“I’ve been a Christian for more than 20 years and I’ve never heard of lament.”
“I didn’t know I was allowed to talk to God this way.”
“I feel like I’ve been missing out on this deeply meaningful way of connecting with God.”
As a counselor, it’s not uncommon for me to hear phrases like this. Even in my own life, prayers of lament were an unfamiliar discipline of the faith. If I’m honest, I was surprised at the supernatural hope that began to rise in me when I started to practice biblical lament.
As I have sat with people in deep pain, I’ve noticed that the people of God are largely unaware of what to do in suffering. As believers, we are much more equipped to deal with our sin. Praise God that the church has faithfully taught us the solution to our deepest problem—sin. For centuries believers in the Church have learned that God, in His kindness, draws us into the gift of repentance. In the practice of repentance, we agree with God about our sin and our inability to solve this problem on our own, and we place our full faith in His sacrifice as our covering.
While we look forward to the day when both our sin and suffering will be no more, on this side of heaven, both problems persist. Therefore, all believers need to know how to depend on God in both our sin and our suffering.
Just as repentance is a gift, the invitation to lament is a gift from a good and kind Father. He knows what we need most in our suffering is to be near Him. He knows that we need space to name our pain and pour out our fears, frustrations, and sorrows before Him. He lovingly designed the limits of our frame so that we would be strengthened as we sort out our raw emotion in dependence on Him. What a kind Maker, to hardwire us with needs that would drive us to His true comfort and lasting peace.
Paul Miller describes lament as “a long forgotten but deeply biblical way of praying”.
I think the heart of God grieves this forgotten invitation.
So what exactly is the Lord inviting us to do? Simply put, lament is a prayer that is honest about suffering while grasping onto the promises of God. Lament bridges the gap between our pain and the promises of God. We need this gift more than we realize!
Once I started the regular practice of lament praying, I was immediately surprised by the benefits. A real-time peek into my life before lament would reveal plenty of negative compounding emotion that I was carrying around in my own strength. Sometimes I was stuck in the subtle hidden grip of bitterness because of hurtful misunderstandings. Other times, I was paralyzed by anxiety because of a deeper unlamented point of pain from my past. Most of the time, I was just worn out from attempting to carry the exhausting burden of living in a broken world with broken people. The sting of unlamented suffering crept in and weighed down my everyday moments.
But God kept reminding my soul of this sweet invitation to lament, found in His Word.
More than a third of the 150 Psalms are psalms of lament. Much of Job and the book of Lamentations are laments. Jesus himself models lament when on the cross He cried out to God in great distress, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was aware of the plan, but our Suffering Servant was modeling for us what perfect dependence in full humanity looks like.
God isn’t just politely giving us space to process our emotions, nor is He simply tolerating it while we name our complaints. He isn’t offended by our emotion-filled questions. He loves the dependence demonstrated when His people come to Him and speak honestly about our pain. After all, It would be easier to go somewhere else to ease our pain or to mismanage our pain with lesser gods. When we turn to God and pour out our gutsy, real emotion, it’s evidence of great faith in Him.
He welcomes our prayers of lament as a dependent, raw form of pure faith.
The benefits of lament are held out for every believer. It’s our invitation to deep comfort, lasting peace, a softer heart, rising hope, and dependent strength as we face the inevitable suffering of life in a broken world. It’s an invitation we can’t afford to forget any longer.