The Lost Art of Lament

When we lose the ability to lament, we lose an opportunity to share with our God the things of this world that are breaking our hearts, and we risk becoming a quietly cynical people.

Topics : Prayer

Until recently, I’d never really thought much about what it meant to lament. To tell you the truth, it had never even occurred to me that the book of Lamentations was a prayer of lament. Some of you are probably shaking your head at me for having never slowed down enough to connect those dots, but I have a feeling a lot of you are in the same boat as I am, and if I’m honest, I think that’s a problem.

The Bible is full of these prayers—of God’s people crying out to Him in moments of doubt and despair—so why don’t we do it? Why have we lost the ability to lament, and what are we missing without it?

What does it even mean to lament?

A quick Google search will tell you that a lament is more than a complaint or an opportunity to vent; it’s “an expression of deep pain or sorrow.” For the believer, lamenting is an exercise of faith; it’s engaging honestly and vulnerably with our God. It’s the recounting of His promises and submission to His will in the moments when it’s often hardest to do so. To lament is to cry out to Him in our deepest of doubts and troubles, all the while fully trusting in His power and provision to deliver us from despair. These prayers are passionate and messy, but they always circle back to our faith in Him.

Why do we need to lament?

For those of you for which this feels totally new and possibly uncomfortable—I understand. In his book A Praying Life, Paul Miller addresses this in a way that I found profoundly helpful. He says:

We think laments are disrespectful. God says the opposite. Lamenting shows you are engaged with God in a vibrant, living faith. We live in a deeply broken world. If the pieces of our world aren’t breaking your heart and you aren’t in God’s face about them, then ...you’ve thrown in the towel.

In our attempts to meet the unspoken expectation of perfection within our Christian subculture, we so often simply refuse to lament. We refuse to acknowledge the dark and difficult realities of our lives and our world in a way that honestly demonstrates our dependency on the Lord. The reality, though, is that we have a deep need for this type of expression and a large catalog of examples throughout Scripture for how we can do it.

Lamenting Throughout Scripture

There are many examples of lament throughout Scripture, but one place to start could be Lamentations—a long prayer of lament where the author (likely Jeremiah) pleads with God over the evil and suffering of the world. Or Habakkuk, where the prophet cries out to God over the judgement that is to come for Israel—and God responds! Read the Psalms, which are filled to the brim with songs of lament. And if you’re still worried about this type of expression being offensive to God, I’m here to remind you that Jesus—yes, Jesus—lamented. In Mark 14, He cries out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane saying, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

I don’t have a perfect Five-Step Guide for Lamenting, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, I’d encourage to simply follow Jesus’ example. Cry out to God and ask Him for help—like Jesus, tell Him that you’re scared, frustrated or doubting. Ask Him the questions you might be tempted to try and keep to yourself. Follow David’s example in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” But most importantly, conclude in praise, submitting to Him and reminding yourself of what you know to be true of our good God.

What’s Breaking Your Heart?

Here’s one more quote from Miller:

There is no such thing as a lament-free life...To love is to lament, to let your heart be broken by something. If you don’t lament over the broken things in your world, then your heart shuts down. Your living, vital relationship with God dies a slow death because you open the door to unseen doubt and become quietly cynical. Cynicism moves you away from God; laments push you into his presence. So, oddly enough, not lamenting leads to unbelief. Reality wins, and hope dies. Put another way, the reality of a broken world triumphs over the new reality of a redeemed world. You miss resurrection and get stuck in death.

Consider your need for lament. What’s breaking your heart? What reality of your life or our world is just too much to bear on your own? What’s causing you pain, disappointment or fear that you’re trying to ignore instead of acknowledging it before God? Rest in the reminder that our God wants to hear those things. He wants to hear the deepest cries of your soul. Don’t open your eyes one day and realize you’ve become quietly cynical. Talk to Him. Be honest with Him. Find your hope in Him.