like the town drunk. Now they had a better, more frightening story. “Be good, or you’ll end up like the giant killer.”
T hese were David’s darkest hours. We know them as his pre-king days, but he didn’t know when they would end. Perhaps he wondered even IF they would end. There must have been times when he wondered if this was his lot forever. Yet, his plight was working for his ultimate good. As he fled, suffering gave birth. As he hid, humility was being born. By earthly measures David was a shattered man. My Heaven’s measure, he was becoming a broken one.
B ut even during this dark time, David still sang. Sometimes when he had successfully eluded Saul and his thugs he reverted to that which comforted him the lonely hours with the sheep. Perhaps, sheltered deep in cave David began to pour out his soul to the Lord in song and the cavern walls echoed each note and the music rolled down into the deep cavern darkness. David sang a great deal, and he matched each note with a tear. There, in those caves and caverns, drowned in the sorrow of his song, and in the song of his sorrow David sang the best Hurtin’ songs every written. If you don’t like my country music references, let me just say that in his trouble David very simply became the greatest hymn writer, and the greatest comforter of broken hearts, that this world shall ever know. We can imagine David as the lonely, hungry and frightened fugitive singing his Hurtin’ songs and singing his heart out to God:
1 ¶ For the director of music. A psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall. (Psalm 13)
I. From this, we see that it’s is O.K. to complain to God. These are what David’s hurtin’ songs are.
Theologians call these Hurtin’ songs of David by a more technical name: laments. You see, there are two basic kinds of Psalms – praise and laments. Praises, of course, we understand. I don’t think we understand laments nearly as well. There are a few reasons for that. First of all, we have few laments in our church songbooks. When the Twin Towers were hit by Terrorists almost 10 years ago, it was noted that churches had trouble responding because there were no songs to sing that reflected mourning that people experienced. Even the songs we sing at funerals reflect more the happier hope of eternal life than the pain mourners feel. We have very little experience with lament. Some songwriters like Brian Doerksen are trying to change that. He has written some laments – one of them is simply Psalm 13 put to music. I really like it because it reflects the sadness and mourning that I sometimes feel.
But another reason we are unfamiliar with laments is that many times we are in deep sorrow we feel like we have to put up a facade or a mask. We don’t like the idea of others knowing the depths of our sorrow. We are freer with our praises – when a prayer is answered, a new baby born or a financial success. However, when life turns around, we often tell only a few trusted friends. Our lamentations are therefore kept private and away from the rest of the world.
I understand this. When life gets messy, we are sometimes rather embarrassed. When life gets messy, our weakness is exposed. Weakness brings out two responses in people. There is the predatory response. People with this response rush in and take advantage of our weakness. Perhaps they taunt us, gossip about us or otherwise seek to hurt us. We are afraid of that. That is why so many people keep their struggles to themselves. However, in others it produces sympathy and compassion. In the people of God, we know which response is appropriate. We also know that “being real” is so important to the life of the community. But it is a struggle. That is why we would much rather rejoice with those who rejoice than mourn with those who mourn.
Perhaps we are unfamiliar with the idea of lament because we wish to avoid pain rather than deal with it. Understanding the psalms of lament can help us to deepen our understanding of our relationship to God during times of sorrow. By studying these Psalms, we can see that facing the reality of pain and struggle in life is a much better way to healing than trying to deny or avoid pain. David pours his heart out. He tells God exactly how he feels. He doesn’t try to cover it up. He doesn’t feel the need to defend God. These psalms show us a window into David’s grief journey where he is able to be real about the pain and doubts of life and eventually live into wholeness. Kinds of complaints David makes to God include concerns with the actions of an enemy or prevailing attitude or concerns with God's action or inaction.
Modern psychology teaches us that stuffing our pain and anger inside doesn’t work. It will come out eventually. If our anger and sorrow isn’t dealt with in ways that bring healing, it will come out in ways pass pain on to others. The lament is one way to help deal with our deep inner pain, sorrow, and anger. Expressing our anger to God during times when life gets messy can help us get our pain out in a way that doesn’t cause harm to others.
