How can God let this happen? This is a question that every child inevitably asks as they come to realize unjust, unfair, and downright awful things can happen to people. It’s a hard question to answer. Many of us struggle to make sense of tragedy and suffering considering the promises of love and care offered by God through Scripture. But our divine provider invites us to engage in every type of conversation with God, even those that are hard, messy and heated. In this lesson, children will learn that they can cry out to God and God will listen and respond.
Begin your time with the children by asking them to think of a time they were angry or frustrated. Ask them to share what they did when they felt this way. How did they act? Who did they talk to? What kinds of words did they say? Encourage them to be honest even if their responses were ugly! Note that we all have times when we become frustrated and mad. It’s normal for us to become stressed and to raise our voices. Sometimes we need to express our feelings loudly and passionately.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20. Provide some context for the reading. Reiterate what a psalm is or introduce the concept to the children if you haven’t explored a psalm together before. Explain that psalms were written for several reasons including lament. Ask the children to wonder about what the word lament means. Then offer a definition. Share that this is a psalm of lament.
Read aloud Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20. After reading, focus on the first two verses. Have the children wonder about the meaning of these lines. What does it mean to “cry aloud to God” in the hope that “he may hear me”? Then, ask the children why someone might yell or cry out to God. What situations would make us upset with God? Finally, have the children wonder what a person crying out to God might want from God. How would they expect God to respond? Encourage them to think about what they already know about God from reading other Bible stories. How is God most likely to respond? What can we expect from God when we talk to God? Note that we know God wants to have a close relationship with creation. God came to be with human beings on earth as Jesus in part to show us how close God wants to be to us. It stands to reason that God is willing to hear from us, even when we are frustrated or mad. God wants to talk with us all the time.
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect the psalm to their own lives. Reiterate the message of the first few lines of the psalm — we cry out to God when we feel lost, angry or frustrated. Have the children brainstorm a list of times that a person might want to yell at God. Encourage them to think of situations in their own lives as well as ones they might be able to imagine. Some children may struggle to feel comfortable being angry at God. They may think these feelings and expressions are taboo. You can reassure them that God can handle any feelings we share and that God wants to hear from us no matter what we have to share. Acknowledge that it can be difficult to be honest with God about our feelings. You could even share a story about a time you were upset with God.
Next, give each child a piece of paper and something to write with (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.) Ask them to write or draw a picture of a time they were angry or frustrated with God. If they cannot remember such a time, encourage them to imagine when they might have such feelings. Once they have finished their drawing, go outdoors or somewhere in the church where the group can make a lot of noise. Spread the children out and tell them they will be sharing what they wrote or drew on the paper with God, even if they have done so previously. When you signal them, they should shout out why they are upset with God. (Because the children may be worried about others hearing what they are saying, you can have them turn away from one another.)
Offer some sort of signal that lets the children know they should simultaneously call out to God. After they have shouted, ask them to stand silently with their eyes closed. Encourage them to notice the silence and to notice how they feel.
Gather together to discuss the experience. Ask the children what it felt like to yell at God. Was the experience a good one or a bad one? How did it feel to stand in silence? What did they notice while it was quiet?
End your time together by reminding the children that it is okay to cry out to God. God wants us to engage. Whether we are sharing joys, concerns, anger or frustration, God will listen to us.