Using Laments to Offer Prayers Complaining about Loss and Injustice

Is complaining to God OK?  Can you complain to God about grief?  In the Bible, Bible verse writers complain to God using something called a lament about loss, injustice, grief, tragedy or a deep concern about the state of society or the environment.  Here is a deeply moving and thought provoking article by Rev. Debra Walters on using Bible verse laments as an example on expressing a prayer of complaint and sorrow.

How to do this prayer practice:

A Lament is defined as mourning aloud – to express sorrow, regret, or wail in despair.  Lamenting is a sacred opportunity to name names, events, details, and feelings of complaint.  The suffering of an injustice is a complex web that includes all of us.  No one gets through this life without an experience that dips us into the abyss of lamenting an injustice, a grievance, or loss.

The book of Psalms in the Bible contains 40 individual laments and 12 community laments.  Large portions the book of Jeremiah and the whole book of Lamentations are expressions of despair and mourning over the way life has changed for the worse and a plea to God to hear and act.

Jesus himself lamented by expressing deeply felt regret over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (New International Version.)  Jesus also quoted from the Psalms of lament when he was suffering and dying on the cross, notably from Psalm 22:1 that says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  

1.       Use a lament when you have suffered injustice or when you see injustice in the world.

Lamenting in scriptures has two genres.  One is in prayerful pleas to God over an injustice.  Psalm 13 and 25 are great examples.  Here is what Psalm 13 says:

“How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestles with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;  my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him.’ And my foes will rejoice when I fall.  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”  (Psalm 13:1-6)

 2.       Use a lament when you are grieving over someone’s death.

The second type of lament is a dirge regarding the death of someone. An example is found in Second Samuel 1:25,26 where David laments the death of his dear friend Jonathan.  “How the mighty have fallen in battle!  Jonathan lies slain on your heights.  I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother, you were very dear to me.  Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.”       

3.       Use a lament to express your feelings and to work toward trust.

The purpose of lamenting in our grief is twofold.  It is to address a loss or injustice and build trust at the same time.

The book of Job covers the lamenting of Job into loss and injustice.  Job says, “Human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.”  (Job 5:7)   However, he works his way into reconnecting with God at a deeper level.

The keys to Job offer:

  • We or the Evil One are our sources of problems in a fallen world.  We would do well not to blame God even though God can take it until we come around full circle and trust Him again.
  • God does not owe us anything.  God is Creator and we are created.
  • Go to God first in prayer.  Ask for discernment and direction.  Don’t trust those who have not earned such a trust to offer advice or counsel.

 4.       Develop faith during unanswered laments.

Psalms 44 and 73 are unanswered laments.  Psalm 44 says, “Awake, O Lord!  Why do you sleep?  Rouse yourself!  Do not reject us forever.  Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?  We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.  Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”  (Psalm 44:23-26)

Despite being oppressed by enemies, Psalm 73 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beat before you.  Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my yeart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”  (Pslam 73:21-26)

This is a good example of living with unanswered prayers that can build trust in leaving it to God.  The second choice is anger at God.  We choose.

In the book, Lament, by Sally A. Brown and Patrick D. Miller there is a statement of reflection to consider.  “In our deepest distress often comes in the form of brokenness; broken relationship with God; broken relationship with another; brokenness within ourselves.  The voice of our shepherd sounds like reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, binding up old wounds.  To hear this voice requires humility, accepting responsibility for ourselves and our actions, forbearing one another in love, even refusing to accept responsibility for another’s wrongdoing.”

The cross was about sacrifice for us and with us over our suffering sins.  The resurrection is our hope and power to face the pain that we caused from our own sins and the sins of others upon one another.  And we are renewed, refreshed, and resurrected with Christ.

5.  Write your own lament. 

Here is an example of a community lament I wrote a few years back about the state of our youth and families today.

My Lament by Debra Walters

Content are those who turn to the Lord in times of trouble.

You told Isaiah, “to your old age I am the one who will look after you and lift you up; I myself will carry you and deliver you..”

Just as footprints mark the sand we count it all joy when you leave your mark of grace on us.  The young should heed the wisdom of those before them.  The young continue to struggle to understand the importance of honoring their father and mother.  Yet, it is for their own good and personal honor to do so.

Content are those who in their youth find peace and love in their family.  Do we show self-discipline, self-control, and self-regulation for our own behavior?

The media messages are targeting our young for destruction.  The meaning of life and love are eroded in the lines of what they hear and sing.  The tune of life is not your song God Heaven and Redeemer of Earth.  It is hard o undo the damage of the day.  School and even church can take its toll on the hearts and minds of our youth.

Where is our sanctuary but in the chard of family.  We are called of you God to be about love, peace, guidance, and wisdom.  Let the young ones learn these lessons well.  Give us the ability to stay the course for your sake and the sake of the next generation.

You trusted families to practice the ethics of the Kingdom of God on earth through family life.  May we treat one another with loving kindness and generosity of heart.  Give us one another to practice loving and serving so that we can go outside the family and show the world your precepts of love and grace in the halls of school, work, church, and community.

Save us, our Lord our God.  And make us mindful of the precious gift of being a family.  Let the whole world take seriously the vows of commitment and responsibility to family.

We sing praises to your name and from everlasting to everlasting you are our Creator.  Let all the families of the earth say, praise the Lord.

Prayer:  Father, you know our laments within the words of years unfolded.  You are the keeper of the details and the vindicator of names.  I trust your Glory in the lives of each, the needs of all, and the concerns to be mindful toward. Help us Father to discern our lives in your Holy guidance of the Holy Spirit.  May it be so. Amen.

Copyright Rev. Debra Walters 2012.  All rights reserved.