We also may be unfamiliar with lamenting because we are afraid to complain to God. We are perhaps worried that God will become angry with us if we share with him how angry, bitter, hurt or confused we are – especially if we believe that God’s action or inaction is contributing to our state. However, David’s laments are not just the gushing forth of raw rage, but a prayer with a specific mood and structure. David honestly expresses how upset he is and yet we can see that he is also hoping God will hear and do something about it. To put it another way, he is complaining BECAUSE he has faith in God – not because he lost it.
When I read Psalm 13 to you earlier, I left out a very critical part of the Psalm. I left out the last two verses where David says:
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.
You can see that, although he is complaining and even accusing God of hiding his face from him, David’s faith is still there. The structure of David’s laments are:
An address to God;
and usually an expression of trust
In expressing his pain to God, David is keeping his relationship open and authentic. He is refusing to suppress his grief and pain and refusing to move on in a superficial way.
What does this mean to us? It is O.K. to cry out in pain and even to complain to the Lord. You might object to this. After all, when the Israelites complained during their wonderings in the wilderness, the Lord got rather upset at them. The answer is that their complaints were based on a LACK OF FAITH. When they found difficulty and hardship, they accused God of having EVIL INTENTIONS. David NEVER does that. David’s complaints, on the other hand, sprang FROM his faith. He knew God could do better and he wondered why He wasn’t. He complains of God’s inaction or inattention to his plight but he NEVER accuses God of evil intentions. That is why I believe that it is O.K. to complain to the Lord and pour out our hearts when we are in pain trusting that God will accept it, and do something about it.
II. The Laments indicate to us that David’s pain had a purpose.
David’s pain ultimately benefited the people of God. When we read the Laments, we can relate to David’s feelings. It is often hard to find words to express our feelings and so stuffing our pain inside seems like the only possible option. William Styron in his book "Sophie’s Choice" shows an example of a psalm of lament being used to comfort. Toward the end of the story the narrator, with the unusual name of Stingo, journeys from Washington to New York to bury his two close friends, Sophie and Nathan, who have committed suicide. He is visibly upset and feels beyond comfort. His seatmate, a black woman asks him what is upsetting him. He can give her no response. At her suggestion together in unison they read Psalm 88, along with other passages of lament. Though he is still in the thick of his grief, the words help bring comfort to the moment and give voice to the anguish of Stingo's soul.
I personally find it good to know that even characters from the Bible felt the same way that I sometimes feel. I don’t feel weird, or strange or evil or unspiritual because I sometimes have negative feelings. If a man after God’s own heart can feel a certain way, that I can too and still be O.K. I believe that God inspired David to write these words of lament down even if they seem to cast God in a negative light – to let us know that it’s O.K. to express our grief and pain to Him.
In his pain, David also ended being a prophet for the Messiah. We often think of prophecy as being found only in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. However, the Psalms are full of prophecy themselves. One of those Psalms is Psalm 22. It is full of prophecies that relate to Jesus and his crucifixion.
1 ¶ For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning." A psalm of David. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. 4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
The very first line of that Psalm is what Jesus cried from the cross. I believe he did that not only because he was forsaken and alienated from the Father because he took on our sin, but also to draw the attention of his hearers to Psalm 22 and the very prophecies that were being fulfilled.
In the next section, we see another amazing prophecy that was fulfilled on the cross:
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."
Turn to Matthew 27:39 and we see this prophecy fulfilled:
39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 "He saved others," they said, "but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’" (Matthew 27)
Then we see some more amazing prophecies:
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 ¶ Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.
Here we see some very obvious prophecies of crucifixion. We see the thirst Jesus suffered. We see how his hands and feet were pierced. We see how the people gloated over Jesus. Amazingly, we see a prophecy of how the Roman soldiers cast lots, or threw dice, for his clothing.
When I first encountered Psalm 22, it was one of the first times I realized the accuracy of the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus Christ. It strengthened my faith to see how accurately these prophecies were fulfilled. I also found it compelling that Jesus couldn’t have controlled any of this. He could not have self-fulfilled these prophecies – it was beyond his control as a human being.
