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Writing a Lament

Last night I preached on Jeremiah 20:7-9 (video above, or listen here). There the prophet Jeremiah cries out to God using the ancient practice of lament. The scriptures are full of lament, from Job to the prophets to the psalms. Jesus himself cries out a portion of a lament psalm (Psalm 22) from the cross. As I shared in my sermon, lament has been a powerful part of my own healing and forgiveness from past trauma. It has also become a helpful way to process grief, betrayal, my failures and sins, and the confusion and injustice of the world in the presence of God--rather than in Facebook comments!

You don't need to consider yourself a writer or a poet or a particularly creative person to write a lament. It's not a work of art; it's a prayer, and it's meant to be rough and unpolished. You just need time, a bit of breathing room, a pencil, and a decision to enter into discomfort for a time (and just for a time; the lament structure also provides a way out of the discomfort and toward God's hope).

Below are the instructions that I follow in writing laments, and that I have used in small group and retreat settings for many years. I hope you will try it this week--and if you feel comfortable doing so, send yours to me! I'd love to publish some laments from our community (anonymously if you prefer).

"In a lament, people pour out their complaints to God in an effort to persuade him to act on their behalf, all the while stating their trust in him. Laments can have seven parts:

  1. Address to God

  2. Review of God's faithfulness in the past

  3. The complaint

  4. A confession of sin or claim of innocence

  5. A request for help

  6. God's response (often not stated)

  7. A vow to praise, statement of trust in God

Not all parts are present in each lament, and they are not always in the same order. Laments allow a person to fully express their grief, and even accuse God, but this is quickly followed by a statement of trust in God. This combination makes for very powerful prayers."  

(Harriet Hill, Margaret Hill, Dick Baggé, and Pat Miersma. Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help. American Bible Society, 201 3. pp 25-26).

I plan to write my own lament this week for the news that feels at times unbearably heavy. I hope you'll join me in lamenting whatever needs lamenting, big or small, in your life and world.


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