There are many laments in the book of Psalms. This is something that struck me anew when I preached through some of them this past summer. Suffering and sorrow are part of life in a fallen world, and lament is a resource the Christian faith provides to help God’s people endure under trial. But how do you lament?
I’m much more of a thinker than a feeler. Obviously, I have emotions, since I’m created in the image of God. But the thought of lamenting has always seemed so abstract. “When I lament, what do I say? If tears don’t come down my eyes, does that count?” I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant until I got concrete help from Mark Vroegop.
In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, Vroegop defines a lament as: “A loud cry, a howl, or a passionate expression of grief” (28). He says that it’s “A prayer in pain that leads to trust” (28).
As he points out, lamenting involves two questions:
1. “Where are you, God?”
2. “If you love me, why is this happening?” 1
Per Vroegop, this is how you lament: 2
1. Turn: Turn to God in prayer.
2. Complain: Voice your pain to God. Identify in blunt, specific language, the pain or injustice you are feeling.
3. Ask: Specifically call upon God to act in a way according to his character.
4. Trust: Affirm God’s worthiness to be trusted and continue to praise. Prayer doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it often changes you.
Lament is not the time to be polished or professional. It’s not the time to “get it right.” Put all polish, eloquence, and showiness aside. Just start with what’s on your heart (even if it’s messy) and go from there. When we lament, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). As a result of Christ’s example, we should have confidence to draw near to God to get the help we need (Hebrews 4:16).
Yes, God is sovereign and good. But we live in a fallen world. Because of the world, the flesh, and the devil, there is depression, anxiety, relational strains, and financial struggle. Christians are not immune to these kinds of trials. It’s normal to be going through hard times (1 Peter 4:12), despite a culture that preaches otherwise. Lament doesn’t mean we’ll have all of our questions answered this side of eternity, but it does demonstrate trust in God.
Everyone has something to lament in his or her life: children who are not faithfully walking with Jesus, personal health issues, dealing with unfair criticism, living with unfulfilled desires and dreams. If you are in a good season and can’t think of anything in your personal life to lament for yourself, then consider the pain of the world or a loved one and lament for them.
For you, the temptation might be to white-knuckle through life. You might be one of the types of people that are good at stuffing your feelings. Perhaps you learned this as a coping mechanism through childhood. Though ignoring the pain of life might provide a short-term solution, it does not help us properly deal with our emotions for long-term health. Worse, if you don’t lament, you may become cynical. Your heart will be hardened. You’ll become less sympathetic toward others who suffer. Eventually, bitterness or self-pity may strike.
Lamenting is uncomfortable, but not lamenting makes things worse.
Is there something in your life to lament? You lament by turning to God, telling him your pain, asking him to act in accordance with his character, and trusting him with the results. When you lament, you might feel awkward at first. The silence will be uncomfortable. You may have to navigate dealing with tears. You might utter things aloud that you did not know were in your heart. But lament anyway. Continue to trust God is listening. Continue to turn to God in your pain.
Unless Jesus returns and wipes away every tear, we need to learn to give our tears to Jesus.