Learning the Language of Lament

When life stings, what do you do? Where do you turn? Do you turn away from God in despair, spurned by the hurts of unmet expectations or unanswered questions? Do you turn to God, but hide your real feelings beneath a veneer of false positivity or denial that everything is OK?

What if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way, and that God doesn’t want it to be this way.

This year has stung many of us. Globally, we’ve endured the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its fallout. Personally, I’ve endured the unexpected loss of a dear uncle, and I know many of you have walked through your own hurts and sorrows. Even within our wider community, the recent death of a Year 12 student at Genesis Christian College in a car accident has rocked many of us.

The question is: what do we do with our pain, our questions, our confusion? How do we process our conflicted emotions, our nagging questions, and our deep disappointments? At least part of the Bible’s answer is lament—heartfelt and honest talking to God through the struggles of life.

The problem is, though it may be found in more than a third of the psalms, lament is a foreign language to many of us. I’m certainly still learning what it is and how to do it. But the ability to lament is too important for us to overlook or ignore. If we want to properly live our lives coram Deo—that is, before the face of God—we must heed the biblical invitation to lament.

Mark Vrogeop, pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, has written a book on lament titled: ‘Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy’. He says, “Instead of giving God the silent treatment, falling into either despair (“I can’t do this”) or denial (“everything’s fine”), lament encourages us to talk to God about our struggles so that we can reaffirm our trust in him. Simply stated, lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.”

Mark suggests that there at least four steps in the painful journey of lament. I offer them to you in the hope that we might all learn to pray our pain to God and be led into a deeper trust in God.

  1. Turn to Prayer: When pain creates struggles or hard questions, lament invites us to talk to God about it. Even if it’s messy or awkward, lamenting is better than faking it or not talking to him.
  1. Bring Our Complaints: Lament invites us to bluntly tell God our questions, fears, and frustrations. There is grace in this minor-key song as we get honest with God, knowing that biblical laments ask gutsy questions: “Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (Ps. 77:9).
  1. Ask Boldly: Calling on God to act in accordance with his promises runs parallel with our complaints. Pain can create disappointment, but lament provides the language that dares to hope again. Lament invites us to ask for help—again and again.
  2. Choose to Trust: The destination for all laments is an affirmation of trust in God. Gut-level, honest prayers provide a pathway for hurting people to move through their pain. Laments are not cul-de-sacs of sorrow, but conduits for renewed faith. For example, Psalm 13 begins with the question of why God seems so far away: “Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). But it ends with this hope-filled statement: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5). This is where lament leads us—back to trusting the grace of God.

With you on the journey, Adam