My point of all this is that David’s pain, as he expressed it in Psalm 22, had a great purpose – the writing and handing down of this wonderful prophecy of Christ’s Crucifixion. He was in agony when he wrote it. He felt forsaken by God, but God himself was guiding his pen. God seemed remote and distant yet the Holy Spirit of God was right there with David. When David felt farthest from God, that was when God was closest to him. David simply couldn’t see that through his pain. Ultimately, however, God had a wonderful purpose for his pain.
When we are in pain, God ultimately has a purpose for it. For the believer, no pain is meaningless. No suffering is devoid of benefit. Whether or not we receive the full benefit of our pain in large part is up to us. When we are faced with pain, we are given a choice – we can become BITTER or we can become BETTER. The choice is up to us. If we become BITTER, I doubt we will receive the benefit of our suffering.
When your child contracts cancer, you enter into a very exclusive club. That’s because nobody voluntarily pays the membership dues and fortunately, few are called to pay them. When you join the club you are suddenly thrust into a bewildering and very different kind of world that exists alongside your usual world but the people in your usual world have difficulty understanding it. In this world you learn a new way of living because suddenly your life revolves around your child’s treatment. Nothing becomes more important. Your dreams, your aspirations, your values, and sometimes even your work life take second place and often make a dramatic change. You learn a new language of cancer treatment protocols and drugs. I got to the point where I could say l- Asparaginase, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, and Mercaptopurine without stumbling over my tongue. I learned what lumbar punctures are and why it is important to have a healthy neutrophil count. But I also found that there are two kinds of members in this club. One member resents that he or she was forced to join. They grow bitter, argumentative and sometimes even aggressive. You can spot them in the waiting rooms. They are waiting by themselves or forcing someone else to endure a bitter tirade. The other group has accepted that growing bitter won’t do any good. Instead, they end up growing sweeter. They sympathize. They Empathize. They even laugh. You will find that parents of cancer stricken children can have a rather exclusive sense of humour. To give you an idea, I’ve taken a few items from a list, “You know your child has cancer when ...”
1. Kids with hair look kind of strange to you
2. You hear a truck backing up and you think the IV is beeping
3. You are so proud when your baby finally gets hair (and he is 8 years old)!
4. The nurses stop responding to the IV alarm, knowing you'll fix it anyway
5. Your 2-year-old knows where all of the medical equipment goes, and how to use it
6. Your child's first word is a medical term
7. You can eat with one hand while you hold the barf bucket with the other
8. You can read the doctor’s prescription word for word, and are asked to decipher it by the pharmacist
9. When you use the term six-pack, you are talking about platelets, not abdominals or beer.
10. Your child can easily pronounce "Neuroblastoma," "chemotherapy" and "coagulate," but has trouble pronouncing the province you live in
11. You really think this list is funny, when most normal people either don't get it or start to cry!
Those parents who can find humour in this rather appalling situation are the ones who allow it to make them better, not bitter. They have chosen the better path. But it is not only cancer parents who are faced with this choice. All of us are whenever we face a trial. We can trust God that there is a purpose for it or we can conclude that there is no purpose and become bitter. Which would you have?
As I close, let me urge you to first of all read the Psalms. There are 150 of them. Many of them are by David and some of them were obvious inspired during his time on the run from Saul. Pay attention to them and read them well. Understand from them that when we are in distress it is O.K. to pour out our sorrow and frustration to God. He understands. He will not strike you with lightning or otherwise punish you. Instead, look forward for God to act in Him time.
Thirdly, understand that your pain has a purpose even if you can’t see it. I don’t think David saw the ultimate purpose in his own suffering. He didn’t see how God was using it to transform him. He didn’t see how the songs he sang in his pain would end up comforting untold masses of people when they were faced with pain. I don’t believe that he knew that one of his laments written during a crisis in his faith was an inspired prophecy of the coming Messiah that would strengthen the faith of many a follower of Jesus.
Your pain has a purpose. You might not see it right now. You might not see it for a long time. Maybe, in this life you never will. Your pain may not seem to have as significant a purpose as David’s did, but it does have purpose.
Finally, in pain, ask God to help you become BETTER and not BITTER.
Next time you hear a “Hurtin’ song” on the radio, remember David’s hurtin’ songs and in remembering them, be encouraged and comforted An address to God; a complaint; a request and usually an expression of trust.
C. 2010 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.