Do you know how to lament?
Pain, suffering, sorrow, illness, and grief are unavoidable in this world — but God has given us a way to find hope in the rubble of life. Lament is an underground tunnel to hope.
An entire book of the Bible is an exercise in lamenting before the Lord. We have numerous psalms of lament. So, why don’t we lament more in the church today? Why do we put the noise-cancelling headphones over our hearts, keeping ourselves busy to avoid the pain? Let’s not busy ourselves to avoid lamenting; let’s learn to lament well.
Relearning Our Humanity
Of course, we want to avoid suffering, grief, and trauma, but the reality is we can’t. The rippling effects of Adam and Eve gnashing into that fruit still affects us and the world today.
Everyone we know and love will return to the dust. Family members will hear heavy words from their doctor. Great loss will strike dear friends. We will weep. And pretending like we can manage our sufferings on our own won’t help. We weren’t built to handle them. We need the body of Christ — and we need Christ himself, our sympathetic High Priest, the man of sorrows, the one who shouldered our grief.
When we act like we can handle our suffering on our own, we commit idolatry — acting like we are God, capable in ourselves. Lamenting is relearning our humanity. Lamenting is admitting that we can’t handle it, knowing we need God’s power, mercy, and grace. If we could handle our sufferings, we wouldn’t need Jesus, his cross, his power, and his resurrection. Lamenting is how we grieve as those who have hope.
More Than You Can Handle
You’ve heard people say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Wrong. Tucked into this dollar-store saying is a sense of self-reliance: I can make it. I should be able to do this on my own. But Christianity is the abandonment of our self-reliance: “God, I need you!” His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). For all of our I-can’t-evens, there is our God who can and our Savior who did.
Christianity is picking up our cross, dying with Christ, rising with Christ, living with Christ. Every day is more than we can handle. Without Jesus, we can’t do anything (John 15:5), certainly not bear the unbearable in front of us. We will regularly experience more than we can deal with, which is why we need God to be our refuge, our shelter, our dwelling place. Lament teaches us to uncork our hearts and pour them out to God in faith.
We all are either suffering now or know someone who is. Lamenting is incredibly relevant at this moment. Cancer, death, illness, heartache in our families, betrayal, loss, injustice in the world, personal fears — in all of these dark valleys, God gives us a proven pathway to himself in lament.
What Is Lament?
Lamenting is the honest vocalizations of grief to God. And often within earshot of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Open Lamentations and hear Jeremiah’s vocalizations of suffering, pain, and grief. “Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). Jeremiah feels like God isn’t listening to him. Today, we’d say, “When I pray, it feels like my requests don’t make it past the ceiling. I pray and I don’t feel anything.” Honest. Uncomfortable. Real.
Moses laments in Psalm 90:13, “O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!” He’s not sure how much longer he can hold up. He’s weary. How long do we have to face this? Today, we’d pray, “Lord, how much longer will my friend have to endure this? Please, Lord, in your kindness, bring their wayward child home.” Lament is personal pleading — vocalized emotions and thoughts.
Jeremiah and Moses show us that we lament not just for the sake of getting things off our chest — but for the sake of getting our eyes back on God.
Lament Leads to the Lord
In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah recalls the yet of God’s mercy. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21–24).
Moses remembers the faithful love of the Lord, knowing he can find supernatural joy — a satisfaction that surpasses all understanding — in the midst of his suffering. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (Psalm 90:14–15). We plead with God to satisfy us with himself, the one who gave his only Son for our sins so that by faith in him we might have eternal life.
Biblical laments don’t leave us dangling; they lead us back to the Lord. Satisfaction in the hope of the gospel sustains us in our suffering. We process our pain and recall the steadfast love of the Lord. Remember your crucified and risen Savior. An empty grave serves as a sure tombstone for all your sufferings. One day, in the twinkling of an eye, he will make all things new. The trumpet is being tuned now.
Until then, vocalize your grief to God and rest your hope on him.