What is Lament?
Biblical lament is an honest, vulnerable expression of pain, a crying out to God in faith as we are suffering.
If I break my arm, I cry out in pain. If I experience the breaking of a relationship, my health, a job, or finances, I cry out in lament. Both are natural responses to pain. Both are valid human emotions. Both are honest reactions. Yet we don’t often make room in our lives for lament.
The Old Testament Israelites sang about the full range human emotion in the Psalms: anger, trust, sorrow, despair, celebration, fear, longing, thanksgiving, anguish, joy, loneliness, beauty, praise, protest, love, doubt, promise, pleading, weariness, gratitude, insecurity, and hope.
Lament is Worship
Lament was a daily part of their worship, woven through the fabric of their lives, yet 2,000 years later, we’ve grown to believe that lament reveals a lack of faith or little trust in God. Instead of expressing it, we push it away or swallow it down. But refusing to acknowledge our pain doesn’t mean it slips quietly into the night. Swallowed pain swells beneath the surface of our lives, bubbling up and out as anxiety, impatience, frustration or anger, separating us from God and sometimes sinking us into deep depression.
True lament isn’t an expression of weakness, whining, or self-pity, it’s an authentic expression of faith.
Pushing our pain aside, covering it up, or feeling shame because we feel it, diminishes our human experience. Even Jesus cried out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b)
If Jesus, God in human flesh, cried out in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane and from the cross, if he wept over Lazarus’ death, why do we feel it is faithless to lament? Why do we fear to embrace what God so clearly expresses in His Word?
Illness, Pain, and Grief
Illness, pain, and grief are messy and complicated, yet God says, “Take heart.”
Give yourself permission to lay down the “shoulds” – what you think you should feel or express – and the “should nots” – what you think you shouldn’t feel or express.
Instead, set aside some time and space to sit quietly with these words from the Psalms. Allow them to stir your soul. Read them slowly and give yourself permission to feel. When you’re ready, try your hand at Writing a Psalm of Lament.
Give ear to my words, O Lord,
consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest –
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert.”
Have mercy on me, O God,
have mercy on me,
for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the
shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come
up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress,
I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands
and my soul refused to be comforted.
O Lord, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food.
Because of my loud groaning
I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord;
O Lord, save me!
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands
be like the evening sacrifice.
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning;my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. I am the utter contempt of my neighborsand an...
fear nibbles at the edges of her soul, like a rat
aboard a sinking ship that leaks, lists and tips
because she has woken to face yet another
pain filled day, unrefreshed in every way
Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God—but it is a neglected dimension of the Christian life for many Christians today. We need to recover the practice of honest spiritual struggle that gives us permission to vocalize our pain and wrestle with our sorrow. Lament avoids trite answers and quick solutions, progressively moving us toward deeper worship and trust.
Giving new hope to the weary, this book brings insight, guiding readers to learn about the necessity of lament through the exploration of the Psalms. Many writers have considered the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Pemberton, however, sets this philosophical issue aside to consider the practical. How do believers live out faith in prolonged seasons of pain and loss? How can we live with God when it hurts–and continues to hurt?
For many of us, we might busy ourselves with projects or work long hours to keep our mind off our pain. We might look at our circumstances and seek to change our situation in the hope that we will finally feel at peace once our life has changed. The question is – How often do you look to God in His Word for help and hope? How often do you turn to Him when you feel anxious, distraught, or abandoned? How often do you bring your burdens to your Savior? Take a journey of hope through the Psalms of lament.
Too often the Christian attitude toward suffering is characterized by a detached academic appeal to God’s sovereignty, as if suffering were a game or a math problem. Or maybe we expect that since God is good, everything will just work out all right somehow. But where then is honest lament? Aren’t we shortchanging believers of the riches of the Christian teaching about suffering?