Tears streamed down my face as I shared the news with my friend. I knew what I had to do was right, but it came with a price—the death of a dream. Confusion over what might replace this dream made the moment worse since I didn’t know what God would do with these crushed hopes. Nothing on the horizon seemed better or more glorious. I was discouraged and despairing, saddened by the loss of what I never thought I would lose.
But I didn’t want to stay stuck in despair. I wanted to turn back to God and fix myself on his firm foundation. I wanted to turn my desperation into something more hopeful, but I needed help. I found the help in the psalms of lament.
The Psalms of Lament
In the book of Psalms, the lament is the most common of all, creating some interesting dynamics on our behalf as we tend to run from many questions the author asks of God, like:
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).
“O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14).
Or even from the very psalm Christ quotes on the cross (Matt. 27:46):
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2).
Words like these make me thankful I’m not alone. Yet much of the work I do when I meet face to face with another person is to give them permission to cry out, to lament. Too often we rush to cover one another’s suffering as if we have to be ashamed to experience it.
Although lament can seem unfaithful at first glance, lament actually turns our eyes upward appropriately in the midst of pain.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer tells us, “The Psalms are given us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.” As we seek to imitate Christ and follow those who have gone before us, we get the grace of employing every part of the Bible as our guide. This includes the psalms of lament. These laments provide words for what we most often do not have words for personally or communally.
I don’t know what you might be disappointed with right now, but there’s probably something. I have wept through the loss of family members, watched friends grieve over the child miscarried or the news of infertility. And most recently, I mourned the death of a dream I thought was good and holy.
Hardships can shake our faith but they can also shape our faith. Job is an example of what it looks like when crisis strikes your house again and again. The primary thing coming off his lips was lament:
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:20-22).
“Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?” (Job 10:8-10).
In his book Praying the Bible, Donald Whitney guides us as we seek to tangibly pray through these Scriptures, even the ones full of things we don’t like to think can be prayed. It’s as simple as it sounds, he says:
“Basically what you are doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words become the wings of your prayers. To pray the Bible, you simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as you read the text.”
Through lament, God gives us the opportunity to truly process and walk through the darkness and into the light. We join what has already been said through our own personal sufferings that he would work through our weakness.
Although we experience personal pains and sorrows that cause us to cry out, many things which affect the lives of others in our communities, and the wider world, give more than enough reason for us to mourn.
We don’t have to look far down our own street to see there are many burdens to bear. The response of empathy and sympathy, which calls for “weeping with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) or sharing “in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8), finds a home in the many words written in the psalms of lament.
“Psalms of lament call on God to stop injustice and exploitation and oppression. By calling on God to intervene, the psalmist or the one praying the psalms is affirming that God is the utterly fair and all-knowing Judge. To those suffering, such laments are a message of hope: God will not let the wicked get away with it forever,” says Gordan Wenham in The Psalter Reclaimed.
With the refugee crisis at an all-time high, genocide in Myanmar, starvation in Yemen, and pastors set on fire in India, we witness the nations raging. Meanwhile, those in our own nation rage against one another, and we grasp for words for such a time as this. Our prayers for our persecuted brothers and sisters all over the globe find deep roots here and help us as we look to pray properly as a body on behalf of those who need our aid.
The Hope of Lament
Lament gives voice to our longing for Christ’s return once more. This world is waiting for the kingdom that has come and is coming to finally be at peace. The faithful are those who can rightly say this present languishing is not how it’s supposed to be.
While we keep extra oil until the day the bridegroom comes back (Matt. 25:1-13), our watching amid a broken and aching pilgrim journey calls us to clearly see what is and what could be.
Our hope, though weak and in need of the Spirit for strength, could find itself rejuvenated with a faithful lament, even ending with this:
“I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13:6).
Alexiana Fry is a wife, PhD student, Bible teacher, and works for a non-profit that partners with refugee women in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her passion is to see the church make whole disciples, those who know and love God as well as their neighbor as they see him revealed in his Word, helping them pursue this in the everyday mundane. She is highly caffeinated, a bibliophile, green thumb, and blogs regularly at mygivingofthanks.com.