The One Book: A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament
If you could recommend just one book, in addition to the Bible, for believers to read, what would it be? It’s a hard question to answer when you love to read and there are so many great books out there. But the book I find myself recommending most often is Christina Fox’s A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament.
A Heart Set Free is about learning how to cry out to God. Instead of pretending our emotions don’t exist or that we aren’t hurting, we need to learn how to lament, how to express our emotions in our Christian walk. Fox uses the Psalms of Lament because they “give us a structure for how to express our feelings” and “help us journey through the dark valleys until we can emerge on the other side and bow in grateful worship.” (17)
Lament is a lost art in our society. We know how to complain, but we’ve forgotten how to lament. As a result, we don’t know how to cope with the consequences of living in a sinful and fallen world. We experience worry, anxiety, fear, and doubt, but we don’t know what to do with them. Fox explains that our normal means of coping (distraction, control, or simply giving in to the worry and fear) won’t work. We’re making the problem worse by not actually dealing with our emotions.
As believers, we recognize our need for a Savior, but we still face the day to day challenge of living in a sinful, broken world. And this is where A Heart Set Free is very helpful. By using the format of the Psalms of Lament, we can learn to lament using the Psalms as a model. In the Psalms of Lament, there is a “three-part structure” that we can use in our prayers: crying out to God, asking for help, responding in trust and praise (87).
Using these steps, we can begin to learn to express our emotions to God and learn to trust in Him through our painful situations. As I’ve gone through difficult circumstances in life, I’ve learned to ask God for help. I know I need Him all the time, but I have always struggled with the final step. Having cried out and asked God for help, I tend to short circuit and go back to worry and trying to control my situations. The book reminded me that the next step is to trust God and praise Him:
This step of the laments is the part where many of us get to and we stop. It’s easy to cry out to God and ask for help but to trust Him in the darkness where we cannot see what’s ahead of us? That’s the hard part. (134)
And that’s where the book has really had an impact on my life, I’m learning to lay down my own struggle for control and praise God for His love and care and put my trust in Him to take care of my future. It’s the first step in a lifelong journey of learning to trust even when life is painful.
Not that life will be all sunshine and roses, as Fox reminds us:
There may also be times when we go through this journey with the psalmist and we respond in trust and worship and still feel grief. We may still feel intense sorrow. This process of following the structure of the laments is not a magical incantation that erases all our emotions. It’s not a step by step list to follow that will take away our problems. But it is a journey that draws us closer to God. (138)
But even in the sadness, God is my strength and my joy, and He will never leave me or forsake me. And that’s hope we can all cling to: “Even when life is at its hardest, gospel joy is still there. It is always present, like an anchor in the storms of life.” (139)
Though I struggle with anxiety, Fox’s book has offered me hope that when my heart is filled with doubt and fear, when my anxious thoughts consume me, I can cry out to God. And He will hear me. Just like He heard the psalmists in their laments.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, male or female, young or old. No matter your struggles, God speaks to us through the Psalms of Lament, and through the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to speak to God.
Rachel Miller is News Editor for the Aquila Report. She has a BA in History from Texas A&M University. She is a member of a PCA church in the Houston area and the homeschooling mother of three boys.