Grief is hard. And the Bible doesn’t pretend that Christians will not experience it. Instead, it provides us with a language to process our grief with God and others. The Biblical language of grief is known as “lament.” Today’s guest post is by Lisa Williams, to whom God has given a unique ministry of grief support. Today, Lisa will introduce what Biblical lament is, help us understand lament from the Psalms, and teach us how God instructs us to use the language of lament.
Recently, I was talking with some precious ladies who have all experienced tragic loss of a loved one. I asked them how they would describe the feelings of grief to someone who has not experienced it. Some of the words they used were ripping, crushed, inescapable, and burning. Their descriptions show just how painful loss can be. But while these women have felt extreme hurt, they have also chosen to move forward in the lives they have now with the Savior who has suffered with them. Because of this, they also experience a closeness with Christ that has been forged through the fires of loss.
How? How have they, and how might we, find deeper faith after such agonizing experiences and emotions? The answer to this question is as varied and nuanced as each unique person God has created, but there are some guiding lights in scripture that help us see the path forward.
One of those lights is a form of prayer called lament. We see it clearly demonstrated for us over and over in the Psalms. To understand lament, let’s define these three words: grief, mourning, and lament.
- Grief – Grieving is our automatic response to loss. It’s the feelings mentioned earlier. It’s the exhaustion, the numbness, the anger, being triggered by certain words or places. It’s all the responses out of our control when we lose someone.
- Mourning – Mourning is the outward expression of grief. It’s the funeral, a conversation about a loved one lost, going to the graveside, crying, expressing disappointment. Mourning is giving action to the internal grief you feel.
- Lament – Lament is our expression of grief directed toward God. Grief and mourning do not have to have a recipient, but lament is addressed to our Heavenly Father, our Wonderful Counselor, our Prince of Peace.
In the Psalms, a lament has four basic components: Turn, Lament, Ask, and Trust. Psalm 13 is one great example that helps us understand how to lament.
Turn – This is where the choice is made to direct grief to God instead of others, ourselves, or nowhere. We address Him, either by title or simply by speaking to Him.
Lament – In Psalm 13:1-2, David says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?…How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” This is very direct language, and to be honest, the idea of speaking to God like this sometimes feels wrong to me. But God welcomes this because He is after communion with us in the deepest places of our hearts. And we cannot experience that without being honest with Him.
If this seems uncomfortable to you, remember that these are things you wouldn’t say to someone you didn’t know well. The ability to talk openly with God about our deepest despair, fears, or feelings of abandonment is proof that we know Him and trust Him. As a small child lets out all her emotions in her mother’s safe arms, we can cry out to our Father who will not let us go.
Ask – Next, David asks. In verses 3-4, he says, “Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” Throughout the Psalms, David boldly asks many things of God. Ask for what you need from Him. And if you don’t know what to ask, follow David’s example here, that God would “give light to [your] eyes.” This is David’s way of asking God to give him His perspective on his situation – God’s lenses through which to view his circumstances. God welcomes us to ask for what we need, and when we are hurting, God’s perspective is a bold thing to ask.
Trust – Lastly is trust. In verses 5-6 David says, “But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for He has been good to me.” In these verses, David remembers his trust in God’s love in the past, he praises God for his salvation in the present, and he determines to sing the Lord’s praise in the future.
Trust is the destination of lament.
Trust is the destination of lament. But we cannot arrive at the destination without the other steps. Author, Mark Vroegop says, “A lament is a journey of trust.” Keep in mind these words of trust are just five verses removed from David asking God if He will forget him forever! The journey to trust must begin where we are, but as we lament, God can take us places we never thought we’d go.
One important thing lament teaches is that no matter how you feel or what grief does to you, you always have the power to choose to trust in God. The automatic response of grief is deep, but as Psalm 139 says, “…if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.” Your deepest, darkest place is exactly where you can choose to turn to God, because you will find Him right beside you.
So next time you find yourself in deep grief, choose to lament. Turn to God, lament to Him, ask boldly for what you need, and keep choosing to trust Him. Lament may not change what has happened to you, but it can transform how you journey with Jesus into a life of trust in His unfailing love.